Lifestyle

Las Vegas is Becoming a Go-To Destination for K-Pop Fans

With more concerts and businesses catering to the fanbase, Las Vegas is a prime location to indulge in K-Pop fantasies.

David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment
David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment
David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment

For most of my life, my impression of Las Vegas was shaped by a glinting combination of pop culture, advertisements, and other people’s first-hand accounts, including stories from my mom of camping on the Vegas Strip in the ’70s and tales of the casino heists and drunken escapades in Hollywood’s mid-sized blockbusters. In 2022, I finally visited the so-called Sin City for myself, but it wasn’t any of those shiny, nostalgic stories that got me there. It was K-pop.

For a week back in April 2022, I traveled, along with nearly 200,000 of my fellow BTS fans, to Las Vegas to see the Korean superstars take the stage at Allegiant Stadium. In four sold-out shows over two weekends, the K-pop septet demonstrated why they have tens of millions of fans worldwide. In the space around and between the shows, BTS label HYBE painted the city purple, the signature color of the group and its massive and loyal fandom known as ARMY. They also organized events around the city for fans to participate in when not at a concert, and according to HYBE’s quarterly financial report, “BTS Permission to Dance The City” attracted 144,000 visitors across its various offerings.

For “BTS The City,” 11 MGM resorts offered BTS-themed hotel rooms, with Aria Resort & Casino’s nightclub, and hosted official concert after-parties. Bellagio Fountain played water shows set to BTS bops, while Mandalay Bay’s Seabreeze Cafe presented a special menu inspired by some of the BTS members’ favorite Korean dishes. In Area 15, an immersive entertainment space, fans could visit a pop-up museum chronicling the preparation for and execution of the “Permission to Dance” tour. The concerts were the main events, but they were far from the only draw for ARMY looking to turn their trip into a K-pop-filled week or weekend.

Alex Kang, CEO of Las Vegas-based entertainment production company Infinite Prospects Entertainment (IPE), helped make “BTS The City” happen in Las Vegas. A Korean American who has lived in Vegas for nine years, Kang started IPE two and a half years ago because he didn’t see any other companies pushing Korean media and other kinds of Asian entertainment in the region. “Vegas is the biggest entertainment city in the world and there’s no K-pop?” Kang said. He set out to change that.

David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment
David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment
David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment

Of course, BTS can’t always be in town. So, a year following the success of the group’s mini-residency, IPE hosted the We Bridge festival, a two-day music festival and a three-day cultural expo billed as a celebration of Asian entertainment and culture. Some of K-pop’s biggest acts, including Monsta X, Enhypen, and Jessi, performed at Mandalay Bay’s Michelob ULTRA Arena as part of the event. Many attending K-pop artists also offered hi-touches, paid experiences during which fans can high-five an idol and take pictures.

On the expo floor, attendees could try various foods from different Asian countries, explore immersive art installations, and peruse a showcase of Korean fashion and beauty trends. While the celebratory spirit of the inaugural event was understandably muted due to the unexpected death of K-pop artist Moon Bin days before, Kang said that We Bridge has plans to hold another event this year.

“I think you’ve got to create an environment where K-pop fans can come and hang out, to meet each other and create more friends,” Kang said, understanding that K-pop fans often want to see each other as much as they want to see their favorite artists on the stage.The community function of K-pop events and spaces is at the heart of the business model for Permission to K-Pop, which has two locations in Las Vegas.

“I want the fans to have a space where they can walk in,” co-owner Rona Dinopol told Thrillist via Zoom. “And instead of just being there for the sole purpose of, you know, buying albums and merchandise, they’re also there to be able to talk to other people.”

Permission to K-Pop has spaces designed for fans to lounge around, unbox their albums, and trade photocards. The staff are K-pop fans themselves and are encouraged to talk to visitors about their favorite K-pop idols.

“Our number one goal when we opened up was to make sure that our store will be a space for fans to feel comfortable and not judged. Our stores are a safe space for fans to express their admiration for K-pop,” Dinopol said.¬†

Like some K-pop shops in Korea, Permission to K-Pop has a “lucky draw” vending machine. Upon purchasing an album, visitors usually earn one press of the button, letting fate decide which photocard they will get. The K-pop vending machine, which, as far as Dinopol knows, is the only one of its kind in the US, is regularly restocked with comeback or concert-relevant cards. For example, when Blackpink played at Allegiant Stadium last month, Permission to K-Pop’s lucky draw vending machine was filled with Blackpink photocards only.

David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment
David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment
David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment

Most K-pop fans don’t stop at just one shop, and Las Vegas has several to choose from. In addition to Permission to K-Pop, the Chinatown neighborhood also hosts K-Pop USA; albums bought at this location will be counted for the Hanteo Charts. (It’s about a 15-minute drive to Las Vegas South Premium Outlets, where KPOP 1004 is located, from Chinatown.) If you’re in this area, check out the Korea Town Plaza on the western end of Chinatown Vegas at Spring Mountain and Rainbow. You’ll find everything from Korean snacks to cosmetics and skincare.

For a more leisurely afternoon in the neighborhood, spend the afternoon at Gabi Coffee & Bakery, a cafe that proudly displays the history of coffee in Korea. A heavy wooden door opens to baristas preparing drinks inside an indoor greenhouse while customers sit in various eclectic seating, including couch swings and wooden stairs at the back of the massive space. The rainbow crepe cake may be an Instagrammable favorite, but I recommend the Earl Grey cake and an Einspanner. The menu also includes a selection of light bites.

Many K-pop fans like to explore Korean food when they are in town for a concert, and Las Vegas has quite a few options. Kang recommends 8 Ounce Korean Steakhouse. The restaurant, which also has a location in Houston, offers a variety of meats, including my favorite, samgyeopsal, which is grilled pork belly. If you’re in the mood for some sul, soju, makgeolli, and Korean beer are all on the drinks menu. Chinatown Plaza hosts Mr. BBQ, an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ spot owned by Jenny Chai. Chai, a Korean American and second-generation restaurateur, opened a Mr. BBQ in Las Vegas at the beginning of this year after running a separate location in Fullerton, CA for a decade.”My family and I have been taking trips to Las Vegas since we moved to California from Korea about 40 years ago,” Chai told Thrillist via email. “When I was little, and we took trips here to Vegas, there were very little Asian restaurant options. Now there are so many more great restaurants and options for diners looking for great Asian food.”

While Mr. BBQ’s Las Vegas location was not yet open when BTS came to town, they were in business when the We Bridge Festival took place, and Chai said she noticed an increase in customers.

Chai also owns Mama Chai’s, a boba and dessert shop in Chinatown. In honor of Blackpink’s concert, the shop hosted its third K-pop-themed event, where anyone who purchased a drink was given a commemorative postcard to mark the occasion. Local vendors were on hand, selling K-pop merch for fans to purchase, and the menu for the night included a special themed drink and black and pink mochi doughnuts.

Miguel Lorenzana, who runs Permission to K-Pop with Dinopol, expected the shops’ sales to double while Blackpink was in town. “Generally, depending on the popularity of the group, our revenue spikes,” Lorenzana told Thrillist, adding that it isn’t just one store that feels the bump but all of the K-pop stores in the city.

In November, American K-pop artist Eric Nam will play at Las Vegas’ Brooklyn Bowl. The 34-year-old soloist may not draw the same crowds as BTS or Blackpink, but Lorenzana still foresees increased foot traffic for the K-pop shops.

Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images Entertainment
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images Entertainment
Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images Entertainment

Lorenzana said he can feel a community building around K-pop fans in Las Vegas. “When we first opened the first location, I wasn’t super aware of what cupsleeves were,” he said, referring to the themed cafes K-pop and other fan communities throw in local cafes and boba shops. “But there’s been a large uptick in cupsleeve events here in Vegas, specifically, there’s probably almost one every weekend at this point, compared to how it was not even a year ago, where there was one every now and then. The community just continues to grow.”

Las Vegas may not have the population of major metropolitan centers like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, but the city does have the concentrated entertainment and tourism infrastructure to host live performances and other events. “A lot of people from not just within the country but even from the rest of the world come to Vegas because they know there’s entertainment that’s readily available to them,” said Dinopol. “There’s a lot of things that we can offer to [K-pop groups]. It’s a missed opportunity every single time when they don’t stop in the city to do a show.”Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†TikTok,¬†Twitter,¬†Facebook,¬†Pinterest, and¬†YouTube.

Kayti Burt is a contributor for Thrillist.

Lifestyle

The Best New Bookstores in LA are Curated, Specific, and Personal

Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at the new wave of LA bookshops.

Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Innis Casey Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

A couple of years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of a bookstore. The scent has notes of wood, violet, and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the particular aroma of old books. The reality of the scent is what it is-mostly sweet and floral-but more important is the imagery it conjures. The best bookstores are both cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.

Los Angeles has a wealth of independent book sellers, including beloved legacy shops like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But a new wave of bookstores has been growing over the last few years, shops that eschew the traditional one-of-everything mindset to focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are bookstores with themes, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighbourhoods, bookstores that take inspiration from a specific person-whether that’s the shop owner, a historical figure, or a little bit of both-and so many more.

Like the niche-ification of the internet and the culture at large, these new and new-ish bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and perspectives led by an expert, the kind of things that you may never have found on your own. They can also be a safe harbour for pure nerdiness, a place to dive deep into your favourite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best new bookstores in LA, with a focus on curated shops with their own specific perspectives.

Photo courtesy of Octavia's Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf
Photo courtesy of Octavia’s Bookshelf

Octavia’s Bookshelf

Pasadena
Pasadena is a famously book-friendly city, with bookstore royalty in the form of legendary Vroman’s and its own literary alliance. Now it has one of the most exciting new bookstores too. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s tribute to the science fiction master Octavia E. Butler, who was a Pasadena native herself. The name of the shop provides a clue into High’s inspiration, titles she imagines Butler would have had on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.

Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop
Photo by Mads Gobbo, courtesy of North Figueroa Bookshop

North Figueroa Bookshop

Highland Park
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it allows independent creators more control over their products. The new North Figueroa Bookshop is a shining example of the concept, a storefront built on a collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those presses, of course, including lots of striking literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a curated collection of other books. They’ve made it a point of emphasis to serve the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock community-there’s lots of fiction from fellow independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.

Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby's Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop
Photo by Karen Cohen Photography, courtesy of Zibby’s Bookshop

Zibby’s Bookshop

Santa Monica
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey, and Diana Tramontano, and it’s the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that releases one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book gets the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster, and book-fluencer, and she has become something of a lit-world mogul with a magazine, podcast network, event business, and an education platform too. The shop has a unique sorting system, built around a feeling for each book-in store many of the shelves are labelled by interest or personality type, like “For the foodie,” or “For the pop culture lover.” On their webshop, you can browse for books that make you cry, escape, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and the staff, sections for local authors, family dramas, and books that have just been optioned. If this all seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that make you anxious.

The Salt Eaters Bookshop

Inglewood
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind-to centre stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, femme, and/or gender-nonconforming people. Over the last year and change that it’s been open, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from across town to drop in, to see what’s new and to discover incredible works in the Black feminist tradition. They also host regular events like readings, discussions, and parties.

Lost Books

Montrose
Thankfully, legendary downtown bookshop The Last Bookstore’s name is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second shop, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technicolour whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the shop, which opened in the summer of 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl too, which makes Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little surprise in the quaint foothill town just off the 2 freeway.

Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe
Photo by Claudia Colodro, courtesy of Stories Books & Cafe

Stories Books & Cafe

Echo Park
Ok, this one is fudging the criteria a little-Stories has been open for almost 15 years. But over those years the shop has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions, and events, and their cafe tables function as a de facto office for about half of the neighbourhood on any given afternoon. After the tragic recent passing of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslansky it seemed like the shop’s future was in doubt, but thankfully after a brief hiatus co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and the staff were able to band together to reopen and keep the beloved cafe and bookstore going strong.

Page Against the Machine

Long Beach
The name alone makes it clear what you’re getting at Page Against the Machine-revolutionary progressive books, with a collection centred on activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a whole lot of political history. The shop itself is small but the ideas are grand, with fiction by writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead, and Albert Camus next to zines about gentrification and compendia of mushroom varieties. They also host regular readings and discussions.

Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte
Photo by Viva Padilla, courtesy of Re/Arte

Re/Arte Centro Literario

Boyle Heights
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combined bookstore, art gallery, gathering space, and small press in Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a South Central LA native and the child of Mexican immigrants, she’s focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is also now the headquarters for sin cesar, a literary journal that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays from Black and Brown writers. There are always community-focused events happening too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.

The Book Jewel

Westchester
Most bookshops host events, but few host them with the regularity of The Book Jewel, the two- year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full with readings, several different book clubs, signings, and meet and greets that there are sometimes multiple events on the same day. The shop also hosts a ton of family-focused readings, with regular storytime on Sunday mornings often followed by a talk with the author. It’s a great fit for the relatively low-key (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighbourhood, and it’s no coincidence that storytime lines up with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right out front.

Reparations Club

West Adams
Most bookstores lean into coziness, aiming to be a hideaway for some quiet contemplation or maybe a quick sotto voce chat-not so at Reparations Club, the exuberant and stylish concept bookshop and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art from Black artists, including books but also records, candles, incense, clothing, and all sorts of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect seating area to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a range of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.

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Ben Mesirow is a Staff Writer at Thrillist.

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