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Another episode of producer Tyrese Gibson's reality show K-Town is not so much being taped as it is going off with cameras rolling. Watching people get lit up as you remain sober is like trainspotting, except in this case the trains crash in slow motion. The YouTube series has often been described as the Asian Jersey Shore, and the cast of mostly Korean Americans rarely disappoints when it comes to high school drama, hair gel and hook-ups. Just add the vodkalike green-bottle alcohol known as soju and watch what happens.
Most of the dozen people at the table go bottom-up, and soju is spilled.
Drinking games ensue and, at one point, Mohawk and fellow cast member Joe Cha, a nightclub promoter, are challenged to kiss each other. Then it's two girls' turn: "Keep your eyes open," they're ordered as the others hoot and holler. More drinking is goaded on by a chant of "suck it, suck it, suck it!"
It's not even 10 p.m. yet. On a Sunday. This is how Koreatown rocks.
K-Town, which returns for a second cycle on YouTube's LOUD channel Nov. 28, has sparked renewed interest, often among Asian young people, in the rituals and bacchanalia of the YouTube series' biggest star, Koreatown itself.
Amid the worst American economy since the Great Depression, Koreatown has emerged as perhaps America's hippest new neighborhood. Its vitality has survived and even thrived, thanks to the emergence of a new pop culture spotlight (K-Town, "Gangnam Style," the Kogi taco truck), a residential hipster invasion, foodies' exploration of its bar eats, and the community's own evolution as a destination for non-Koreans. The nightlife scene has expanded to the point where some community boosters are calling for an official city "entertainment district" designation along the lines of Hollywood.
"Curiosity drew people into Koreatown," says Jimmy Han, co-owner of area hot spot Beer Belly, a gastropub that opened to rave reviews in May 2011. "I think it has a lot to do with how Food Network, the foodie culture, Yelp, and the celebrity chef thing have contributed to people's desire to try Korean food."
In K-Town, food rarely goes without drinking, and vice versa. Former L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold started to pique foodies' interest in Koreatown more than a decade ago. Since then, Korean-American chefs such as Kogi's Roy Choi and Father's Office's Sang Yoon have risen to national prominence. People often mention "the Yelp effect" when discussing the Koreatown nightlife revival, noting that soju cafés with menus completely in Korean started to be reviewed on the site — translated for non-Koreans— in about 2008.
"That's when things definitely shifted," K-Town co–executive producer Eugene Choi says. "You saw a lot of your non-Asians coming in."
The likes of Beer Belly, Biergarten and R Bar comprise some of the community's newer, more ethnically diverse nightlife destinations, none devoted to Koreatown's old-school, green-bottle drinking. While the area's three main, traditional clubs, Vibe, The Feria (formerly Velvet Room), and KarNak, remain from the last decade and beyond, a slew of newer and revamped spaces, including Gaam, S Bar and Blipsy Barcade now welcome more outsiders. Orchid, a club, restaurant and karaoke-room venue on West Sixth Street and South Oxford Avenue, hosts African-American parties and other events.
"For Beer Belly, I never particularly planned on catering to Koreans to experience and discover craft beer," says Han, who opened the restaurant on Western Avenue near Sixth Street, in the heart of the community, with his wife, Yume. "It was about anyone willing to try new beer and new food: Stop by Beer Belly before you go on your Koreatown crawl, and try some different beer and food and be a part of a discovery."
Korean-American youths have spread out to downtown and to Hollywood celebrity haunts. At the same time, Koreatown has seen an invasion of largely white hipsters priced out of bungalows and condos in Silver Lake and Echo Park. Some of them see the area as a new cultural frontier fueled by the search for cheap urban rent, much like Manhattan's Meatpacking District or London's Stoke Newington.
"I have a lot of white friends moving here," says K-Town's Jasmine Chang, from a table at café Gaam in Chapman Plaza. She grew up at 11th and Fedora streets with a sister, Christine, who is joining the cast this month. "Rent is definitely cheaper" than in neighborhoods her friends are abandoning.
Koreatown's ever-expanding boundaries generally include Olympic Boulevard to the south, Beverly Boulevard to the north, Crenshaw Boulevard to the west, and Hoover Street to the east. While Koreans dominate the bars, restaurants and dense commercial real estate along Wilshire Boulevard, Western Avenue and Olympic, 50 percent of its residents are Latino, and many of them arrived from El Salvador and the Mexican state Oaxaca. It's the birthplace of the reviled gang Mara Salvatrucha, which got its start at Seoul International Park on Olympic Boulevard in the 1980s. The Wilshire-Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council represents about 100,000 denizens, though the area bleeds beyond its borders. Median household income is only $27,483.
Pretty well written article about Ktown. The growth in Ktown is not fueled by bars and karaoke places - there has been substantial foreign investments from Asian countries. Drive down Wilshire and you'll find not just Korean firms but also many Pilipino and Japanese.
So Interesting that Gangnam style and the Kogi taco truck have helped bring this culture to the forefront of our society now. I know that during a time where los angeles apartment rentals are hard to come by, koreantown apartments are popping up all over and the town and with it's close proximity to public transit and downtown it does seem like this is the place to be.
"Hippest Neighborhood". You are trying to say K-town is America's trendiest neighborhood? Fun and new yes, but highest trending, NOT. What dolt wrote the title?
"Park has a "Koreatown" tattoo across his chest and can recite off the top of his head some of Korean L.A.'s biggest pop culture successes, including Ben Baller, the hip-hop jeweler who has a reality show alongside the K-Town crew; electronic music producer Nosaj Thing; Bobby Hundreds of streetwear label The Hundreds; David Choe, the artist who painted Facebook's Silicon Valley offices in exchange for future Facebook stock (for a short time estimated to be worth a half-billion dollars right after its initial public offering) instead of $60,000 cash; and K-Town co–executive producer Eddie Kim, a spoken-word artist who rose through the same talent circuit as Park."
Bobby Hundreds? Ben Baller? Nosaj thing? David Choe? these people came from no where near Ktown or LA proper... Get your facts straight. Quit perpetuating geographic lies which only give these clowns more street credibility.
@truthhurts That these folks are "some of Korean L.A.'s biggest pop culture successes" is accurate. I stand by it. Don't hate.
One thing is confirmed - The Asian culture of "saving face" Not showing emotion in public, cool, calm reserved culture...etc - All of that - goes out the freaking window once Americanized!