“Hanoians are becoming very sophisticated in their tastes,” Pham Tien Tiep nods. He should know. Pham Tien Tiep is the co-founder of two bars in Hanoi, Nê Cocktail Bar and Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab, and he’s the first winner of Diageo Reserve World Class Vietnam back in 2012.
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“And,” Pham Tien Tiep continues, “Hanoian’s taste and knowledge of wines is increasing too.” Bars, like his, are responding. Design and decor, and menus and service are becoming more sophisticated, and staff better versed in their craft. As we discover as we enter Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab.
Pham Tien Tiep was born and raised in the countryside around Hung Yen. Back then, he could never have dreamed of lavishly decorated wine bars and complex drinks served in elaborate glasses. But at 15 he set out for Hanoi “just to make enough money to make ends meet”. Two years later he charmed his way into his first job behind a bar (he’s still very charming as guests to his Nê Cocktail bar and Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab can attest).
The bar was filled with passionate staff and tools of the trade he’d never seen before. “And I just wanted the chance to share my emotions and stories in the drinks I would serve.” Outside of the bar he continued to study independently. “I’d found my passion in life,” Pham Tien Tiep smiles.
He learned the trade of the mixologist quickly, despite ingredients being scarce at the time. “Back then, there was no money to buy imported wines and spirits. So, I’d often use glutinous wine and ingredients available at the market to practice making my concoctions at home.”
Being hired as a bartender at the five-star hotel the Metropole Hanoi changed all that – suddenly he had access to the highest quality ingredients while being mentored by the best local and international bar talent. Then Diageo Reserve World Class Vietnam 2012 happened. As the competition’s winner, he went to Brazil just as he turned 24 years old. “I took my beloved Vietnamese flavours to the event and introduced them to new friends from five continents,” he reminisces proudly.
Now he’s best known for Nê Cocktail Bar and his pho cocktail. “‘Ne’ meaning Negroni for short!” he laughs. Also, he adds, Ne is the nickname he and his wife have given to his son, “because me and my wife love to drink Negronis.”
With some ups and downs Nê Cocktail Bar has succeeded. “And that’s even though Nê Cocktail Bar’s drinks being considered to be quite…weird.” Especially the pho cocktail when he first made it.
“It’s a cocktail with cinnamon and anise – like pho – and with a strong Vietnamese identity like lots of the drinks at Nê Cocktail Bar,” he adds. There’s his Autumn in Hanoi cocktail too with attractive ginger and apricot flavours and which reminds guests of the most beautiful season in the capital. Or his Tao Phao cocktail, which uses gin and soy, and jasmine, to recall the flavours of childhood snacks.
But back to Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab where we’ve settled into the warm embrace of the chesterfield sofa. He’s positioned Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab at the intersection between Vietnam and Europe. “With a sophisticated and romantic atmosphere,” he says looking around.
Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab has a laboratory feeling and an experimental vibe. Here customers lead the experience. They take cards to fill out with flavour preferences. Then, after handing the card to their enthusiastic bartenders, receive a bespoke cocktail.
We fill out the card and drink our first cocktail of the evening as Pham Tien Tiep tells us about his favourite bars in Hanoi (when he’s not busy in Nê Cocktail Bar and Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab) that we’re about to visit.
1. The classic Hanoi cocktail pub: Polite & Co
Right in the heart of the capital is Bao Khanh Street. There you’ll find the typical city-center stores – women’s boutiques and children’s toys alongside mom-and-pop pho shops and juice kiosks. But as soon you as step into Polite & Co, at number 58, you’re transported to romantic Europe.
As one of the pioneers of the “pub” model in Hanoi, Polite & Co is considered a classic of its kind. The first sight is the impressively long bar with over 500 types of alcohol to please the most demanding guests. “But just as impressive are the smartly dressed bartenders with their white shirts and black ties,” Pham Tien Tiep says about this “nostalgia trip”.
“At Polite & Co, I often drink a beer…then a negroni,” Pham Tien Tiep explains. “The ‘classic’ style here makes me crave classic drinks.” However, the cocktail menu is also rich with Scottish whiskey “and sometimes I’ll order a whisky before finishing my night,” Pham Tien Tiep adds.
Pham Tien Tiep’s Tip: “Always book ahead to get that precious seat at the bar…”
Address: 5B Ngõ Bảo Khánh, Hoàn Kiếm
2. The Hanoi gin house: Mad Botanist
“This place is paradise for anyone with a crush on gin,” Pham Tien Tiep smiles approvingly. The entrance, above a fast-food dim sum shop, is a little hard to find. “But that’s part of its charm,” Pham Tien Tiep argues, “I love the cozy, hidden feeling…”
Mad Botanist occupies the third and fourth floors of the building at 45 Ly Quoc Su Street. Like Polite & Co they’ve nailed the speakeasy atmosphere with polished floors and well-stocked shelves of spirits that glow with the bar’s lighting. A bigger surprise awaits upstairs – open-air views of the Hanoi’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Mad Botanist’s unique claim is to be the first specialty gin bar in Hanoi. For their dedicated customers they serve up over 100 kinds of gin and tonics. And if you don’t feel like a refreshing G&T test their specials. “Their Bacalo has a slightly bitter taste from the tea that’s combined with gin, cherry wine and a bit of lemon juice for a sour edge,” Pham Tien Tiep says approvingly.
Pham Tien Tiep’s Tip: “Mad Botanist go deep with their gins. Don’t be ashamed to enlist the advice of one of the mixologists to help you choose the right gin for you.”
Address: 3F & 4F, 45 Ly Quoc Su Street, Hoàn Kiếm
3. Cocktails in an iconic location: Angelina Bar at The Metropole Hanoi
The Metropole Hanoi has quite a history. First opened as the Grand Hotel Métropole in 1901, the 364-room icon has welcomed presidents and film stars from Charlie Chaplin to Jacques Chirac. The hotel also gave Pham Tien Tiep a big break as bartender. “This hotel has a unique history and as an exclusive five-star residence, so you might want to dress up for the occasion,” Pham Tien Tiep says as we enter.
The Angelina is a “bespoke bar-lounge-restaurant” in the historic hotel. And they’re especially strong on classic and modern variations of cocktails. The interior’s style is a mix too, part European, part Vietnamese. “And the whisky collection is crazy…” Pham Tien Tiep shakes his head.
“Here, most people order a whisky or wine,” Pham Tien Tiep confirms. And that’s their strength. Plus the service is impeccable, as you’d expect from a world-famous hotel.
Pham Tien Tiep’s Tip: “If you have a limited budget but want a once-in-a-lifetime experience and excellent service, head to their happy hour between 4 and 6pm on weekdays…”
Address: 15 Phố Ngô Quyền, Street, Hoàn Kiếm
4. The mixology magicians: The Alchemist Cocktail Bar
The Alchemist is the kind of cocktail bar, like Pham Tien Tiep’s Attic Cocktail & Wine Lab, that’s responding to the evolving tastes of Hanoi cocktail bar patrons. The team here are really knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.
The sign is modest. And you have to work to find the bar itself above Mojito Bar & Lounge at 19 Nguyễn Quang Bích. But dedicated cocktail lovers seek it out for their delicious cocktails and soothing jazz music. Another striking feature is The Alchemist’s decor, especially the esoteric drawings hanging on the walls. And when the cocktails arrive they are bright and colourful, the opposite of the darkly secretive interior.
“Classic cocktails are very good here at The Alchemist Cocktail Bar,” Pham Tien Tiep says. But as the winter months cool Hanoi and bring out residents in hats and thick jackets, “a hot toddy glass with cinnamon, anise, a red wine and orange peel is perfect to stave off the cold” Pham Tien Tiep grins.
Pham Tien Tiep’s Tip: “The Alchemist Cocktail Bar work hard to create seasonal specials for Mid-Autumn Festival, Christmas and Chinese New Year. If you are an experienced person, do not miss these raising a glass for these special occasions here!”
Address: 2nd floor, 19 Nguyen Quang Bich Street
5. The bar behind a bookcase: Bee’Znees
“Don’t think that bars are only opened by men,” Pham Tien Tiep reminds us jokingly. We’ve come to Bee’Znees, our last stop, to prove his point. Two women with big characters teamed up to open this place. “And the result is as cute and mischievous as they are…” he adds.
The entrance is particularly striking. You enter through a bookcase. Behind it you’re transported to America circa the 1920s. The vibe is relaxed and comfortable – something the owners deliberately worked on. “Dressed up or dressed down, you’re welcome,” Pham Tien Tiep smiles, “and you can easily find the corner that suits your mood.”
And these bees are busy. Always innovating with the menu and throwing live music nights. “The exchanges between customers and the crew are always entertaining,” Pham Tien Tiep says warmly, a little drunk but contented by our Hanoi bar crawl.
Pham Tien Tiep’s Tip: At 163 Phung Hung, ask the guard to help you enter if you do not want to spend time searching. And try to get home before you get too wasted, the stairs are dangerously steep!”
Address: 163 Phùng Hưng, Cửa Đông, Hoàn Kiếm
Photos by Khooa Nguyen.