It seems like new bars and restaurants in Saigon are opening faster than we can write about them. Not that we’re complaining. The city’s bar scene is diversifying and the richness of its restaurants is growing by the day. To end October, we’ve found five new places in Saigon, from a sci-fi cocktail library, to a spirited lounge for whisk(e)y lovers, and a neighborhood tapas joint in downtown Saigon. Discover.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
Added to that frenetic activity is a host of pop-ups and guest shifts. And historic areas of the city, like the refinery courtyard are waking up again. And for good we hope. Five of our favorite new places include the spacey cocktail bar Enigma, the second spirited project by the Rabbit Hole team, Angels’ Share, the chic, Japanese-themed cocktail lounge Mizuwari, the rowdy prequel to Izakaya Ten, aptly called Izakaya Nine, and the vibey “love letter to Spain” that is District 2 tapas restaurant Ibérico – Tapas & Vino that’s now open in District 1.
Enigma Saigon is a library straight out of a sci-fi movie. “We wanted to have a dreamlike space,” Vu Ngoc says looking around at Enigma’s jungle green and rose-colored neon lighting and bookshelves of spirits.
With the door closed, you really could be anywhere, but most likely floating in space.
In fact, Enigma Saigon is in the corner of the refinery courtyard, next to rowdy party pub Lava and hidden speakeasy, Phantom Of The Opera, signaling a real resurgence for this historic Saigon cul-de-sac that became a little desolate over the tough last couple of years.
And, as with the best cocktail bars, inside Enigma Saigon there’s a hypnotic kinetic energy as the bartenders play around with new ingredients and garnishes, or make drinks from their menu divided into sections: ‘Tree for the future,’ Highballs, Martini time, Classic by local and World Class Premium cocktails.
“Most of our 30 signature cocktails incorporate special locally-sourced ingredients. Anything from the north to the south of Vietnam. There’s Hoa Loc mango, and Dak Lak sarsi and even Tay Ninh shrimp salt,” Vu Ngoc tells us. They also do more than 100 classic cocktails.
“But I’d recommend The Gooseberry,” he says, “which is a must-try for anyone who loves fresh, juicy, milky cocktails.” Inside there’s Zacapa 12, gooseberry oxymel made from Dalat gooseberries, sake vermouth, soy cashew and myoga ginger. “The gooseberries are aged for 30 days with vinegar and honey, so you get fruitiness, some sourness from the vinegar, and some sweetness from the honey.”
In short: A neon-lit space library of libations.
Location: 74/10A Hai Ba Trung, District 1
When it opened, Rabbit Hole elevated the standard of speakeasies in Saigon in an instant. Now, the team, that’s a “collective of strong drinkers,” is doing the same only for spirit lovers.
“Angels’ Share is a pure kind of whisk(e)y bar,” they tell us. “Unlike other bars like ours, which foreground cocktails and present the drink as luxurious and classy, we want to stay true to the accessible and convivial sharing spirit of whiskies from Scotland, Japan and Taiwan, and other spirits like American bourbon, rum and brandy.”
The do offer highballs too. “We’d recommend a seat at the bar,” they say, “and a highball to begin the evening.” It’s a good recommendation, considering Angels’ Share has the same arty inclinations as Rabbit Hole. Here, a version of the classic, existential Edward Hopper ‘Nighthawks’ painting hangs behind the counter (and not the works of Rene Magritte you get at Rabbit Hole).
The term ‘angels’ share’ refers to the whisk(e)y that evaporates in the cask and goes up to the heavens. “Of course, that’s the obvious reference,” they explain, “but we wanted to namecheck Kilian Hennessy’s ‘Angels’ Share’ fragrance too.”
Kilian, the heir to eight generations of Hennessey heritage, followed his nose and launched an eponymous perfume brand. He made his ‘Angels’ Share’ with French perfumer Benoit Lapouze. It “contains the essence of cognac.” And Angels’ Share, the bar, contains the wonderful essence of Rabbit Hole too.
In short: Single malts for nighthawks.
Location: Alley 178, Pasteur, District 1
Mizuwari Social Club
After three years as Beams Suntory brand ambassador, Thanh Tung has returned to his first love, running bars. And Mizuwari Social Club, as the name suggests, keeps the Japanese spirit alive.
The name ‘mizuwari’ means mixed with a drop of water, which is also fitting on the rainy night we call by. In fact, you’ve probably passed by too. That’s because Mizuwari is upstairs on the buzzing corner of Ly Tu Trong and Hai Ba Trung. There’s a balcony outside to watch the frenetic action below.
Inside, it’s incredibly chic, with booths and counter seating, and lots of decorative Japanese elements. And so Mizuwari Social Club is the perfect place to soak in some jazz in Saigon after dark.
The menu, naturally, is full of Japanese influences, with drinks like their signature Roku Gin and Haku Vodka Vesper Martini.
In short: A drop of Japanese chic in downtown Saigon.
Location: 39 Ly Tu Trong, District 1
With so much forward motion in the city of Saigon right now, it’s sometimes good to step back for a moment and take it all in. That’s what the founder of Izakaya Ten, Sakai, decided to do too.
So, around the corner from the first location, Sakai has opened Izakaya Nine. And considering how packed the original gets, it was probably time to expand.
Their success has been based on their authenticity. “We wanted to create a bit of Japan in Saigon,” Sakai, who opened his first outlets in Los Angeles 11 years ago, tells us, “to save time traveling.”
And both izakayas really are a little bit of Tokyo in town – illuminated lanterns and funky retro Japanese beer advertisements, and lots of noisy revelers. But the team also recognized the connection between izakaya culture and nhau – the cathartic way Vietnamese eat and drink after work like Japanese do in the izakayas across the country.
At Izakaya Nine, they serve cups of homemade plum wine alongside izakaya classics like fresh or grilled oysters, wagyu beef bowls, and steamed gyoza. “Or more affluent guests can dig into our sakes,” they suggest. And the predominantly gay staff are even hotter than the beef and tofu soup.
In short: It’s a plum wine rewind to Izakaya Nine.
Location: 17/5 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
Ibérico – Tapas & Vino
Authenticity is important. And the success of the first Iberico in District 2 was reliant on the team being Spanish, and the executive chef, Pedro, conjuring up plates of croquetas and albondigas that would draw a ‘hmm’ of satisfaction even in the bistros and bars of his native Marbella.
“Ibérico – Tapas & Vino is our love letter to Spain,” general manager Donato tells us. “We wanted to capture the richness and diversity of the country’s cuisine.” Like the best tapas places, Ibérico – Tapas & Vino is informal and fun. “That’s what it’s all about for us,” Donato continues, “sharing good food and drinks with friends and family, or even people you haven’t met yet, in a casual space.”
Thankfully, the team hasn’t rested on the success of the first Ibérico – Tapas & Vino by opening a second location in District 1. Here, there’s a breezy downstairs space with cacti along one wall and pictures that are a homage to their homeland, and upstairs there’s a dining room and a large patio and terrace looking down on central but sleepy Thi Sach street.
“That’s where I would sit,” Donato says about the alfresco terrace, “and I recommend starting with some sangria, and then order lots of plates to try, like our 48-month Iberico ham that comes with toasted bread, tomatoes and an aioli sauce, the salted anchovies, garlic prawns, and fried calamari, and finish with our manchego cheesecake and a glass of fine 30-year-old sherry. That’s Spanish style!”
In short: Croquetas balls by Spanish ballers.
Location: 20A Thi Sach, District 1