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"There's involvement of Koreans in the culture of arts and music outside of Koreatown," Park says. "I would definitely love this community to be more than just drinking — or money."
To that end, Kollaboration founder and comedian Paul Kim is starting an open-mic comedy night on Thursdays at King of New York Pizza, a Korean-owned restaurant on South Western Avenue and West Third Street, starting Dec. 6.
Still, some in Koreatown have long been concerned that there's too much bright-lights-drunk-city and not enough educational and cultural activities for the young people growing up in one of the densest urban areas west of the Mississippi River, a concrete jungle of mostly aging, low- to mid-rise apartment blocks where parks are rare and schools are tough.
"There isn't a lot of support for Koreatown youth," says Park. "There's no arts and music programs. That kind of worries me. I wish there was more for them than being able to get into bars at 19."
What some celebrate as nightlife, others see as a cancer.
One-third of respondents to an informal Koreatown survey by the National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse in 2006 admitted to drinking and driving. The study noted that Koreans see themselves as "number one" among Asian groups who drink, and that alcohol abuse is seen as normal, even in business situations. Especially in business situations.
"There are a lot of Mad Men references here," says author Kim, referring to the AMC show about hard-drinking salesmen of 1960s Madison Avenue. "After work, you're required to go out and drink with your bosses. There is the whole Confucian tradition of obeying elders, so you're required. People are drinking soju at lunch."
The Korean Youth and Community Center was founded in 1975 and aims to provide a place for disadvantaged immigrant youth to participate in after-school activities and make the transition to American life. Christine Lee, KYCC's youth services manager, says alcohol abuse among teens is a huge problem in the community, thanks to the sheer number of alcohol establishments and the permissive culture.
"After South L.A.," she says, "Koreatown has the second-highest concentration of alcohol vendors."
As district administrator for the state of California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in Los Angeles, Will Salao has policed Koreatown's businesses and restaurants for 15 years. He keeps busy: "Sales of alcoholic beverages without a license, sales after hours, hostesses or bar girls, where females sit with customers and solicit alcoholic beverages, and restaurants operating as a nightclub."
You would think this might put Los Angeles city leaders on their toes. But of the three City Council offices representing the politically fractured community (whose rising, younger leaders recently began demanding to be represented by a single City Council district), only Councilman Eric Garcetti responded to the Weekly with anything substantive.
By contrast, Edward Johnson, spokesman for City Council President Herb Wesson, who represents the most Koreatown real estate of any councilman, claimed Wesson's office has no say in the number of alcohol establishments. "The state of California has jurisdiction over alcohol licenses," he insisted. "The city does not."
Not quite the whole story. The city grants "conditional-use permits" to establishments that serve or sell alcohol. Powerful L.A. City Council members who have represented Koreatown over the years have been instrumental in Koreatown's evolution as a drinking destination.
"In Koreatown, it feels like there's this sort of neglect," says Park, of Loyola Marymount. "Koreatown activists — none of them is saying, 'We need more bars.' What they're calling for is greater attentiveness from politicians that Koreatown is not just a commercial strip but a place where people are raising their families."
It's perhaps telling that not until 2010 did the city designate Koreatown as an actual community — one bounded roughly by Vermont Avenue and Western Avenue on the east and west and Third Street and Olympic Boulevard on the north and south.
Within those official street boundaries, it's clear, the city fathers downtown are acceding to a live-and-let-live vibe, and maybe even relinquishing control.
Richard Kim of the neighborhood council says nightlife denizens and late-closing venue owners are targeted for street robberies and even rapes. According to LAPD, murder in the department's Olympic Division is up a whopping 225 percent, rape is up 38 percent and assaults are up 16 percent compared to 2010. "It appears that there has been a lot of sexual assaults, robberies and burglaries," Kim says. "We're really concerned about that."
In fact, stabbings and gang fights were more commonplace in Koreatown 10 years ago, when Chinese guys would bar-hop, look for girls and clash with local Asian gangs that are now growing extinct. Gangs and hard drugs are rare in K-Town nightlife these days. But some believe crime has gone underground, with a number of unlucky business owners operating on the turf of the mighty Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street gangs, getting "taxed," or shaken down.
On a recent fall night, an illegal speakeasy smack-dab in the middle of Koreatown was packed with people, except the establishment wasn't Korean. It was in a Spanish-speaking home, populated by fresh-from-the-border immigrant workers and bar girls in every room, eyes tuned to soccer games and telenovelas on the TV screens. Canned beer was just a few bucks.
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!