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

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