It may not be the birthplace of the cocktail, but Ho Chi Minh City is certainly making its mark in the creative drinks scene.
Rooftop bars, up-class cocktail lounges and hidden speakeasies are continuing to pop up all over the southern capital, with a number of talented mixologists at the helm.
Deep at the heart of many of these watering holes lie innovative and fresh recipes that have a good dash of Asian flair as well as traditional flavours and pairings.
The Main Players
There are a number of contenders, offering good quality cocktails in relaxed or lively atmospheres.
Most recently, the city hosted the opening of cocktail bar The Alley on popular Pasteur Street. It serves up a selection of Mekong Delta-inspired cocktails, with a number of classics also available.
Image source: facebook.com/thealleysaigon
Another relatively new entrant is the swish Qui - Cuisine Mixology, which sits towards the high end of the market. This is another bar that prides itself on its Vietnamese-influenced cocktails.
“We are able to use local ingredients that only can be found in Vietnam so our cocktails are unique and different compared with the ones found in Europe,” says Qui bar manager Le Thanh Tung.
Room With a View or Secret Hideaway?
HCMC has scenery to suit every mood, whether it’s a room with a view or a secret venue that you have to hunt to find.
Speakeasy The Alley is one such hidden place. Ring the doorbell to enter this little hole in the wall and you will be greeted with old-fashioned decor and chilled-out vibes.
Another hidden hideout is Snuffbox, a 1920s-themed speakeasy that serves reasonably priced classic cocktails all night long in a vintage setting.
Image source: AnyArena.com
If you’re after something a little more out in the open, however, HCMC is fast becoming known for its rooftop bars with superb views.
The super-slick Anan Saigon is one such place, serving Vietnamese-inspired cocktails and food in a stylish setting.
Dress to impress at Chill Skybar, a venue that has become a bit of an institution among HCMC’s elite. Boasting a high-class restaurant, private rooftop dining and an indoor VIP lounge, this is the place to drink cocktails in executive style.
Shri Restaurant & Lounge, which opened its doors in 2010, is another well-established rooftop bar. Head over here to sip a cocktail with one of the best views in the city.
Image source: facebook.com/shri.restaurant
If you’d rather your feet were placed firmly on the ground, there are a number of other bars across the city.
Vietnamese mixologists draw from a number of different inspirations when creating their cocktails, such as local ingredients or dishes.
Mekong Delta-born and raised Pham Minh Tam uses regional influences on his drinks menu at The Alley.
One cocktail on the menu, named Mekong Delta, mixes infused whiskey with the tropical flavours of banana syrup and lime leaves.
Other mixologists even go so far as to base their drinks on Vietnamese dishes, like Qui’s Le Thanh Tung, who says, “70 percent of [my] cocktails are created from Vietnamese food.”
Image source: ngaymoisaigon.com
One of his cocktails, Nha Trang Calling—which is a twist on the classic White Lady—infuses gin with clams, lemon basil, green chilli, lemongrass and ginger. He then adds lime, Cointreau, smoky scotch and sea salt to get the finished result.
Subtler influences can also be found in drinks like Shri’s Old Fashioned—Saigon Style. This is made with the familiar whiskey and Angostura bitters but instead of brown sugar, Shri adds regional sugarcane juice for the sweet finish.
Flavour isn’t the only thing that Vietnamese mixologists are experimenting with.
An interesting twist on technique is the introduction of the Vietnamese brewing method, which Le Thanh Tung at Qui says is often used in HCMC.
Mixologists making up cocktails that require a touch of coffee or tea may use a traditional phin filter, which sits on the top of a cup, allowing the coffee to drip through.
Typical brewing time for a phin filter takes a little longer than your average western-style machine, which can result in a richer taste.
These interesting and innovative creations are getting HCMC mixologists noticed and the city is fast becoming a cocktail lover’s mecca.