Pharmacy-themed bar faces a host of legal woes

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Pharmacy-themed bar faces a host of legal woes

From the outside, the cocktail bar R Club Pharmacy in Mapo District, southern Seoul, looks more like a drugstore than an establishment that serves beer and liquor, with the venue’s signboard emblazoned with a red cross on a white background.

But the inside is even more convincing.

Bartenders in white lab coats serve brightly colored drinks in what look like medicine bottles, each labeled with a noticeable red cross. The only food that comes with those beverages are jelly snacks served in a glassine envelope, which are commonly used to carry pharmacy-reformulated drugs.

“I thought a drink with my close buddies was a miracle cure,” said Ahn Young-phil, 44, the CEO of R Club Pharmacy. “That’s how I got the idea to run a pharmacy-themed pub.”

Founded in 2012, the bar is located near Hongik University, an area renowned for its indie music and urban arts. For 15,000 won ($14), customers can enjoy limitless cocktails.

Fueled by attention from local and foreign media, the wait during the weekend normally lasts an hour or two.

But since the Korean Pharmaceutical Association filed a complaint with Mapo’s district office last July claiming that the bar “damages the reputation of drugstores,” Ahn has struggled to defend his business’s very existence.

The Mapo-gu Office accepted the association’s complaint and issued Ahn a 13-day business suspension.

He reacted by filing for administrative litigation, arguing that it was practically impossible for his bar to be confused with a pharmacy, especially with a signpost with words like “cocktail” and “snacks” sprawled across it.

The Seoul Administrative Court initially ruled in Ahn’s favor and suspended the district office’s decision on Nov. 6.

But just as he was feeling relieved, the National Assembly struck down, with New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmaker Yang Seung-jo proposing a bill that prohibits stores from using titles similar to those used by pharmacies.

The Seoul Administrative Court took Ahn’s side again on Jan. 20 during the first hearing, ruling that it “lacked legal ground” to restrict the bar owner from using his current business title. However, with the passage of Yang’s bill on Feb. 28, Ahn is now preparing for a new phase of confrontation.

“I can’t believe the law can change so easily, like the turn of a hand,” Ahn said, adding that he’s considering to make a constitutional appeal if the court rules against him in the wake of the law’s passage.


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