Abandoned building cleans up nicelyEveryone knows that Itaewon has the best places in Korea to let off steam. But did you know it also has the best place to soak it up?
Yes, bathhouse buffs around town are saying that a new luxury bathhouse known as Itaewonland is the best of its kind on the peninsula. Want confirmation? Just call the place (at 02-749-5115); the receptionist will tell you the same thing.
Naturally, this consummate place to get clean is next to the sleaze ― behind Hooker Hill.
Though this mega-sauna just opened in December, the big building it’s in is actually rather old and has long been an object of mystery. For as long as anyone can remember, the place, ostensibly a nightclub called “Dream” or “Space” or “Dreamspace,” has been empty.
Sure, party organizers or theater groups would rent it once or twice a year ― in 2000, the pre-eminent Japanese DJ Ken Ishii headlined a shindig there. But it would be closed for the other 363 nights, blending in with the decrepitude of the surrounding clubs and shops.
Late last year, though, a Korean entrepreneur gave the building a 10 billion won ($9 million) makeover and christened it Itaewonland.
He gave the interior five floors of therapeutic wonders, such as hot tubs, mud baths, saunas, beauty salons and food counters, and special rooms for exercising, sleeping, movie-watching and Internet-surfing.
Go there now and you can get everything you need short of eyelid-fold surgery to make yourself more beautiful.
Of course, to go there, you have to get there. If braving a trip up Hooker Hill makes you wary, don’t worry, there’s a way around it: up the broad, high set of concrete steps on the south side of the main drag, just east of the fire station.
Often, a small truck advertising Itaewonland will be parked at the foot of the steps. That’s actually the sauna’s valet station. You’ll see people ― respectable types, mostly ― drive up, de-car, hand their keys off and start climbing the stairs.
But be aware that while Itaewon is for everybody, Itaewonland isn’t: It caters almost exclusively to Koreans and Japanese tourists. So if you look non-Korean and try to get in, you’ll be stopped and told the rules: You need to be accompanied by a Korean of the same sex or be able to speak good Korean.
The restrictions are necessary, the receptionist will say, because the staff doesn’t speak good English and wants to be sure they can communicate with you. Evidently they need to know you’ll understand when an employee tells you, “That’s really not an appropriate way to carry a towel.”
Accordingly, this columnist needs to come clean about something: While he’s writing about Itaewonland, he’s yet to be inside it. That’s not because he balked at the 10,000 won ($8.80) entrance fee. It’s because his Korean’s lousy and he doesn’t have any same-sex Korean friends he wants to hang out naked with.
by Mike Ferrin