Memories & Modern Luxury at Rex Hotel Saigon’s Rooftop Garden Bar

By: John Mark Harrell

Experience a snapshot of the Rooftop Garden Bar in 1960s Saigon

How history has shaped the iconic Rex Hotel Saigon

The Rooftop Garden Bar serves classic taste with a modern twist

A Portal to a Distant Time

It’s 1974 in Saigon; a crowd of journalists, diplomats, and American soldiers gather around a podium just as the sun begins to set, looking down over what would have been a busy Nguyen Hue street full of bicycles, motorbikes, and the roar of old-fashioned automobile engines. 

Rooftop Garden Bar in Saigon

Americans at the time, not used to the sweltering heat but by now accustomed to this daily routine, would have perhaps indulged in an ice cold cocktail, sipping and chatting about the day’s events with their colleagues, wondering at some of the strange sights they’d seen around town and cracking a few jokes about the current state of affairs. With the flick of a switch, the whine of a microphone, and the sound of a few taps, the daily five o’clock follies begins.

Rooftop Garden Bar in Saigon

These daily news briefings, attended daily by journalists, soldiers, and diplomats based in Saigon, became emblematic of the culture—and dysfunction—of the “American War”. And they famously took place at the historic five-star Rex Hotel Saigon’s Rooftop Garden Bar. Walking into this space now, you can almost hear the chatter of these foreign guests as the surroundings transport you to a bygone era. The building itself, which has stood there since the early 20th century, has served multiple purposes in over a century of dramatic changes, and perhaps none more legendary than its tenure as the outpost for Americans in southern Vietnam leading up to the 1975 reunification.

History of a Southeast Asian Gem

Originally built by the French in the early 20th century, the Rex Hotel Saigon was expanded into a 6-floor trading centre in 1959, and subsequently leased to the American Cultural Center in 1960. During the “American War”, the American Information Service carried out its daily press briefings, the infamous five o’clock follies, at Rex Hotel Saigon’s Rooftop Garden Bar.

In 1973, the building was renamed the Rex Trading Center, outfitted with three cinemas, a cafeteria and dance hall. It wasn’t until after 1975 that its full realization as a five-star hotel came about, as the development and prosperity of the country came full circle during the post-war era. Officially, the Rex Hotel Saigon in its current state has been open since the 20th of September, 1976—and has enchanted its international guests with its classic, historic charm ever since.

Rooftop Garden Bar in Saigon

For tourists, hotel guests, expats, and locals alike, the Rex Hotel Saigon’s Rooftop Garden Bar is a true gem in the very heart of Saigon’s central District 1, adjacent to the festive Nguyen Hue walking street, and a standalone historic monument well-known far and wide throughout Southeast Asia. 

A Modern Classic

Walking into the Rex Hotel Saigon’s Rooftop Garden Bar, you’ll see instantly why this iconic building has been listed as one of Patricia Schultz’s 1000 Places to Visit Before You Die. Impressive elephant statues flank the main stage as a jazz band plays and fills the entire space with a timeless buzz and energy. A lively atmosphere surrounds you as a blend of tourists, hotel guests, and locals gather in the covered seating area and along the balcony overlooking the cheerful evening revelry of Vietnam after the war on Nguyen Hue walking street. You’ve never experienced a rooftop bar quite like this!

Rooftop Garden Bar in Saigon

Somehow the Rooftop Garden Bar of Rex Hotel Saigon maintains all the charm and authenticity of these memories from the past, while keeping up with the standards you’d expect from a 5 star hotel rooftop experience in modern day Saigon. You can even try the specially-crafted Five O’Clock Follies signature cocktail here—a mild and refreshing blend of Bacardi rum and cucumber, with just a splash of fresh squeezed lemon to give it a bit of tartness...a classic cocktail that is just as refreshing now, on a warm Saigon evening, as it might have been decades ago.

Rex Hotel Saigon’s Rooftop Garden Bar’s professional mixologists offer up a broad variety of cocktails in addition to this signature favourite, catering to international tastes and bringing a twist of modern techniques to well-known classics. You’ll have no shortage of choices here—and the quality is everything you’d expect from a five-star establishment.

Rooftop Garden Bar in Saigon

The rest of the hotel’s amenities follow suit, with an aesthetic that is at once classically Vietnamese as it is fully modern and up-to-date. Known colloquially as “the pearl of Vietnamese tourism”, the incomparable Rex Hotel Saigon is a comfortable abode for lovers of history and luxury alike. If you’re looking for a quintessentially Saigonese night out, you simply must indulge in an expertly-crafted classic cocktail, listen to the sound of live music, and enjoy an evening with friends and loved ones in the relaxing, refined, breezy atmosphere of the Rooftop Garden Bar of Rex Hotel Saigon.

Image source: Rex Hotel


The Shri Wine Experience in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Laura Hill

Shri, Saigon’s premier wine destination.

Shri provides an endless choice of wine to suit any taste.

Saigon’s young and beautiful are flocking to Shri.

Even after only a short time in Saigon, many people realise that if you want to experience all that the city has to offer, you have to turn your gaze away from street level and look up. The searing heat, thick humidity, constant noise and ‘unique’ driving style of many residents makes walking the city sidewalks an experience that is both exhilarating and nerve wracking. Thankfully, hidden spaces that can be found just a few meters above the ground provide a welcome escape from the chaos.

Shri Saigon

Entering Centec Tower, located on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street in District 3, the immaculately polished ground floor gives the impression of an exclusively professional space, and indeed the ground floor houses a bank or two. However, a swift elevator ride up to the 23rd floor will transport you far from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. Here you’ll find Shri Restaurant and Lounge, one of Saigon’s longest serving establishments, offering rooftop dining. 

Far from the bright and polished marble of the tower’s foyer, Shri welcomes customers with a sumptuous and seductive atmosphere that hints at the treats it holds in store. To the right, a stylish bar area full of dark wood and moody lighting, evokes images of a bygone era, when cigars were smoked after dinner and leather-bound books provided the backdrop for sophisticated conversation. To the left, the indoor dining space provides sociable booth seating for larger groups and intimate tables for those seeking a more romantic setting. 

However, the real highlight of Shri’s ‘décor’ are the spectacular views from the beautiful rooftop terrace. Looking out at the glittering skyline of downtown Saigon, breathing in the very welcome fresh air, the manic city sidewalk feels much further away than 23 floors. If it’s an escape from the city that you are looking for, Shri may just be the perfect place.

Sky high standards 

When it first opened in 2010, Shri established itself as an international standard dining venue. As the city fast developed, many others have followed in Shri’s footsteps. From the growing competition, the challenge has been to maintain the core concept of providing high quality food and service, without losing the innovative, creative character that was integral to the original vision.

At present, this challenge falls to Shri’s General Manager, Thomas Gillgren, and it’s a challenge he is meeting with gusto. With promises of combining art and music, fabulous food, wine and cocktails, Thomas is aiming to provide extraordinary experiences for patrons of Shri. I met with him and two members of his team, Mr Binh and Miss Ngoc, to hear about one of their current innovations, the Shri Wine Experience, and how it is ensuring that Shri still demands a place on the list of must-visit venues in Ho Chi Minh City, even after almost a decade of service. 

Shri Saigon

I start by asking Thomas about how the Shri Wine Experience came about, but he is keen to highlight that this is a continuation of Shri’s history rather than a ‘new’ concept. “We have to look back on what Shri was (to understand) what it is today,” Thomas says. He quickly explains that even in the early days, Shri built a reputation for being a popular destination for wine drinkers. At that time, customers were primarily expats and government members and popular choices from the wine list were usually Bordeaux and Chardonnay. However, Shri has always been willing to make suggestions for those eager to try something new. Mr Binh, who has worked at Shri since it opened and is the current sommelier, agrees, remembering that even then, building a reputation for providing fine wines was a priority. 

“The very first general manager was always trying new wines to recommend to our customers” he remembers, smiling, for it was this that started him on the road to his current career. “Sometimes, (the general manager) would try a wine and call me over to join him. He would talk to me about the wine and the reasons (for its taste), that’s why I like it now”. 

“Shri has always had a strong food and wine programme and the wine cellar was built up by the first General manager” continues Thomas. “However, with the changes throughout the years, I wanted to rebuild and reposition the wine experience that you can get here.” Ultimately, Thomas says his goal is to “have the best variety of wines that customers can get.” 

The Shri Wine Experience

Luckily, for wine drinkers of Saigon, it appears that Thomas is a man of his word. With around 340 wines currently on the wine list, he is confident that Shri offers the largest selection of wine in the city. “There are other places in Saigon that have great cellars” he says, “but they usually concentrate on one type of wine, like Bordeaux, or wines from France. If it’s an Argentinian (restaurant), they concentrate on the Malbec or expressions of that, but because we have fourteen or fifteen wine suppliers, we have a larger variety than other restaurants.” And that variety is only set to increase when Thomas and his team launch the second edition of the Shri Wine Experience wine list at the end of September 2019. “There’ll be another thirty, or forty wines on the menu,” he says. However, for Thomas and his team an extensive wine list is only part of the vision for the Shri Wine Experience... 

Shri Saigon

...“We want it to be accessible for people to try new wines” says Thomas earnestly, “We don’t want people to be afraid of tasting wines”... 

Miss Ngoc, is quick to agree, “We want people to feel comfortable,” she says, explaining that this has been integral to her own experience in developing a love for wine. “In the past, wine was quite disgusting for me... but the former wine steward at Shri would always let me try something new, he let me try some good wines. Because of that period my (opinions) started to change and I got a different perspective about wine. Now, I’m into Italian wine. I like the spiciness inside their wine, which is in every bottle” she says, with the confidence of a seasoned connoisseur. 

As the team speak about their work and the development of the Shri Wine Experience, their passion for the project it clear to see, in fact, it’s contagious. I find myself smiling as the team tell me about their plans. I admit, I have very limited experience within the wine world, but at no point do I feel intimidated at Shri. I ask Thomas what I could expect as a customer looking to develop my wine knowledge... 

...“We’re not just trying to please the connoisseurs, we’re trying to introduce people to a pleasant wine experience. What we want to do is balance the wine list so that people have the chance to try different expressions of the same grape, but from different areas. We want people to maybe try a Malbec from France, where the original Malbec is from, and compare it to an Argentinian Malbec”...

This novel idea of using customer’s personal experience to provide a starting point for their journey into the world of wine, has proven to be a popular way to assist customers in expanding their palette. By creating special menus highlighting wines from the same grape variety but different regions, the team at Shri have succeeded in making the whole experience more accessible. 

It has taken almost 18 months to develop the Shri Wine Experience to its current form. Whilst the development of the mid segment of the wine list has certainly been a priority, Thomas and his team also remember to keep their more experienced customers happy. “We’re working on a special wine menu which is a little bit more exclusive” says Thomas. “It would be for people who are really experienced in wines.” He explains that these so called ‘big’ wines, may carry a larger price tag, but would be taken from a selection of what he would class as the best wines in the world. 

Extraordinary Experiences 

With the rapid developments in Saigon’s food and beverage industry, it seems that the number of customers who are interested in such an exclusive list may be much larger than anyone would have expected when Shri first opened 9 years ago. Drawing on his experience of running bars all over the world, Thomas is able to draw similarities between the current trends in Vietnam and other international destinations…

Shri Saigon

...“Saigon is positioning itself as a more international city, in the same way as Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo have for a long time. I’ve seen it in Dubai, Indonesia and London too, in 2019 the knowledge about wines is expanding among the clients that we have. The new hospitality industry demands more”... 

Consequently, as the Shri team has expanded the wine list, they have also attracted a broader range of customers. Miss Ngoc explains that this is because the younger generation of Saigoneers, of which she is a member, are looking for new experiences.

“Now when we go to a restaurant, we look to more complicated drinks, like cocktails or wine. Since 2015, (we’ve had) more exposure to different categories of drinks and now we seek more options. The number of young people who know about wine is increasing and keeps developing.” 

Shri Saigon

Mr Binh agrees that the younger people of the city are keen to learn, “A few years ago when I was talking about wine, I’d talk about Cabernet Sauvignon and my friends would just say ‘What is Cabernet Sauvignon?’ Now they come here and ask ‘where’s the wine list?’ or ‘do you have a recommendation?’ Now it is fashionable to know.” 

A quick look at the galleries from recent Shri events, certainly suggests that Saigon’s young and beautiful are enjoying the experiences on offer at Shri, but Thomas assures me that there is something for everyone on the rooftop. 

“We have too many ideas!” he says with a laugh. “We want to update our offers for all of our customers. It could be a tasting, an exclusive dinner, a food experience… it just takes a while to execute them!’ With so many ideas, Thomas doesn’t divulge too many details but he does let me know that something special is being planned. However, for now, details are being kept under wraps. “We are all very excited about it, but I can’t say more just yet” he says, elusively. Miss Ngoc, also gives little away, but does manage to add “It’s going to be epic!” with an excited nod and a knowing smile.

Shri Saigon

Again, the enthusiasm of the team is infectious, and Thomas is quick to share the credit for the success of the Shri Wine Experience. “It was a blessing to meet these two people here. From working all over the world and working with Sommeliers and high-end establishments, I was happy to see that there was a genuine interest in wines from my staff. For a restaurant, that is so important. Food and wine are the pairing. To discover the genuine interest for wines was (not just) among our customers … we have been lucky.”

Shri Saigon

As we end the interview, I suspect that what Thomas refers to as ‘luck’ is actually a combination of hard work and passion to provide that ever elusive ‘extraordinary’ experience. And having heard more about what they have planned at Shri in the near future, it seems that it may be closer than you think. Just 23 floors away, in fact.

Shri can be found at Level 23, Centec Tower, 72 – 74 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai. 

To find out more about Shri’s upcoming events and the Shri Wine Experience, visit www.shri.vn/hcm/

Image source: Shri Restaurant and Lounge


Can Vietnam Produce Quality Coffee?

By: City Pass Guide

Meet The Expert: Interview With a Coffee Master

On a sunny Thursday in August, we went to The Workshop, an artisan coffee shop on Ngo Duc Ke street in Saigon’s District 1, to meet with Dung, a true expert on coffee in Vietnam. The Workshop is located in the same part of the street as Tandoor, but well hidden. Only a blue sign by the entrance indicates that a pearl of worldwide artisan coffee culture can be found upstairs.

The Workshop is nicely decorated with wooden elements. It appears like a mix of modern designer café and coffee science museum, the tools of trade exhibited in shelves along the walls. In the center there is the bar, where the trained staff performs the brewing process in front of your eyes. There is original artwork on the walls and we instantly felt at home. We met Dung in the conference room adjacent to the spacious guest area. We introduced ourselves and he immediately started talking about coffee.

Dung Tuan Nguyen’s first experience with coffee was when he was two years old. His mother gave him coffee and the rest of the night he spend walking around the bed - to the very displeasure of his father who had to get up early. He really started drinking coffee when he was 12 or 13 years old. By the time he was in high school, he used the delicious brew to survive his tests.

As a trained architect it was hard to find good work in Vietnam, so he switched between project management and hotel consultancy, until he found his passion in coffee.

Working in the coffee business makes Dung feel good, and doing something that changes the fundamental thoughts people have about coffee is fun. His passion for the bean and the confident conversation that comes right to the point shows he knows as much about coffee as the second man.

[Answers are paraphrased for purposes of brevity and readability.]

City Pass: What makes coffee so attractive to people?

Dung: There are several things that make us love coffee. First the reaction of our body and mind to the caffeine. It makes us alert, excites us and makes the brain work better. Second, the cafés became an intellectual and social place for doing business or politics. And third, it tastes good and smells even better. Alone the smell of coffee makes people happy, even those who don’t drink coffee.

City Pass: Tell us about the significance of coffee in Vietnam.

Dung: Since the French introduced the coffee plant around 150 years ago, Vietnam became the second biggest producer in the world, right after Brazil. The country is number one in growing robusta. Since 1993, the government focuses on mass production, so many arabica plantations got destroyed and replaced. Today, 99.9% of the coffee grown in Vietnam is robusta and catimor, but the quality is rather poor.

Unroasted Coffee Beans

City Pass: What is the difference between robusta and arabica?

Dung: Apart from the great difference in taste and the shape of the beans, the trees are very distinct. The arabica tree has 22 pairs of chromosomes, while the robusta tree has only 11 pairs. Robusta is, as the name already indicates, very robust and grows in lower altitudes. Arabica trees need much more attention and care. One hectare of arabica trees yields about seven tons of coffee, while the same area planted with robusta gives three times as much, but of low quality.

City Pass: What is the main constraint associated with the production of more arabica coffee in Vietnam?

Dung: People don’t care about the quality of the coffee. There is not much commitment from the buyer’s side, since they want a high production and a cheaper price. You have to go directly to the farmer and work with him. Just staying in the city and ordering the beans you want remotely is a bourgeois attitude. There are a lot of wealthy farmers in Cau Dat, but many coffee farmers of other regions of Da Lat, like Lang Biang for example, are poor and have to borrow from loan sharks to survive. At harvest time they collect every cherry to pay the interest. Farmers in debt are very common. If you really help them and be transparent about what you do, they trust you and are willing to enter a long-term relationship.

City Pass: How is coffee, especially more sophisticated specialities, perceived in Vietnam?

Dung: In Vietnam, coffee has to be thick, black and bitter. That pretty much sums it up. But I am not trying to convert hardcore traditional coffee drinkers. I rather target people who love to drink good coffee, people overseas, people who usually don’t drink coffee and expats.

Syphon Coffee Maker

City Pass: What is the greatest weakness of Vietnamese coffee?

Dung: One of the greatest weaknesses of the country is that Vietnam doesn’t have an international brand, not even international recognition when it comes to coffee despite being the second largest exporter in the world. The big brands in Vietnam just screw the people. They just want to get the cheap coffee and are obsessed with tons, even if they say they care. It is the same as with rice.

City Pass: How is the opportunity to create a brand around Vietnam?

Dung: We are at an age where quality and moral production becomes more important. In order to do that you have to be an authentic person, passionate and have a love for what you do. We have to do things properly.

City Pass: What is the most important aspect in your work with farmers and customers?

Dung: Transparency. Everything has to be done transparent. If you offer a single-source product, it is pointless if you can’t name the farm where the coffee comes from. Several companies claim to source locally and sustainably, but they don’t disclose the origin. It really is all a matter of transparency and trust.

City Pass: Tell us something about the taste of coffee.

Dung: Dark roasted coffee usually tastes bitter and burned. When you roast light, you bring out the specific types, which we divide into seven general categories: Floral, fruity, herbal, honey/molasses, acidic/wine-ish. There is a lot of fruitiness in Kenyan and Colombian beans, while coffee from Laos, Panama and Ethiopia is more floral. Vietnamese coffee is more fruity than floral. Check out the taste wheel at scaa.org to get a better idea of the flavors.

Chemex Coffee Maker

City Pass: How to create a perfect cup?

Dung: Nothing is perfect. Working with artisan coffee is a world of trying and experimenting. In the past, people thought dark roasted beans make the best coffee. The community of speciality coffee lovers discovered that roasting light brings out the best flavors. We always try new things.

But to make a good cup of coffee, you need great beans, filtered water and the right temperature.

However, the most important piece of equipment is the grinder. Invest in your grinder. You can buy a decent machine for around VND 700,000 up to VND 2,500,000. Electric grinders may be even pricier. The coffee should be ground evenly and not like dust or sand.

Conclusion:

If you crave to taste Dung’s expertise firsthand, I recommend visiting The Workshop in 27 Ngo Duc Ke, Ben Nghe, District 1 ( on the 2nd floor) yourself. Pick one of the three beans they have on the menu, combine it with your favorite brewing method and you’re ready to go.

The Workshop - Speciality Coffee in Saigon


A Chat with Cafe RuNam

By: Aleksandr Smechov


Citypassguide.com sat down with Chris Ngo, Cafe RuNam’s Chief Operating Officer, to discuss how Cafe RuNam is slowly changing locals’ minds about the concept of “pure” Vietnamese coffee. Through a meticulous selection process where only a minor percentage of beans make it through inspections, Cafe RuNam is all about consistent quality and traditional taste. It even took their Italian roastmaster months to achieve the perfect blends of Arabica and Robusta beans for the brand.


Citpassguide.com: What does “RuNam” mean?

Chris: Ru is understood as a lullaby song for a child, Nam stands for Vietnam, of course, since this is a Vietnamese brand. RuNam is “the lullaby of Vietnam”, the spiritual baby to be flourished with love, care and affection, bringing the best Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: Who is behind Cafe RuNam?

Chris: Mr. Nguyen Quoc Khanh and his wife Mrs. Ly Q. K. Trinh. Mr. Khanh, Chairman of AA Corporation, an established construction company specializing in premium interior design, is taking care of the basic construction and designs of RuNam restaurants while Mrs. Trinh is the soul of the brand, a perfectionist. Her personal touch and exaggerated expectations are shown in the little details of our cafes.

CPG: How do you roast your beans?

Chris: We have our own roasting facility and coffee testing lab located in Binh Duong province. Our Italian Roastmaster has been researching for suitable roasting methods for Vietnamese coffee blends. There are several blends of Cafe RuNam differentiated by the percentage of arabica and robusta in the mix and roasting timing according to specific temperature adjustment. There are also many different types of each bean, so the entire process of finding the right method of roasting this mix was much more complex than simply roasting one type of bean. The difference of a perfectly roasted coffee and a burned coffee is the matter of seconds.

CPG: How are you bringing “pure” coffee to Vietnam?

Chris: What locals often drink in streetside cafes is not necessarily coffee. So introducing a pure coffee, without additives or artificial flavors like caramel, soybeans, corns was a crazy idea at first. From the locals’ perception, this is not real coffee, but we patiently change that perception by introducing the highest quality blends from our homemade production, from highly selected fresh green beans to monitoring the roasting process to crafting each coffee cup under consistent training procedures, as well as regular system audits from RuNam barista artists. Therefore we believe the culinary marriage of Vietnamese coffee beans with Italian roasting techniques works well. As a result, we currently have a large number of loyal customers and fans who love our coffee and the soul behind it.

CPG: Do you have additives in your coffee?

Chris: No. We use 100% coffee beans. That is the most challenging factor we’ve faced in the first several months of preparations before introducing our blends to the market. In the beginning, most Vietnamese coffee drinkers didn’t like the taste. This is something really new for them. We started to explain to our customers the reasons behind the taste and how it’s different with what they usually have. If they still don’t like it we can change the beverage or give them their money back.

CPG: Do you have a secret ratio for your blends of arabica and robusta?

Chris: Actually, this depends on the roastmaster. Depending on the season and the beans and the taste, he decides what is best suitable according to our blend guidelines and standard SOPs.

CPG: Do you import any coffee beans?

Chris: No. We use 100% Vietnamese beans. Although it’s very difficult to find good arabica here in Vietnam. The coffee growing conditions in the highlands is challenging for producing good arabica. Our roasting master has to occasionally sample different sources of beans from different plantations in order to keep up the quality and consistency of the coffee blends.

CPG: What are your best sellers?

Chris: Our ca phe sua da, ca phe da and cappuccino. These three have been the favorite of our customers. We received numerous compliments for our coffee drink menu. I have been tasting different Vietnamese coffee or cappuccinos whenever I travel or during my free time, I couldn’t find anything like it. The ambassador of Italy came to Vietnam in early 2015, and she first came to Cafe RuNam to have a cup of cappuccino, which was recommended to her by the previous ambassador. She loves it.

CPG: How did you personally get into coffee?

Chris: I got to learn about coffee when I was with KFC Singapore when we started to launch KFC breakfast. Before joining Cafe RuNam I was the Training and Development Manager for The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I was sent overseas for barista training. I was a barista judge for some competitions. I was trained again with the RuNam roastmaster. The company sponsored me, some key managers and key baristas for Espresso Italiano Experience Seminar by International Institute of Coffee Tasters (IICT – Italy branch) to get myself ready for Cafe RuNam.

CPG: Have you created a signature Cafe RuNam coffee drink?

Chris: We have Madam RuNam, an iced latte with condensed milk and some secret ingredients. Also Sand Dune: a very unique coffee alcohol drink with Kahlua, Bailey's and some in-house ingredients. Besides those, we have many delicious in-house creations coming soon.

CPG: Who are your customers?

Chris: Café RuNam’s customers are comprised of following target groups: affluent local residents, middle to upper class tourists, local business people, the young at heart.

This depends on our store locations. In the South, it’s mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều. In the Center, it’s mostly tourists. And in the North, it’s like in the South - mostly Vietnamese and Việt Kiều.

CPG: Have you started exporting your beans?

Chris: Yes, we already have partner restaurants in several countries. However, the production at the moment is pretty tight since getting quality beans is difficult right now. We have a list of potential domestic and international customers who proposed to be partners with Cafe RuNam, but we’re not ready for this at the moment.

CPG: What’s the future of RuNam?

Chris: We’re in the process of spreading our brands to all the big cities in Vietnam where our main target customers are located. We already have our focus on the premium coffee market. Therefore selecting distribution partners or cafes needs a proper process of brand evaluation. We send barista trainers to the partner facility to train them on brewing, crafting and displaying coffee products according to Cafe RuNam standards. For long term, we plan to bring the best of Vietnamese coffee to the world.

CPG: How many cups of coffee do you drink every day?

Chris: About four to nine cups [laughs]. On some days I can’t even open my eyes without going to work getting a coffee. And when I’m on holiday, well, those are hell. I try to drink other brands, but nothing comes close to what I want. I usually have cappuccinos, ca phe sua das, espressos. I must have two to three cups of cappuccino and/or cafe sua da a day, at least! That’s just my life. Do you want another cup of coffee?

CPG: How do you educate yourself about coffee?

Chris: I read about it. I research about it. I sign up for quality coffee courses. I practice crafting coffee whenever I can. Recently, I started writing about it. Besides coffee knowledge, my writing also includes how coffee became a part of my life, my search for answers about the coffee industry and culture, and how coffee got me where I am standing today. I share what I write with my team. I may publish it one day when I am ready for the fame it may get me. For now, I want to stay focus flourishing my spiritual RuNam baby.

CPG: Do you like to drink any other coffee in town?

Chris: I actually check around every day to try different coffee. If I know any new coffee shop that just opened I check out their coffees. Traveling to any new city, I try the coffee there. Coffee is mostly my life, having a good cup of coffee everywhere I go, for me, is a way of indulging in life.

CPG: Anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t covered?

Chris: We are promoting not just coffee but Vietnam’s traditional aspects to our customers. One of the distinguishing symbols of Cafe RuNam is the art of the coffee filter (phin). For the foreign friends, if you come in a small group, and you want to learn more about the coffee phin making process, we have well-trained barista artists (or you could simply ask for me, I am usually based in Ho Chi Minh City) to personally present the uniqueness of the Vietnamese coffee filter culture for you and your guests.


Meet the Expert: GM of Starbucks

By: City Pass Guide

We went to Starbucks on 76 Le Lai street, Ben Thanh, to meet and interview Patricia Marques, General Manager of Starbucks Vietnam about living in Vietnam, opening new markets and the strengths of Vietnamese coffee beans.

CityPassGuide.com: How long have you been in Vietnam and what holds you, personally, here?

I arrived five years ago, and just three days later I knew that I wanted to stay here. I lived in many countries before and for me it’s easy to adapt to other cultures. However, Vietnam instantly felt like Latin America. The traffic, the chaos and the reason behind this chaos, it really feels like home.

CityPassGuide.com: What is your greatest pet peeve in Vietnam?

At work? Punctuality is really an issue.

CityPassGuide.com: You brought Starbucks to Vietnam?

I have been here for five years, but yes, I started the Starbucks Vietnam adventure almost three years ago. Myself, I started my career around 11 years ago as a barista in San Mateo, California. At that time, Starbucks had “only” 400 stores worldwide.

CityPassGuide.com: What draws Starbucks to Vietnam?

The Maxims Group in Hong Kong and Macao had a license for Starbucks in Vietnam and we felt the market was ready. In most other Asian countries we had already opened branches; Vietnam, as the second largest exporter of coffee in the world, was the next logical step.

CityPassGuide.com: What were the main obstacles of expanding to Vietnam?

Believe it or not, establishing a big brand faces obstacles in every country around the world. In Vietnam the issues were just of a different nature, that’s what made it our unique Vietnamese experience. But in a way it was easier to establish the business in an existing coffee culture like Vietnam. In other Asian countries you need to convert the tea drinkers first, but here you are just another player.

CityPassGuide.com: Speaking of other players, Highlands Coffee, Phuc Long and others have Vietnamese coffee on the menu, why not Starbucks?

First, we have. There are in fact two Vietnamese-style items on the menu. Asian Dolce Latte and Dolce Misto are inspired by ca phe sua da, done the Starbucks way. But adapting completely to the Vietnamese taste would take away our uniqueness. Many of our customers are used to Starbucks from other countries. When they come to Vietnam, they want to visit a Starbucks.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the most popular beverage in Vietnam?

From the cold section it’s the Green Tea Frappuccino. Especially people who are not used to drinking coffee are drawn towards this beverage. Among the hot drinks, it’s definitely the Latte.

CityPassGuide.com: Are there differences in consumption between the South and the North?

Definitely. First, in the North we have seasons and the consumption changes between winter and summer. In Saigon, there is no winter, so most of the hot drinks and drip coffees are consumed by foreigners.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the ratio of foreign customers?

Low, actually less than 5 percent.

CityPassGuide.com: How is Starbucks contributing to a sustainable development in Vietnam?

I believe we are an innovator. We have a very clear career path and already there are four or five stores in Ho Chi Minh City that are managed by Vietnamese former baristas. Also we build all our stores with respect to local material, with local construction partners and local artists.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you actually source in Vietnam?

Let me explain how our coffee works. There is the Starbucks Coffee Company who sources coffee all over the world, also in Vietnam. They roast, blend, package and distribute the product to all shops. Since we opened Starbucks Vietnam, they listened to us and pay closer attention to Vietnamese arabica beans.

CityPassGuide.com: What are the chances of Vietnamese coffee beans on the international market?

Vietnam sits in a golden chair, especially since it’s the largest producer of robusta beans worldwide. If we work with the farmers, we can especially push for arabica, the potential is enormous there.

CityPassGuide.com: What is the best coffee region for arabica in Vietnam?

Da Lat. The region has exactly what the arabica plants like and the cherries are especially beautiful, an important criteria for excellent coffee.

CityPassGuide.com: How much coffee do you drink per day?

One cup, drip coffee.


Top 5 Sports Bars in HCMC

By: Phuong Tran

 

Finding the 5 best sports bars in Ho Chi Minh City was not an easy task as the options are almost endless. We visited as much as we could on one liver and deliver you below our top 5 picks.

You can watch in those pubs almost all the typical international sporting events. They are usually packed on big soccer nights when Premier League, Champion's' League or World Cup matches are screened. Other popular events include the Olympic Games, UFC Fighting, Australian Football (AFL), Basketball (NBA), American Football (NFL) and Hockey (NFL).

You should note that each nationality usually favors its own sports bar. Phatty's for instance is usually most popular with Australians.

 

1) Pacharan

Pacharan is a restaurant first, but it is popular for watching sports in Saigon as well, especially with the Iberic fans. Located directly opposite the Park Hyatt Hotel in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City, Pacharan Spanish restaurant is spread over four floors. Feast on dishes such as tender chorizo, marinated anchovies, chillied gambas, bean stew, parsley and garlic-sauteed baby mushrooms, white-wine clams and marinated pork skewers.

Or try authentic paella for a real taste of Spain while supporting La Roja. .

97 Hai Ba Trung, D1 HCMC

2) Papagayo Restaurant & Bar

This French Mediterranean restaurant serves pizza and onion soup, and a special discount on Tiger draught and Heineken just for the World Cup. Open for all matches until 3am.

18 Tran Ngoc Dien, Thao Dien, D2 HCMC


3) Red Bar

Red Bar is one of the most popular bar in the city and it is always a good choice when it comes to sport. Network or simply mix and mingle at Red Bar Saigon. The international menu is ever-changing, from fish and chips to chateaubriand.


The craziest thing about Red Bar? Its Happy Hour is the longest in HCMC and goes from 9am to 9pm every day! It’s also one of the only smoke-free bars in town. So, if you are Dutch or a non-smoker, Red bar is your home for watching sports in Saigon.

70-72 Ngo Duc Ke, D1 HCMC

4) Boomarang Bistro Saigon

If you are in District 7, don’t worry, you are not too far from the fun. In fact, there’s a fabulous bar in the Crescent named Boomarang where you can enjoy authentic Australian cuisine, and of course, shout your favourite football team’s name.

CR-2 3-4 107 Tôn Dật Tiên, PMH D7, HCMC

5) Phatty's

The premier hub for Aussie expats, Phatty's serves a selection of tempting Aussie burgers and BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwiches, gourmet chicken fillets and succulent steaks. When a big event is on, Phatty’s does not hesitate to pull all-nighters.

46 Ton That Thiep, D1, HCMC

Further Suggestions for the best sports bars in Saigon:


- Chill Sky Bar26th & 27th Floor Rooftop, AB Tower, 76A Le Lai, D1 HCMC

- The Alps (German), 54 Pasteur, Ward Ben Nghe, D1, HCMC

- The Cube Bar, 31B Ly Tu Trong, D1, HCMC

- Lotte Legend Saigon, 2A-4A Ton Duc Thang, Ben Nghe Ward, D1, HCMC

- The Orient Bar, 24 Ngo Van Nam, D1, HCMC

- Game On - Sports Pub Saigon - 115 Hồ Tùng Mậu, Bến Nghé, District 1, HCMC

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