요즘 핫하다는 경리단 거리나 해방촌 골목을 해질녘에 가보면, 외국인들이 삼삼오오 손에 맥주를 들고 모여 이야기를 나누는 모습을 볼 수 있다. 마치 태국의 배낭여행자 거리 ‘카오산로드’를 연상시키는 이색적인 풍경이다.
술집 내부에 테이블이 마련되어 있는데 굳이 바깥에 나와 서서 술을 마시는 이유에 대해, 경리단길을 자주 찾는 직장인 최민지(27)씨는 “자유분방하고 이국적인 분위기를 즐길 수 있어 좋다”며 “하루 종일 사무실 안에 있으니 저녁에는 바깥 바람을 쐬고 싶다”고 전했다.
해방촌에서 맥주가게 ‘필리스’를 4년째 운영하고 있는 영국인 마이클 피셔는 “(술집 내 흡연이 불법이 된 후) 고객들이 담배를 피우고 싶을 때에는 밖으로 나갈 수 밖에 없다”며 “나갈 때 자연스레 맥주잔을 같이 들고 나가게 된다”고 설명했다. 이는 “주로 외국인들이 즐기는 문화”라고 덧붙였다.
길거리 음주족이 늘어나면서 이웃 주민의 불편과 불안감도 높아지고 있다.
용산구청에 따르면, “요즘 경리단 언덕에 새로 생긴 벽이 뚫린 형태의 대형 맥주집이나 길거리에서 맥주를 즐기는 사람들의 소음 때문에 이웃 주민들이 지속적으로 불만을 표하고 있다”고 한다.
그래도 “근 몇 년간 경리단 동네가 큰 인기를 끌면서 주민들이 현재는 시끄러운 분위기에 익숙해진 덕에 예전보다는 소음 관련 민원이 줄은 편이라고”고 전했다.
반면, 비교적 최근에야 맛집 동네로 떠오른 해방촌의 주민들은 더 큰 불편을 호소하고 있다.
“해방촌은 아직까지 대개 주거지역인 탓에 주민들이 상가에서 들려오는 소음으로 인해 일상생활을 방해 받고 있다”고 용산구청 관계자는 전했다.
현재 길거리 음주 자체을 막을 규정은 없다.
변호사 이종수씨는 “음주 소란의 경우에만 경범죄처벌법 위반으로 벌금 10만원에 처할 수 있고, 공공장소 음주 자체가 금지되진 않고 있다”며 “호주 등 외국에서는 금지하고 있는 사례가 많다”고 전했다.
[관련 영문 기사] Itaewon sees rise of sidewalk drinkingOutdoors drinking makes for lively atmosphere, raises concerns of alcohol-induced unruliness
On a seasonably warm late summer evening after work, 27-year-old Choi Min-ji sat on the stoop of Magpie, a popular pub in the Gyeongnidan neighborhood, with a glass of pale ale in her hands.
“It feels so carefree and exotic,” she said, gesturing at the clusters of people who, rather than sitting indoors, were enjoying their drinks while standing outside the establishment.
“It’s liberating to be outdoors after a long day at the office,” said Choi, who works in advertising. “And it would be a shame not to take advantage of the warm weather.”
Choi is not alone in her thinking, it seems. One sight that is becoming more and more common in the Itaewon, Gyeongnidan and Haebangchon neighborhoods -- which have risen in recent years as some of the liveliest nightlife spots in Seoul for expatriates and locals alike -- is people enjoying their drinks in the streets.
Granted, drinking in tented “pojangmacha“ (outdoor eateries) and picnic tables laid out in front of convenience stores is a culture that is by no means unfamiliar to Korea, and one that foreign visitors find particularly “Korean.”
But recently, the Yongsan-gu based neighborhoods have been seeing a different kind of outdoors drinking, where pub-goers bring their glasses outside even when no tables are available. Customers simply perch themselves on the ledges of adjacent sidewalks or stand in huddled groups, holding glasses of beer in their hands and lining the alleys in a vibrant, festival-like crowd.
According to Choi, outdoors drinking offers better prospects for socializing.
“I think in Korea, it’s still difficult to mingle with strangers. But when you’re outside and not sitting at your own table, it’s less inhibiting.”
As to the more macro-level social reasons behind this trend, one of the key factors driving people outdoors has been the recent smoking ban, says pub owner Michael Fisher. A new law, which took effect starting from January 2015, prohibits indoors smoking in all public places including restaurants, cafes and bars.
“Since then, people have no choice but to step outside if they want a smoke. And naturally, they take their beer glasses with them,” said Fisher, who is the owner of Phillies pub, a Haebangchon hot spot for expatriates whose front doors are frequently lined with beer-swigging customers.
“It’s mostly the foreigners who drink outdoors,” Fisher observed. “I’m from Birmingham, England, and it’s a very commonplace thing there, as long as (the drinking) is done on the premises.”
So far, he has had no problems with the new fad.
“We make sure that customers don’t wander off beyond our pub’s stoops or balcony. And it’s only during a few months of the year anyway, when it’s warmer.”
Locals’ complaints filed to the Yongsan-gu District Office, however, tell a different story.
The noise from people either drinking outdoors or in open-walled beerhouses lining the upper hillside of Gyeongnidan has been stoking the ire of some neighbors, says Jung Eun-cheon, head of media relations at the office.
“When people are chatting outdoors or in the terrace area ... the noise really travels through the neighborhood,” Jung said. “We don’t get as many complaints as we used to, because Gyeongnidan locals have now gotten used to this kind of atmosphere. But among those who do complain, some have been pretty furious and persistent.”
On the other hand, residents in Haebangchon -- a neighborhood which has transformed into a trendy dining spot only in the past couple of years -- are still adjusting to their new cohabitants, said Baek Gyeong-ri, an official at Yongsan-gu Office’s health guidance division.
“It’s still a predominantly residential area,” said Baek. “That, of course, is one of the reasons why there are so many visitors. People are attracted to the quaint eateries buried between houses. But the residents that file complaints say their home lives are being disrupted by the constant chatter of people, all through the night.”
Such commotion that results from outdoor drinking, however, is difficult to contain, control or sanction, Jung says.
“Loud music is something we can stop via administrative measures,” he said. “But the sound of people talking does not fall under the category of ‘noise’ according to current regulations, so there’s very little we can do.”
In Korea, there are currently no regulations against drinking outdoors, unlike in some other countries such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and most states in the U.S. -- where such restrictive legislations are referred to as “open container laws.”
“There are clauses in Korea’s Minor Offenses Act that impose fines for causing alcohol-induced disturbances (such as violence or vandalism) in public places,” said attorney Lee Jong-soo. But drinking outdoors does not in itself constitute a crime or even a misdemeanor, he remarked.
A group of lawmakers are currently seeking to enact legislation that would prohibit drinking in outdoor areas including university campuses and parks. Some are in favor of heightened regulations; others fear such bans will excessively restrict both bar owners’ and bar hoppers’ freedoms.
Cho Na-young, a lawyer and avid traveler, cites cases of foreign backpackers’ unruliness in Southeast Asia when invoking the need for preventative measures in Korea.
“Some tourists seemed to really indulge in being free from the drinking bans of their own countries,” said Cho, recalling outdoor drinking scenes she saw in Laos. “I hope unruly street drinking can be monitored in Korea.”
By Rumy Doo (firstname.lastname@example.org