The knock came at 2:30 on an April morning in what has become known as the “after-hours capital of Los Angeles.”
A side door to the Koreatown bar and restaurant creaked open. Those at the door announced themselves as police. Someone inside slammed the door shut, and the business’ surveillance video shows employees scurrying about behind the locked door hiding and throwing away bottles of beer.
The city attorney’s office announced Wednesday that the raid led to misdemeanor convictions of an owner and two employees of Bongsoongah Hak Dang, a Koreatown restaurant and bar, for serving alcohol past California’s legal 2 a.m. closing time.
After-hours liquor service has long been an open secret in Koreatown, available behind tinted windows and shuttered front doors to those who show up with the right people or call the right phone number.
A writer for Esquire in 2013 waxed poetic about drinking in Koreatown after hours: “It’s like prohibition out here .... But no one talks about it, because unless you’ve got a Korean mate, you’re not getting in.”
A patron’s online review of Bongsoongah in 2011 alleged that customers could get in through a kitchen door in an alleyway well past 2.
City Atty. Mike Feuer said the issue of after-hours alcohol sales was among the top concerns voiced by residents and other businesses in the neighborhood. The prosecution, he said, signaled that Los Angeles would no longer tolerate the violations.
He said late-night alcohol service breeds a host of other problems, including sexual assault and drunk driving.
Koreatown, Feuer said, has the highest concentration of establishments licensed by the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, as well as “a history of businesses flouting the law and a meaningful correlation with public safety issues.”
Feuer said his office brought the case after prosecutors, police and state officials met with Koreatown business owners earlier this year to put them on notice that authorities would crack down on the practice.
Efforts to curb after-hours bars in Koreatown date back at least to 2004, when beverage control and the LAPD cracked down with a joint task force.
Despite periodic citations and arrests, the practice has continued to grow through word of mouth along with Koreatown’s popularity as a nightlife destination.
On the Los Angeles page of the online forum Reddit, a user wrote last year: “If you get some connections in Korea Town, there are places that will serve alcohol after 2.”
The city attorney’s office has brought three cases against restaurants since Feuer took office two years ago, according to a spokeswoman.
The case against Bongsoongah, which specializes in spicy chicken feet, should serve as a “concrete example of the enforcement strategy,” the city attorney said. Officials targeted the restaurant after receiving numerous complaints from residents, including allegations that the establishment was generating a lot of noise until 6 a.m., he said.
Owner Min Ah Lee, 48, and employees Dae Geun Kim, 26, and Jae Hyeok Lee, 27, each pleaded no contest to serving alcohol after hours, according to prosecutors. The employees also admitted destroying and concealing evidence.
Judge Robert Longoria sentenced all three to one year of probation and ordered the two employees and Lee’s manager to get training on the laws that regulate serving alcohol.
A defense attorney representing the owner and employees did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
A beverage control spokesman said the agency has yet to decide what disciplinary action it will take against the restaurant.