생일카페, or birthday cafe is a common event in South Korea where people rent out cafes for Kpop idol’s birthdays and they give away free paper cups and sleeves, stickers, photocards, and other items branded with the idol’s photos. You can read about how one is managed by clicking here.
Despite being a more-than-your-average-listener of Kpop, I have never even attended a concert, let alone a birthday cafe event. (I’m excluding watching a stream of Mamamoo’s concert on my computer last year.) Someone in one of my Shinee KakaoTalk groups reached out, asking if anyone was interested in going to some birthday cafes for Kim Jonghyun, and another person and myself said that we were interested.
Kim Jonghyun was the main vocalist for the Kpop band Shinee until his death by suicide in 2017. He was a well-respected musical artist, singer-songwriter, and radio host.
Shinee is still an active group, with their youngest member Taemin having recently completed his mandatory military stint. At one of their first concerts without Jonghyun back in 2018, there were 5 mic stands on stage; the middle one empty bar a single rose tied onto it. There’s a touching video on ODG’s youtube about Shinee’s evolution as a group, and when one little girl asks what happened to Jonghyun, fellow bandmate Minho handles the question beautifully. You can watch the video here and they talk about Jonghyun at 9:20.)
We had our itinerary mapped out: 4 different cafes in the Hongdae area and one photobooth that was offering a special frame for your photos.
The first cafe was called Cafe Aside. We were there just after open but the cafe was hopping and there were no empty tables, so we took our drinks and sat in the nearby park. They gave us a special themed Jonghyun paper cup, sticker sheets, a few photocards, choice of either milk tea or grapefruit ade, and a choice of either a chocolate or sugar cookie that was in Jonghyun’s chibi image.
The second cafe was called Falling Dessert and it had a line down the block. I don’t know how long we waited; anywhere from half an hour to an hour. Somehow, we got lucky and as soon as we got inside the cafe, a table opened up that we snagged. Here they also gave us a special paper cup, as well as some stickers, photocards, a choice of either 2 macarons with images of Jonghyun printed on them or a mini cake with his picture printed on it. I also got a lemonade because they were out of the other drink they had been offering that day.
Our third cafe was called Cafe Nita and from a quick look at their location tag, this is a popular cafe to turn into a birthday cafe. I really liked this cafe’s set up and the photos they used for branding. Many of them were of Jonghyun with pink hair, wearing brightly colored clothing. This cafe also had a wall and post-it notes where you could write notes for Jonghyun, the first cafe of the day that we had seen do this. We were given the usual: special paper cup, stickers, photocards.
This is when we stopped at a chicken restaurant to eat some real food before continuing onto the last cafe, called We Meet There.
The majority of people in We Meet There were foreigners, whereas the rest of the cafes we had been to had been around 80%-90% Korean. We got the usual: special paper cup, macaron with his image printed on it, photocards and stickers. I bought an additional cold brew because despite having been to so many cafes, I had only had a little bit of the milk tea as far as caffeine for the day had gone. This last cafe also had a wall with post-it notes.
We walked a little bit to find the photobooth and after much fighting with the machine, which didn’t like our bank cards, we got our pictures taken with the Jonghyun frames.
It was a fun, yet sobering day. I’m glad so many of us came out to celebrate Jonghyun’s birthday. I only wish he were still here to celebrate with us.