A metal bar for the masses

by Ian Henderson
Groove Korea (groovekorea.com)

If the live music scene in Itaewon were on par with its dining options, this little neighborhood would be a much richer place. With the notable exception of the semiannual HBC Fest, Hongdae has always hosted the lion’s share of concerts — that is, until now. There’s a new kid on the block and a cause for optimism in the gu: Thunderhorse.

The ‘Horse originally opened in December 2012 down the street from Taco Bell, in a second-floor location. It moved to its current location in Gyeongnidan — next to Thunder Burger, coincidentally — last November. And while there are certainly other watering holes featuring bands, Thunderhorse is the only venue whose primary focus is on the music; everything else is secondary.

No longer must audiophiles sit through shitty-sounding sets played on busted monitors and neglected drum kits. The owner, Kirk Kwon, is a professional sound engineer and has made it the bar’s mission to have nothing but high-quality, well-mixed concerts on top-of-the-line equipment. “I just want to have a place where musicians and music lovers can be relaxed, feel at home and enjoy themselves,” he says.

A horse of a different color
Thunderhorse is the name of a song by fictional metal band Dethklok that’s featured on the Cartoon Network’s program “Metalocalypse.” Although he’s a metalhead and a fan of the show, Kirk laughs when asked about the name. The surprising truth is that it was a coincidence. As he tells it, he and his brother were discussing names, as well as their Harleys, which are called “iron horses” and “rolling thunder,” so they just put the names together. “We both watch the show, but it never dawned on us until afterward,” he recalls. “I think maybe Dethklok planted a silent seed and our discussion brought it out into the open.”

Having been involved in the rock/metal scene throughout Korea and in his native Canada, Kirk has some rock ‘n’ roll bona fides; he worked as a sound tech and stage manager for headliners like Motorhead, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Slayer. For him, life in Korea started with a girl, a city and a bit of luck: He moved here for a romantic interest and ended up playing in the band Captain Bootbois, as well as the melodic death metal group Fatal Fear.

The contacts he made through these endeavors resulted in him relocating to Busan, where he worked with Jinsu Bae to build the legendary Club Realize. During this time he started mixing albums, too — with such bands as Method, Crack Shot and My Last Enemy — and eventually became a full-time audio engineer for Method and for Hellride, a small metal festival that comes to Seoul a few times a year. He’s not the only face at the bar that’ll be familiar to any long-term expats involved in the music scene, either: The venerable Dwayne Robertson, former proprietor of the now-defunct Rock Stompers (which many a foreigner will attest was the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll dive in Itaewon for years), slings drinks and shoots the shit at the bar.

Unbridled commitment to sound
Having a professional sound engineer should be enough to tempt any group looking to play, but Thunderhorse isn’t a one-trick pony. Bands can also record a live-track demo of their shows here, which is usually a far more costly and involved undertaking. There are perks for the general public as well: no cover charge. This helps gather a crowd without any commitment of paying to see a show they might not dig or feel like staying through, and it gives the bands exposure to a larger audience.

Drinks here can be marginally more expensive than the going market rate, as in 4,000 won for a draft beer instead of 3,500 won, but keep in mind this negligible amount goes toward maintaining and replacing the professional-grade equipment. And considering you get that level of quality without paying a cover charge, the minor expense is well worth it. Besides, notes Kirk with a subtle wink, the bartender is known to pour mixed drinks a little on the heavy side. Hails!

More info
Thunderhorse Tavern
Website: www.fb.com/ThunderhorseTavern (link is external)

Getting there
Noksapyeong Station, line 6, exit 2. Walk straight down the street for three minutes to the green pedestrian underpass. Take the stairs down, cross through and exit on your right. Thunderhorse is two blocks down on your left, next to Thunder Burger.

Groove Korea website

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