A bit of backstory. Saigon Opera House opened with a show in 1900. A few hundred meters away, twenty years before, Saigon’s La Manufacture d’Opium one of the best bars in Hanoi was built, with ornate opium poppies carved into the gate at the entrance. Now, the opium storage basement bunker is a cocktail bar, Phantom of the Opera Saigon, which is, at the same time, a tribute to the nearby Saigon Opera House, and the French novel set in Paris of the 19th century.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
The Phantom of the Opera, a book by Gaston Leroux, is set at the same time about a disfigured recluse abducting a beautiful young woman. It’s a story made famous by stage and screen adaptations and set at The Paris Opera House. Now, in the courtyard, in the underground bunker where La Régie de l’Opium stored their prized product, is Phantom of the Opera cocktail bar.
A Stylish Ode To History At Phantom of the Opera Saigon
The space updates the dusty carpeted staircases and oval auditorium of the Opera House. There’s a stage curtain as you descend the first flight of stairs, and then two sweeping staircases that leads down with golden handrails to an illuminated bar with showbiz dressing rooms lights along the walls, and shelves of unlabeled bottles and shimmering cabinets like an old pharmacy, where Bar Manager Jimmy Nguyen and a team of Artists, Phantom of the Opera’s retro outfitted bartenders – with their fedora hats, rackish neck scarves, pinstriped suits and waistcoats – go about their business of making bespoke cocktails. That’s if you can find it.
If some of the faces are familiar, it’s because Phantom of the Opera Saigon comes from the team behind the always-buzzing Drinking & Healing.
“It is hard to find,” Jimmy smiles about the cocktail bar that doesn’t even have a sign outside announcing its presence. “I’d describe Phantom of the Opera Saigon as a hidden cocktail bar. The whole place is a work of art, reflecting our inspiration – The Phantom of the Opera,” he adds. “And it’s a bit ghostly I guess,” he laughs, “or maybe ‘dramatic’ is a better word…”
Saigon’s Chicest, Most Secretive Cocktail Bar
The door is impossible to make out, painted the same faded yellow as the wall just beyond that opium poppy gate. But it’s worth seeking out to access one of Saigon’s chicest, and most secretive, cocktail bars.
The proximity of Phantom of the Opera cocktail bar to downtown Saigon’s buzzing Hai Ba Trung Street – there’s the Park Hyatt Saigon across the street, then Saigon Opera House, the Caravelle Hotel and Dong Khoi Street with its cafes and restaurants – heightens the drama as you descend into the eerie basement.
“That’s definitely something unique to Phantom of the Opera cocktail bar,” Jimmy agrees, “there’s all this noise outside, but once you’re inside a sense of escapism takes over, and you’re immersed in our subterranean world.”
Jimmy Nguyen and the Phantom of the Opera cocktail bar team have also incorporated a bespoke cocktail concept – something lots of bars attempt to do but few with the success of Phantom of the Opera.
As the team of Artists goes about their work diligently, like apparitions from another century, Jimmy elaborates on the rationale: “I guess we want to challenge ourselves too, and not having a fixed menu drives us to do that – to constantly learn and evolve.”
At Phantom of the Opera Saigon There’s: “No Menu, Only Listening”
“Right,” Jimmy nods when we ask about the bespoke cocktail bar concept, “we have guests select a spirit base and choose their preferred flavor from a flavor map. We listen very carefully to what they like.”
In fact, ‘listen carefully’ has become a bit of a mantra at Phantom of the Opera: “It’s hard to deliver bespoke cocktails well, but when you do it creates a deep connection with the guest…and they keep coming back for more – so we constantly remind ourselves: no menu required, just listening.”
We test the Artist team out by requesting something fruity and rum-based, and Jimmy slides a deliriously-fruity cocktail across the bar “like a mini rainforest” with rum anejo, pineapple yoghurt, milk powder, banana tincture and mint bitter. And then a twist on a vodka Martini that comes full of umami flavor.
With drinks this good, it’s tempting to keep the location of the secret entrance to Phantom of the Opera to ourselves.
Photos by Nghia Ngo for The Dot Magazine.