These days it seems that a new bar opens in District 1 on a weekly basis. This is exciting for customers, as there are plenty of options and one is rarely more than a block away from a quality watering hole when downtown.
However, this abundance presents a challenge for bars and the teams behind them, as they need to stay one step ahead of the competition by pioneering unique concepts and drink programs.
Take Drinking & Healing, for example. This stylish, spacious bar occupies the top floor of a century-old building on the corner of Ham Nghi and Ho Tung Mau. Upon entering its speakeasy-style door, one is immediately struck by the high ceilings, exposed brick walls and tall glass doors leading out to a number of small balconies.
These balconies offer prime views of the Bitexco Financial Tower lit up at night, and if you look hard enough you can even glimpse the Saigon River, giving the bar an open feel.
Head over to elegantly designed bar and you’ll notice row after row of quality spirits, as well as an infusion bar and a row of barrel-aged liquors. It is here, at the bar, that Drinking & Healing truly stands apart.
“We are the first bar in Ho Chi Minh City right now that has an infusion bar,” said Vu Doan Vien Du, Drinking & Healing’s Supervisor Bartender who recently won a regional bartending competition held by Campari at the bar. He will travel to Milan, Italy next month for the global round, but until then he’ll continue fine-tuning his skills at Drinking & Healing.
These skills are best illustrated through the signature drinks menu. Instead of listing a number of drinks, guests are asked how they are feeling that night, and their desires are translated into a drink via four columns: taste, spirit, fruit & verget, and herb & nuts.
“We don’t have a signature cocktail that just sits there,” Du said. “We want customers to come here and have their bespoke cocktails. They choose sweet, salty, spicy, creamy or sour, and we go from there.”
After selecting their desired taste, customers choose a spirit and then additional ingredients. If the guest loves the drink, they can then add it to the bar’s cocktail book.
Du loves being able to show off his passion for bartending while making these drinks, and this is the rare bar in Vietnam where you can ask the bartender to surprise you with a drink, and be extremely pleased with the result. For Du, these drinks reflect his journey to where he is now.
“It’s about a bartender who followed his heart to do whatever he wants,” he shared. “When I was 20 I worked part-time at a bar and restaurant because I didn’t want to ask my mom for money anymore. I saw the bartenders doing really cool stuff and thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do this.’”
Though he worked as a food runner, Du took every chance he could to head behind the bar to learn from the bartenders.
“One day they were missing a bartender and they said, ‘hey, want to be a bartender?’, and I said, ‘Why not?’”
Fast forward to today, and he is whipping up concoctions such as an original cocktail featuring bourbon infused with jackfruit, pineapple juice, pandan leaf syrup and fresh lime juice.
Such delicious, refreshing creations are served up in the middle of a relaxed ambience. The bar’s musical stylings lean toward old-school hip-hop, a welcome break from the top 40 club tunes played at many competitors. Even better, the volume is kept at a respectable level, allowing patrons to actually speak to each other without shouting.
While the signature drinks menu is worth focusing on, Drinking & Healing offers several quality standard cocktails as well, such as the sharp Anise Sour and the Your Toilet, served in a small golden toilet glass, which will surely be a big hit among Instagram fiends, as will the neon-red ‘Nasty’ sign hanging outside one of the corner windows.
A compact but delicious food menu is available too, including four types of juicy burgers, each of which is meant to be paired with a specific cocktail, while on Friday and Saturday nights a DJ spins more hip-hop for guests.
Add up all of Drinking & Healing’s strong points: excellent location, thoughtful design, truly unique drinks and great food, and you’ve got a must-visit on Saigon’s ever-expanding bar map.