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.

Casino marquees along the Las Vegas Strip display the word "Borahaegas," meaning purple love, in honor of the K-Pop band BTS performing. | David Becker/Getty Images Entertainment
Casino marquees along the Las Vegas Strip display the word "Borahaegas," meaning purple love, in honor of the K-Pop band BTS performing. | 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.

Bellagio Fountain playing water shows set to BTS bops. | 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.

Jessi meets with fans during We Bridge at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. | 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.

Official photo cards displayed during the We Bridge Expo. | 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.