A Glimpse into the Speakeasy Scene in Saigon
About nine decades ago, when the United States imposed a constitutional ban on alcohol, many resorted to sneaking around back alleys and going underground just to have a tipple without getting caught. Inspired by the Prohibition era, the speakeasies of today are marked by their discreet addresses, intimate interiors and vintage trappings. In Saigon, these blind pigs have shot up, sprucing up the Vietnamese capital’s nightlife arena. Here’s a peek into the cloak-and-dagger nocturnal gems that have dominated the speakeasy scene in Saigon.
The Alley is the brainchild of Minh Tan Pham, a renowned erstwhile brand ambassador of Diageo who found inspiration through his travels to create this speakeasy. Infused with the founder’s DNA and his story of humble beginnings, The Alley is adorned with a photo wall of music icons, bespoke accessories that feature vintage fabric from his rural hometown, and electronics that each have a story to tell.
One of the signature, one-of-a-kind libations in this high-ceilinged joint incorporates o moi, a pod-like fruit he used to enjoy in the countryside, and pairs it with lime juice and house-made bitters. The Mekong Delta, which employs dried bananas and bourbon, is another fan favourite.
A true homage to Prohibition-era clubs, Snuffbox sets the scene with dim lights, mismatched floor tiles, retro furniture pieces, art deco-style ornaments, and a live jazz stage—offering a snazzy backdrop that transports you from a modern metropolis in Southeast Asia to the Roaring 20s. Opened in December 2015, it has risen through the ranks as a highly lionised cocktail bar in Ho Chi Minh City, a top choice among professional bartenders and local pub-crawlers alike.
Behind one of the doors in a dated and decrepit building, get tipsy on The Aretha (a cocktail mixed with whiskey, tamarind liqueur, cointreau, orange juice and lime) while perched on the glitzy mezzanine. For a more adventurous night, head over on a Thursday when Snuffbox serves bespoke cocktails with a little something extra.
Welcome to the jungle. Amidst the slender tree trunks lining the interiors, marvel at the majestic centrepiece of a wooden stag in this modern version of an enchanted forest where cool cats congregate with cocktails in hand. Nestled within the CJ Building, Corked Tales delivers exactly what it promises. Tipples with a unique narrative each, elevated by theatrical flourishes.
Their menu, for instance, features a series of cocktails inspired by the elements of Fire, Air and Water. Fire composes of smoky scotch, jackfruit-flavoured rum and longan, presented in a phoenix cocktail glass with a peacock feather. Water, on the other hand, combines cherry blossoms, jasmine gin and elderflower in a droplet-shaped glass. Patrons can even ask for a bespoke mix, personalised according to a specific anecdote about themselves or their experiences in life.
The Gin House
The Gin House, one of the newest kids on the block that opened its doors in August 2016, is not only known for its gin cocktails but also for its new blends that reflect their experimental nature.
A laid-back spot hidden in an alley on Ton Nhat Tung Street, The Gin House scores high on amiable customer service that can put anyone at ease, and cosy interiors that seem to have a magnetic effect on all who enter. There’s even a mezzanine in which smokers are allowed to light up a cigarette and blow off some steam.
Walking down Mac Thi Buoi Street in the famed District 1, you’d be struggling to locate the entrance of the covert Firkin speakeasy bar. Instead of sleek signages and a funky doorway, it hides behind a nondescript wooden door that leads to a stairwell. Blink and you’ll miss it. When you finally make it to the main floor, you’re greeted with a whole new vibe with a massive, bustling bar set against the backdrop of a grand display of 500 liquor bottles.
Within a year of opening, it’s already bagged the top award as the Judge’s Choice Bar at Vietcetera’s Restaurant & Bar Awards 2018—a testament to the bespoke cocktail bar’s unparalleled offerings and experiences. Inside, the atmosphere is intimate and exclusive with only 30 seats, preparing visitors for the real stars of the show—creative alcoholic concoctions that engage every sensory front.
Image Credits: The Alley Cocktail Bar & Kitchen, The Gin House