The bar scene has been blowing up in Vietnam. Besides more and more cool speakeasys and creative commercial bars noteworthy cocktail spots have opened in Nha Trang, Phu Quoc and beyond. To the backdrop of a buzzing ten-bar “Cocktail Village” at Saigon’s Deutsches Haus, and after a four-person panel “Bar Talk”, Vietnam Cocktail Festival’s three-day event climaxed with an awards show.
Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt
Three days. Two masterclasses. Eleven guest shifts. Six bartender nightcaps. And six coveted awards. Vietnam Cocktail Festival, hosted by Bartender Takeover and Bitter Sweet, in its new extended format, ended on 7th January with Vietnam’s best bars and bartenders carrying off the trophies for Hospitality Team of the Year, Restaurant Bar of the Year, New Bar of the Year, Bar of the Year, Rising Star of the Year and Bartender of the Year.
Before then, Vietnam Cocktail Festival’s masterclasses and guest shifts mixed bartenders and ambassadors from Vietnam with their counterparts from overseas.
Satoshi Suguira, Japanese bar manager at the “80s-themed neon-lit cocktail bar” The Odd Couple in Shanghai, opened the masterclasses at The Gin House on Day 1. The following day, Indra Kantono, the co-founder of Singapore’s “refreshingly old-school” Jigger & Pony (currently the 9th best bar in Asia), gave the second masterclass at Drinking & Healing.
And after dark, Lam Duong from much-talked-about Nha Trang bar Hybrid, Cong Nguyen at Telephone Bar, Thai bar manager, Kitibordee Gov Chortubtim, from creative Bangkok cocktail bar Libération, Indonesian Agung Satria from Bam Bam and many others delivered a series of drunken nightcaps and guest shifts.
But the undoubted climax was the awards after the four-person Bar Talk at the event sponsored by Naked Grouse, Monin, Absolut Elyx, Dewar’s, Bacardi, Clement Rhum, Brugal, Chivas and Monkey 47. So, these are best bars and bartenders in Vietnam according to Vietnam Cocktail Festival’s awards held at Saigon’s Deutsches Haus.
Hospitality Team of the Year
Contenders: Below Whisky Den, Drinking & Healing, Nê Cocktail Bar Hanoi, Qui Cuisine Mixology
The hospitality teams of the year come from well-established bars with big reputations. Below Whisky Den slotted into the venue beneath another perennial favourite of Saigon’s bar scene, Broma. Since then Kata Simon’s Below Whisky Den team have been serving elaborate, unforgettable concoctions, often to a backdrop of live music.
Drinking & Healing, part of the Guru Group behind District 3’s Guru Sports bar, LABAR and now Candi Shop, is a modern-industrial style speakeasy across Saigon’s Ham Nghi Street in the shadow of the Bitexco Tower. After opening in Autumn 2018, it quickly became the hottest cocktail bar in the city, with an exciting assortment of local bartending talent.
Nê Cocktail Bar, in Hanoi, was opened by the first winner of the Diageo Reserve World Class Vietnam competition, Pham Tien Tiep. The former bartender at the Metropole Hanoi recently opened another Hanoi bar with a bespoke cocktail style (where guests fill in a card with their taste preferences), Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab.
And finally, back in Saigon, Qui Cuisine Mixology really elevated the local cocktail scene by making creative cocktails in a commercial bar (rather than focusing on bottles of spirits on the tables).
Winner: Nê Cocktail Bar (Hanoi)
Restaurant Bar of the Year
Contenders: Anan Saigon, ROS Dining & River Lounge, Sol Kitchen & Bar, Octo Tapas Resto bar
Vietnam caught the cocktail bug. Speakeasys sprang up everywhere. And even restaurants got in on the act by elevating their cocktail offerings to pair alongside their dishes, or just to be enjoyed before, during or after dinner.
Anan Saigon opened the retro pho bar, Nhau Nhau, on its second floor in 2018. Besides their pho mojito and tra da cocktail, the bar serves sake from Hue and shots like the coconut worm shot – a tribute to the Mekong Delta region south of Saigon.
The next entrant, ROS Dining & River Lounge, is a newcomer. However, the stylish bar and restaurant was what Saigon had been waiting for for some time — a place to eat and drink right on the waterfront. The food was by Chef Vinh Nguyen (formerly of Zuma in Dubai and Istanbul). And the drinks by mixologist Hideyuki Saito. It was an instant hit that was namechecked often in our guest city guides.
Another immediate success that has sustained its following since opening in 2019 was Sol Kitchen & Bar. Malaysian chef and founder Andrew Chong Yen’s bold Tex-Mex restaurant served drinks as full of flavour as its Latin-American cuisine (thanks to bartender Phuong Khanh).
Finally, Julien Thabault’s Octo Tapas Resto Bar offered the perfect counter to sit at and enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine with a plate of signature pulpo a l’OCTO.
Winner: ROS Dining & River Lounge
New Bar of the Year
Contenders: Bam Bam, Hybrid Nha Trang, The Cocktail Merchants, Gallery Bespoke Cocktail Bar Hanoi
There’s no doubt Bam Bam blew up this year. The Balinese-themed lounge complete with drained pools for dancing in and a 360-degree bar in the middle welcomed big-name guest after big-name guest — the UK’s Benji B, Yung Bae, Chromeo…
We held The Dot Magazine’s launch party there too back in August.
Hybrid has been receiving rave reviews. Already, the cocktail bar is changing perceptions of the holiday town of Nha Trang thanks to its creative cocktails made by the former Irusu bar manager, Lam Duong.
The Cocktail Merchants’ opening was more low-key. In the alleys off Saigon’s Nguyen Trai – not far from Gin House – the boat-shaped bar with a lab upstairs employed baristas as bartenders, and utlised lots of local ingredients in drinks like their sweet, spicy and aromatic Babushka with Vietnamese honey.
And Gallery Bespoke Cocktail Bar, in the capital’s Hoan Kiem District, like the name suggests, is hidden behind an art gallery. It’s a good example of the trend for cocktail bars to serve bespoke drinks — tailor-made to customer preferences and mood.
Winner: Hybrid Nha Trang
Bar of the Year
Contenders: Drinking & Healing, Hybrid, The Alley Cocktail Bar & Kitchen, Gallery Bespoke Cocktail Bar
The Bar of the Year Award brought together four bars each of which had a strong claim to the title. Drinking & Healing in the heritage building at 25 Ho Tung Mau serves signature cocktails in cups sat inside inflatable unicorns or smoked in neon-lit glass boxes. Hybrid Nha Trang, which only opened in early October, deservedly made the list for its molecular cocktails that incorporate lots of native ingredients from a cocktail menu that changes with the seasons. Gallery Bespoke Cocktail Bar, in the growing Jigger Hanoi family of bars, is another new opening that’s helped to elevate Hanoi’s bar scene.
Besides those three newly opened bars was The Alley Cocktail Bar & Kitchen. The vintage-themed Saigon cocktail bar was one of the city’s first speakeasys. Despite being downtown on Pasteur Street it managed a disappearing act — hidden in an alley a few doors down from the Old Compass Cafe.
Winner: Drinking & Healing
Rising Star Award
Contenders: Hoang Quyen (Below Whisky Den), Ngo Kim Uyen (Nê Cocktail Bar), Tran Nhi (Corked Tales), Bui Nhu Y (Rabbit Hole)
A new generation of bartenders is coming though as evidenced by the shortlist for the Rising Star Award.
Saigon’s Below Whisky Den’s team has been nurtured by Kata Simon. It’s home of some of the best (and most elaborate) whisky cocktails in the city. They also claimed the prize for the best Negroni in town, no easy feat considering the growing competition.
Corked Tales, a bar inspired by myths and magical creatures, became a cool after-work wind down and dating spot on the mezzanine floor of the CJ Building on Le Thanh Ton. And the Rabbit Hole has been serving a dizzying number of perfectly made classic cocktails and some impressive signatures in its discreet basement location in Saigon’s District 1. And Nê Cocktail Bar in Hanoi completes the list.
Winner: Hoang Quyen (Below Whisky Den)
Bartender of the Year
Contenders: Nguyen Huu Phu (Irusu Lounge), Dinh Thep (Summer Experiment), Phuong Khanh (Sol Kitchen & Bar), Duong Quy Lam (Hybrid)
Even before Vietnam Cocktail Festival’s Bar Awards, Nguyen Huu Phu from Irusu Lounge had a big year. The twenty-four-year-old bartender won the Campari Bartender Vietnam Competition 2019 back in December — and a trip to Milan. He also took The Champion of Four Pillars Gin Vietnam and Champion of La Maison Cointreau Vietnam this year too.
Dinh Thep also had a great year. The long-anticipated smaller sister of Layla Eatery & Bar opened — called Summer Experiment. And Dinh Thep was a key player in conception and early success. He also won Diageo World Class Vietnam against tough competition and recently won the World Cocktail Battle Champion 2019 in South Korea.
Phuong Khanh swapped the elegant underground speakeasy Rabbit Hole for life at the buzzing Sol Kitchen & Bar on Saigon’s Ly Tu Trong. Her signature Sol Margarita with mezcal and a fried cricket garnish was the perfect pairing for the restaurant’s flavour-filled Tex-Mex dishes. And Duong Quy Lam from Hybrid Nha Trang completed the list of nominees.
Winner: Nguyen Huu Phu (Irusu Lounge)