Your Guide to Craft Cocktails in Saigon

drink - Saigon/HCMC: Nov. 17, 2017

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.

cocktailsImage 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.

“Come thirsty and leave happy” is Urban Kitchen + Bar’s slogan, which has happy hour on cocktails every day between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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.

cocktailsImage 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.

cocktailsImage 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.

The earlier mentioned Urban Kitchen + Bar is fully grounded and can be found on District 1’s Ngo Van Nam street.

Down the road from Urban is Last Call, which not only serves up tasty cocktails but has regular promotions throughout the week for any cocktail lovers on a budget.

Twisting Tradition

Vietnamese mixologists draw from a number of different inspirations when creating their cocktails, such as local ingredients or dishes.

Urban Kitchen + Bar mixologist Rex Tu says he experiments with various local tropical fruits to make home-made jams to use in his cocktails.

cocktailsImage source: Trang Hua

“I also dry fruits like apple, berry, pear, pineapple, banana and mix them with a little of my homemade jam to combine with the drink,” he adds.

Meanwhile, 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.”

cocktailsImage 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.

Last Call is another venue that takes a lot of inspiration for its signature cocktails from Vietnamese food, like its Bun Bo 59.

Into this drink goes chilli and lemongrass-infused tequila, along with flavours found within the fiery bun bo noodle-soup such as red capsicum, satay oil, lime and fresh coriander leaves.

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.

Further interesting and innovative creations are getting HCMC mixologists noticed.

Urban Kitchen + Bar’s Rex Tu, for example, says his signature cocktail The Rex is a favourite among customers.

Mr Tu spent two years crafting this drink, which he describes as having the perfect balance of sweet and spice.

To make it he mixes a four-week, cinnamon-infused vodka with flavours including lychee juice and blackberry liqueur.

cocktailsImage source: Trang Hua

It is served in a bowl that has been filled with smoke using American woodchip and a smoking gun, which brings out all the individual flavours of the drink.

“If I present that to you, you will feel different and you will want to come back,” he says—a perfect example of HCMC’s quickly evolving and impressive craft cocktail scene.

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