5 of SAIGON’S BEST HIDDEN COCKTAIL BARS
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a place of surprises, much of them elusive to first-time visitors with just a few days on the ground. Though a bit challenging at first, Ho Chi Minh City eventually became our favorite city in the world and a base for many of our adventures in the Southeast Asian region. It’s also a pretty great place to go out and grab a drink, whether it’s a Monday or Saturday, Saigon’s music venues, breathtaking rooftop bars, and tiny neighborhood spots are buzzing.
Unlike the more world famous, easy-to-find spots of Bangkok and Shanghai, Saigon is a city of tight neighborhoods which unveil themselves only to those intrepid enough to explore the tiniest, faintest lines on the map. Saigon doesn’t have a Times Square or Pudong. It’s a megacity comprised of small, distinct districts and alleys. Perch yourself in one of Saigon’s hip, unique central hotels and it’s possible that the entire city is within reach. However, the best places are always under the radar. As a traveler, it takes a little research and initiative to find the cool spots locals and expats frequent.
We are going to give you a head start here with 5 of Saigon’s Best Hidden Cocktail Bars. Remember, getting there is half the fun, so please no hard feelings if you get turned around on your way to these gems. Expect some hesitation from your driver. Like a cool beer after building a fence, a rewarding cocktail after dropping anchor at these bars will be all the more worthwhile.
Make sure everyone has a hotel address card. Get out your flashlights and compasses. Let’s hit the town:
If you’ve read our other posts about cafes and bars in Ho Chi Minh City, you will know our love for the timeless Era Cafe. If you have already taken our advice and set out to find it without success, we sincerely apologize. There is no real sign. The address is not easy to find and the street is as dark as a country lane. This cafe-by-day and smoky, candlelit-hangout by night is one of those unforgettable atmospheres that you couldn’t quite copy if you tried. The music is dreamy, the lighting relaxing and the drinks just fine. Locals chat softly while the silent staff (often one only) graciously take care of the place like family. Closing time always feels a bit like dragging yourself out of bed after the perfect sleep, feeling more relaxed than from any massage I’ve had in town.
No, it’s not necessarily a “cocktail bar” and if you’re going here for a sidecar or something else sophisticated, you won’t find it. The cocktail list is brief and basic. The Vietnamese coffee with local rum or Bailey’s is a go-to for us. Warning: on some nights it can get smoky inside, so if this is a huge turnoff, tread carefully. It’s one of those special places that hasn’t changed a bit in the ten years we’ve been coming back.
NOTE: There are now two Era Cafes. One is at 58C Trần Quốc Thảo and the other a few doors south at 29 Trần Quốc Thảo. We prefer the “old” original one, although the newer one is great as well (and less smoky).
58C Trần Quốc Thảo, Phường 7, District 3, open all day, closes around 11pm weekdays, 12am weekends
URBAN KITCHEN + BAR
This upscale restaurant with excellent cocktails wouldn’t feel out of place in New York or London. The spacey, industrial design will impress even before you’ve been seated. The unpretentious upscale pub menu is consistently great, but the place really comes alive after 9pm, when DJs give it a lounge-like atmosphere and the well-dressed, beautiful locals and expats alike enjoy their drinks, bob their heads and get buzzed before hitting the nearby nightclubs and rooftop bars. It’s located on a small street tucked into a labyrinth of back streets in Little Tokyo.
We like Urban Kitchen’s classic whiskey-based cocktails such as the manhattan. If you can get here early and order a steak and a bourbon old-fashioned, you may just feel like you’re at the Plaza Hotel in NYC (the humidity upon exiting will knock you out of that fairly quickly, however).
18 Ngo Van Nam, 12pm – 12am Tel: (84) 08 6250 6363
THE ALLEY COCKTAIL BAR + KITCHEN
One of the pleasures of enjoying Saigon’s cafe and bar culture is the diversity of styles and atmospheres that you can enjoy in the span of an evening. The Alley is the perfect example of an urbane, sophisticated cocktail bar constructed in a local aesthetic. And, the cocktails are exquisite- infusing local flavors you’ll find nowhere else.
Tucked away in the historic heart of the city and influenced by the atmospheric, ramshackle visuals of the Mekong Delta, The Alley has done everything well, right down to the very smallest details and peregrine flavors. The founder and builder of these details is Minh Tan Pham, a veteran of Saigon’s high-end cocktail scene.
63/1 Pasteur, District 1, 5pm – 12am M-W, 5pm – 1am Th-Sat, closed Sun, Tel: (84) 93 565 39 69
THE GIN HOUSE
Another recent addition to the cozy cocktail scene of Ho Chi Minh City, The Gin House opened in August of 2016 and has drawn a tipsy, loyal fanbase due to its creative, often improvised, gin-based cocktails and a cool alleyway location. The staff here is professional, yet very casual and friendly, giving the place a cool, local feeling. The noise isn’t too loud, so it’s the perfect place to chat over cocktails or meet fellow travellers, expats and locals.
Tell the bartender your style and see what happens. You won’t be disappointed.
28/3A Tôn Thất Tùng, Phường Bến Thành, 5pm – 2am, Tel: (84) 91 951 32 64
The best late-night choice on our list, you might not clearly remembering leaving this one…
There is a scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where Bowman is switching off HAL 2000’s higher brain functions, essentially murdering the computer running the spacecraft and putting the mission in danger. It’s a haunting scene made even more unforgettable by the red, florescent lighting of the command room. This scene always stuck with me and is the cause for the deja vu I felt when first entering Powers Bar, in Saigon’s Little Tokyo district.
Powers Bar is draped in sensual, red neon light, giving the casual bar a sexy, exotic atmosphere. Though not known for their cocktails, they’ve got ’em. And since this is our favorite bar in Saigon, defining exactly where a ‘hidden’ bar should be located, we have to put it on the list for you to hunt down. It’s one of the best places in the city to meet others and escape from a seasonal downpour. It’s a bit like having drinks in a very, very hip toaster. Well worth navigating the maze of Little Tokyo’s alleyways to find.
17/25 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, 5pm – closing varies, but often 3am+
In closing, Ho Chi Minh City is still a city for partiers. Remember, when traveling in Hanoi, the capital and 2nd-largest city of Vietnam, it’s mostly a cafe city with more daytime attractions. Ho Chi Minh City is where Vietnam really comes alive at night: sophisticated, friendly, and oftentimes very hidden.
This article is sponsored by Accor Hotels.