Located in a charming colonial stretch of Saigon a mere 50 metres from theBitexco Financial Tower, Drinking and Healing is one of the latest District 1 venues to take the cocktail experience to another level. A short climb up a non-descript stairwell will land you in front of the bar’s speakeasy-style entrance. At this point, nothing yet reveals the wonderland you’ll find behind the door but step inside to discover a mood-lit venue, which combines elegance with urban cool. The dazzlingly well-stocked bar and drop-dead views through the bay windows are equally easy on the eyes.
The Mixologist Dream Team at Saigon’s Drinking & Healing Bar
A quick look at the menu shows us an incredible variety of both signature and hand-tailored drinks ready to tame even the most seasoned barhoppers. All cocktails are handcrafted by Drinking & Healing’s notable team of bartenders, many of whom have received accolades abroad for their skills. This evening Mr Vu Doan Vien Du is behind the bar whipping together a concoction for another customer. Wearing Drinking & Healing’s leather barman apron and holding a tiny eyedropper filled with artisanal bitters, Du looks the part of a serious cocktail artist/concentrated scientist. Not only did he achieve the best score at both Pernod Ricard's Bar Star and Diageo’s Bar Academy in 2016, he was also champion of Campari Bartender’s Competition Asia 2018, where he shone brighter than other aspiring Asian bartenders during the finals in Milan, Italy.
“I started as a food delivery guy”, Du revealed when asked how he got into the business. But the bar always called him. After shifts, Du would stay behind to learn the craft and eventually he got his lucky break when the nightly bartender missed his shift. From there Du never looked back. Every night he taught himself a new drink and began to invent his own. His personal tastes veer towards the classics such as an Old Fashioned, Highball and the less well known Boulevardier, which is made up of whiskey, sweet vermouth and Campari then garnished with a sliver of orange peel.
But Du is not the only bartender at Drinking & Healing; he has a team of talent just as well-versed in all things alcoholic. Mr The Vinh, another mixologist at Drinking and Healing, was a top performer at Diageo’s World Class Bartender Competition 2014 organised in Singapore, and was also crowned the champion for Vietnam after presenting his drinks at the competition in 2016 during the finals in Miami. Diageo’s World Class has become a critical driving force in cocktail culture since its inauguration in 2009, inspiring over 250,000 bartenders and bringing together the best bartending talents from more than 60 countries. Vinh has also had the honour of judging local competitions organised by leading brands including Glenmorangie and Opihr.
Mr Le Ngoc Phien rounds out the talented trio with an impressive work flair and rich experience. A graduate of Ho Chi Minh City’s prestigious Pha Che Education Mixology Academy, Phien has the ability to dish out amazing classics and variants of his humble favourite, the Highball.
The Customer Experience at Drinking & Healing Cocktail Bar
Experts such as Du, Vinh and Phien are instrumental to the bar because of their understanding of every unique visitor. Creating personalised signature cocktail recipes is a core concept at Drinking & Healing and each mixologist is there to guide the customer’s experience. For example, despite his penchant for mixed drinks that hail back to the 1930s, Du is a man of modernity, which is evidenced by his pride when he shows us his secret concoctions behind the bar. Past the enviable bourbon and gin selections to the right of the bar, there is a wall of shelves that seems to come straight out of an apothecary. Each bottle is a different type of hand-infused spirits with options ranging from jackfruit-infused whiskey to nutmeg vodka. These bottles are used in the bar’s signature cocktail line as well as being on hand for the customer-crafted cocktails.
This is a concept that is utterly unique to Drinking & Healing and is meant to showcase the skill of the top-notch bartenders as well as to create a personalised experience for the customers. Du explained how it works. First, the customer chooses a flavour profile: Sweety, Spicy, Salty, Creamy or Sour; then a spirit: Vodka, Rum, Gin, Whiskey (in all its incarnations), Tequila or Sake. Now, comes the fun part. There is a wide choice of fruit and vegetal flavourings as well as herbs and nuts to truly make a trademark libation. We go for a sour Bourbon with cherry and almond additions. Du hesitates and then suggests going for a jackfruit infusion rather than cherry because the flavour will better capture “the spirit of Vietnam”. When the drink comes it is served in a tall, thin glass topped with frothed egg white. It is sour, and fruity with added depth from the bourbon and almond. It is utterly original and indescribable.
If a customer enjoys their cocktail they are invited to write down their own recipes in a physical recipe book. All this makes Drinking & Healing an elegant and memorable venue that is a noteworthy addition to Saigon’s thriving craft cocktail scene.
What’s Up Next at Saigon’s Drinking & Healing Cocktail Bar?
Beyond exhilaration of taste and sight, the venue also offers excellent music. DJ performances from 9 pm-1 am every weekend on Fridays and Saturdays are another reason to come and definitely a good motivator to stay.
Drinking & Healing’s signature cocktails refresh regularly and the current line-up of holiday spirits is sure to bring some boozy joy to your festive season. On 24 and 31 December, Drinking & Healing will put on its Jingle & Mingle party, which will feature three new concoctions, a live band and DJs.
“Christmas Eve” combines Ketel One Vodka, sous-vide red dragon and kaffir lime and pandan leaves, egg white, heavy cream and bitters. The frothy pink drink is served in a tall glass with a herbal sprig to top it off.
A Bitter of Candy is a cocktail for lovers of Scotch. Here we have a Singleton 12-year-old Scotch whiskey that is mixed with sous-vide Dolin sweet vermouth, Campari and a candy cane swizzle to stir. Those with a sense of humour and the spirit of adventure should try out the “Don’t Be a Grinch!” It is a surprising mix of Tanqueray No 10 Gin, Zucchini, Barley and Lychee Mix, Sweet & Sour, and soda water. Try them all before they disappear.