Love, privately: A few places to secretly snog in SeoulKim Dae-hee just wants a kiss. The 34-year-old office worker could never quite manage to steer his date to some nice secluded but romantic spot where he can get a good-night smooch. He tried throwing suggestive glances. He tried squeezing her hand as if to steer her into a dark side street.
But there was always something ― she kept looking straight ahead, he could hear footsteps behind them, or worst of all, his parents were someplace nearby where they might see them.
“I felt like I was trying some kind of stunt every time I looked for a spot to kiss her,” he said.
Seoul is a crowded city in a conservative country, and there’s just not much room for passion. Privacy is a luxury.
Mr. Kim said he resorted to reserving “lovers’ seats,” which some movie theaters started providing for patrons a few years ago. The seats are simply two normal seats with the middle armrest removed, but for Mr. Kim, it was as passionate as he could get on a date.
Fortunately, the number of pucker-worthy places in Seoul has grown. The smuttier “private booths” in clubs and bars are on the way out; hip restaurants with romantic hideaways are in.
Cho Yong-jin, 28, took a girl out to Top Cloud, a restaurant on the 33rd floor of Jongno Tower. Friends had told him the place was romantic, but he’d also heard that it had a unique place that was perfect for couples: a “Kiss Bridge.” The bridge is actually a 20-meter (21-yard) long glass corridor linking the bar with the dining area and overlooking downtown Seoul. It was originally intended to be used as a smoking area, but illuminated by 100 candles and with the sound of live soft rock music from the dining area bouncing off the wall, couples found they couldn’t resist stopping for a snog.
“It was a very new experience for me,” Mr. Cho said. His date is now his steady girlfriend.
“It’s all about the aura and the atmosphere we try to provide for lovers,” said Kim Hak-soo, the manager and sommelier at Top Cloud. “[Employees] never stare at them. If our eyes accidentally meet, we just tell them they look beautiful together.
“I’ve personally caught several couples kissing in there,” he added. So have most of the employees, who say they like the fact that the place was becoming popular among 20-somethings for its romantic possibilities.
The bridge is good for business, too: Reservations have jumped 10 percent since last December, when word spread about the restaurant’s singular feature. An average of 30 young couples are on the waiting list every Friday night. Things reach a peak around 10 p.m., when all the lights in the restaurant are dimmed and the candles create a soft glow.
What do Korea’s conservative senior citizens think about all this youthful passion? “They just grin and look around,” the manager said. “They’re more understanding than you think.”
So many people wanted to make reservations for Valentine’s Day that the restaurant resorted to selling tickets. As of Feb. 3, only five tickets were left, and that for a 300-seat restaurant.
A 26-year-old who would only give his name as Kim said he brought his date to the restaurant because his friends recommended it. He admitted that his friends were right: It was a nice place. Asked whether he had heard about the bridge’s romantic potential, though, he declined to talk about it in front of his girlfriend.
If making out 33 stories above downtown Seoul isn’t for you, how about 63 stories? Well, the 63 Building in Yeouido is actually only 60 stories above ground, but that’s still a 1-minute, 20-second elevator ride that can be rented for “personal use.” The building’s promotional team is offering a 150,000-won ($154) two-person dinner at the restaurant on the observation floor of the skyscraper that includes the private elevator ride.
“It might not be very long, but it should be long enough for a shy couple to kiss in front of a fabulous view,” said Seo Sul-hwa, a promoter for the building, which is one of the tallest in Korea.
Even if a couple is too shy to make out in an empty elevator, they’ll have another opportunity: the restaurant, Sky Park, sets aside five minutes ― once at 8:30 and again at 10:30 p.m. as “Kiss Time.” In theory, no one is able to ogle the other couples because everyone is chewing their date’s lips.
The building’s possibilities don’t stop there. Floor 59 houses Walking On the Cloud, a restaurant whose romantic dinners, generous helpings of wine and amazing view of the city have earned it a reputation for putting patrons in the mood for love.
“It’s not like we limit our place to just couples who want to kiss,” one employee said, “it’s just that the mood and the wine lead to that.”
The restaurant is planning to hold a Valentine’s Day event in which a man can ― this is true ― put on a wetsuit, jump into a huge aquarium (the shark has been removed) and propose marriage to his girlfriend waiting outside the tank. Some women apparently find this to be overwhelmingly romantic.
Patrons have to make a reservation, of course, and are handed a laminated piece of paper with their message of choice written on it, which they wave around under water rather than try to shout through the glass pane.
The events may be a recent development, but the 63 Building seems to have long stirred the imagination of the lust-crazed. Just listen to the lyrics of the 1995 pop song “Inside the Elevator,” by Park Jin-young:
“Inside the elevator, we make love. From the basement and to the top floor, until the bell rings, we make secret love.”
At the end of the song, a woman with a husky voice whispers, “Let it be the ‘63 Building’ [the next time we meet.]”
by Lee Min-a