The Pi Saigon Is A Neighborhood Bar That Celebrates Diversity…And Mathematics

In the rush to create secret speakeasies with their hushed lighting and hidden entrances, it seems we forgot the simple pleasures of the neighborhood hangout. Fortunately, founder Chun and team are reminding us at The Pi Saigon. And although they call themselves a “humble cocktail bar” they have big ambitions, with an inclusive mindset in a male-dominated industry, international guest bartender shifts and already a loyal gang of regulars who pull up to the bar as much for the conversation as the ever-evolving cocktail menu. 

Đọc bài viết bằng tiếng Việt

That’s why they called it The Pi Saigon, after the mathematical constant. In the same way, the menu is on a never-ending journey through flavors, liquors and ingredients. 

And you’ll find it in one of Saigon’s hippest neighborhoods right now, around Huynh Khuong Ninh Street in District 1’s Dakao Ward. Nearby is chic, perfume-scented Du Cocktail Bar, and around the corner Apothecary Saigon, a retro pharmacy with drinks dedicated to inventors and physicists. At The Pi, there’s a welcoming courtyard out front, a marble-topped counter with bar seating and a brightly lit shelf of bottles, and a listening room out back. 

The Pi Saigon, a neighborhood cocktail bar that celebrates diversity…and mathematics.

“With so many speakeasies, we definitely wanted to offer something different,” Chun begins. “This industry depends on knowledge, creativity and innovation, and with those three things in mind we sat down to create the concept for The Pi.” It’s enticing looking in, like an Edward Hopper painting…had the painter taken his paints and canvas to Madrid or Milan. And the innovation and creativity continues with the menu. 

“We focus on lesser explored spirits like sherry, and we create drinks with a lower ABV – something refreshing, and something unfamiliar,” Chun adds before concluding that “although The Pi is small and simple, our drinks are not.”

The Pi Saigon is like an Edward Hopper painting, if the artist had relocated to Madrid or Milan.

It’s timely too. Tastes for cocktails in Saigon are changing from the classics to something more experimental. “True,” Chun nods, “most of our guests are super open-minded – they’re real cocktail devotees, so they’re happy to try new things and new places like ours…”

And they combine their creative drinks with some reliably old-school bartending skills, where the welcome is as warm as the ice in your drink is cold. “You can come anytime, with any kind of mood, and alone or with friends, and just spill your heart out to the bartenders. Customers have laughed and even cried here. We’ve hosted packed-out events, and a single customer who finished ten cocktails and their entire life story!” Chun laughs. 

The Pi Saigon’s “tender sherry cocktail” called Don’t Treat Me Well.

Their celebration of diversity in an often male-dominated industry is a big attraction for guests too. “In general, and especially here in South East Asia, I guess sometimes talent is overlooked. For me, the bartending industry can have no boundaries if you’re brave enough to speak up, and single-minded enough to dedicate your life to this profession,” Chun muses. 

They’ve already nurtured some outstanding female bartending talent. One of the team, San, recently reached Top Eight at the tough World Class Vietnam competition. But Chun is quick to downplay The Pi’s role in it. “Honestly, we observe and listen. And we let everyone try what they want. Luckily, we have a group of bartenders who are really dedicated and really inquisitive. They don’t only focus on competitions; they’re here daily working hard and developing what they do. The industry is growing and it has so much potential. There’s lots of new bartenders like San, with an ambitious vision. Come and try her hand shaken Ramos Gin Fizz and you’ll see what we mean…”

Counter seating at the Pi Saigon, presided over by founder and bartender Chun.

To celebrate their refreshing outlook, The Pi Saigon launched a guest shift series featuring all-female bartenders. “Even in our own small way, we want to represent a stage for magnificent women and give them a platform as they go on to even more remarkable things in their careers.” Maria Kim, from Southside Parlor Seoul is a good example. 

“We reached out and explained our outlook and the plans for the event and Maria said ‘yes’ immediately. She’s an amazing bartender – so professional and easy to work with. Having people like Maria over, and Saimai Nantarat, Head Bartender of ABar Rooftop Bangkok at the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, our guest before that, made us realize how supportive and open-minded this industry could be,” Chun remembers.

Hangout vibes at The Pi Saigon.

After naming your bar after a mathematical constant, pi, can we ask how good you were at math at school?

Haha. My geometry at school was pretty solid. I even made it to the National Mathematics Contest for High School Seniors. It’s a fascinating thing, pi. Google it and there’s endless facts and information about it, which I’m sure will surprise you. Its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanently repeating pattern…which is exactly what The Pi Saigon is about. 

“The bartending industry can have no boundaries if you’re brave enough to speak up, and single-minded enough to dedicate your life to this profession.”

How do you bring the concept around pi to life in the drinks at The Pi Saigon?

Firstly, we respect the classics. All our bartenders know and understand the basic and essential elements of their drinks. Creativity builds on that foundation. At the Pi Saigon, balance and harmonization are key. 

We change the menu every four months with a new concept, which connect us to the constant of pi. And we incorporate lots of local ingredients. New ideas come from anywhere at any time. We all keep a notebook handy, and the ideas and thoughts we write down are tested daily. They might become cocktails on our next menu. 

The Pi Saigon’s Lorem Ipsum: “One of our most favorite Mezcal cocktails that’s elegant, refreshing and distinctively bright in flavor.”

Going back to the beginning. How long did it take to realize this concept and what was the journey like?

The first seeds of the idea probably came about four years ago. Even as I was taking my first steps in the industry, there was a vague idea to do something

But the real process of creating The Pi Saigon wasn’t that long. 

From the first sketches, to launch it was exactly four months! I was on a plane, and sketched the first idea for The Pi Saigon as it was taking off. So it was literally made with my head in the clouds. Despite it being only four months, it was one hell of a roller coaster. We realized the concept was new and as foreign to most people as pi itself. And although we resolved to follow this risky path quickly, we would spend six days just arguing about the color of the walls.

Chun, founder of The Pi Saigon, revving up for a big year for the bar with more guest shifts coming.

Finally, which other bartenders from anywhere in the world would be your dream future guests seated at the The Pi Saigon?

That’s easy. Naturally, they’d all be women. To continue our Female Bartender Guest Shift Series, we’d love to have Holly Graham, who just released her Cocktails Of Asia book, Bannie Kang, head bartender at Anti:Dote Singapore, and Beckaly Franks, the owner-manager of The Pontiac Hong Kong over. They’re our dream future guests…

Photos by Nghia Ngo.

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