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The secret speakeasy bars of Saigon

8 minutes to read

While coffee fuels the thumping high-octane energy of Ho Chi Minh City, aka Saigon in Vietnam, during the day, during the night, Saigonese love to switch up their choice of drink with a cocktail, craft beer, locally brewed beer, or perhaps a gin or two. No matter if it is a Monday work night or a raging weekend, bars are often overflowing onto the streets. But in recent years, the cocktail and creative drinks scene (we are not talking regular beer here) has exploded in Vietnam’s biggest city. Saigonese locals and long-term international expats have set up bars in decaying corridors, unexpected buildings, and simply hidden behind unlabelled doorways. Speakeasies are a gateway into a different side of the heritage heart of Saigon, which is seductive and alluring to locals and travellers alike. So how does one find them? Where does one go? Luckily for you, as a Saigon resident, I handpicked the best of the best to spill the city’s best-kept secrets

© Unsplash/Lucas Hoang
© Unsplash/Lucas Hoang

These unassuming entry points (if you can find them, that is) sometimes even have passwords you need to get in! Secret speakeasy bars of Saigon heavily play on the 1920s prohibition era, with creative (and tasty) drinks crafted by skilled bartenders who are locally grown as well as a crop of international talent. While I will not share all the local favourite spots, these are epic ones for you to take your first sip into this side of Saigon’s underbelly.

Krystalini Hidden Cocktail Bar 

Address: 2nd Floor, Đ. Nguyễn Huệ, Street, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Finding out the location of a speakeasy is one thing, but if you want to enter it, in this case, the Krystalini Hidden Cocktail Bar is another. First, there is a cool sliding bookshelf. Then a password is required, so make sure you get it so you can enter. The password is, of course, ever-changing, so different nights have different codes. Now you may wonder where one would go even to find the password? A little birdie tells me (ok, from my own experiences at this speakeasy) you get the code by reserving a table. Then a member of the speakeasy will open the door for you to a variety of jazz and delicious cocktails (I usually get the Call Me By Your Name, inspired by the film and book). 

© Unsplash/Thuong Do
© Unsplash/Thuong Do

The Iron Bank - Cocktail Vault 

Address: 47 Tôn Thất Đạm, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam 

Why are speakeasies so fun? The Iron Bank - Cocktail Vault is an answer. It may be a bit of a challenge to find, hidden away in a residential apartment that is dimly lit (trust me, the building may look abandoned but is completely safe), but once you find its doors, you will be treated to a cocktail menu with fun spins on its bank theme. From drinks like 'The Investment to Greedy Financier', you will feel like the prohibition era is back in full swing again. 

 © Unsplash/Jia Jia Shum
© Unsplash/Jia Jia Shum

Apothecary 

Address: 12 Phan Liêm, Đa Kao, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Speakeasies are not just secretive or hidden bars, they are usually designed in left-over buildings or tucked away behind non-descript places. Apothecary is such a speakeasy. The design excuses its name - Apothecary, with old sanitarium equipment as their decor. Do not miss their happy hour (5 pm - 8 pm) to try out more of their signature cocktails. The bartenders here are super passionate about their craft and drinks, and every time I have been here, they are always up for a conversation and to explain to you the process and steps of making the cocktail. 

Apothecary, Hồ Chí Minh City
Apothecary, Hồ Chí Minh City
12 Đ. Phan Liêm, Đa Kao, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam
© Logan Ly
© Logan Ly

Rabbit Hole 

Address: 138 Đ. Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 70000, Vietnam 

Alice in Wonderland… Or Alice in Saigon? This place will make it feel like one of the same fairytales, with a trip falling down into the rabbit hole (aka the basement cave of a restaurant). The ambience is perfectly set at this speakeasy - from soothing classical jazz to old English bands. Now for the star itself - their cocktails are creative concoctions that will one minute make you feel like a Mad Hatter and, with another sip, may make you feel like the Red Queen. Your experience starts as soon as you flip through their artfully designed menu, where a white rabbit literally jumps from one page to the other through a rabbit hole. It is an intimate space, so definitely book a reservation in advance for guaranteed seats. 

© Unsplash/Lalitphat Phunchuang
© Unsplash/Lalitphat Phunchuang

Telephone Bar 

Address: 41 Nguyễn Văn Tráng, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam  

Old British red telephone booth in Saigon? It is quite a strange sight, but not when you find out that these exact telephone booths are your Narnia gateway into the world of the Telephone Bar. You have to step into them, and in order to unlock the door, you have to lift the phone off its old hook. When I first heard of this speakeasy, I tried to look them up on Instagram. Nope - nothing. A Facebook page? Does not exist. I love that their online presence is as discreet as their entryway that stands on a corner of District 1 in Saigon. Upon entering, you will feel like you are in the golden age of pre-war London, with plush leather sofas, mahogany wood panelling, and oh-so-yummy cocktails with British alcohol. 

© Logan Ly
© Logan Ly

Ministry of Men

Address: 17 Lê Duẩn Bến Nghé Sofitel Saigon Plaza, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 710545, Vietnam

This is one of my absolute favourite speakeasies in Saigon. The whole vibe and aesthetic of a speakeasy is supposed to teleport you to a different secluded world - one that regular run-of-the-mill bars cannot offer. Ministry of Men is one of these speakeasies that feel like you are a voyageur on a journey into the upper echelon of an old world that has long become a bygone era. Think: Downton Abbey meets Sherlock Holmes, and you will be greeted with cocktails presented in astonishing ways (may I recommend the Marie Curie?). Each cocktail has its own story, which the bartender will enthusiastically share with you upon your first sip. Jay Gatsby would 100% approve! 

Ministry of Men, Hồ Chí Minh City
Ministry of Men, Hồ Chí Minh City
17 Lê Duẩn Bến Nghé Sofitel Saigon Plaza, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 710545, Vietnam
© Logan Ly
© Logan Ly

Me - Drink & Chill (Tamarind Cocktail Bar) 

Address: 33 Nguyễn Trung Trực, Phường Bến Thành, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam 

This speakeasy is nestled inside a narrow stairwell from a giant tamarind tree that taps on the bar’s window. It is definitely one of the cosiest speakeasies in Saigon, one that you can go to slip easily into the night. I love the live music that plays on the different nights here, with local bands singing and performing soothing tunes. But do be warned, smoking is allowed here, so if you are not a smoker, then you may have a lingering tobacco scent on you. 

© Logan Ly
© Logan Ly

Snuffbox 

Address: 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam 

The first time I ever went to Snuffbox, I thought my friend who took me here may have had other dubious plans for my body since the building looked like it came out of a Soviet-era war-torn place. As I ascended the ramshackle stairwell with crumbling concrete - my first thought of “what even is this place” soon got washed over with “wow, this is a cool adventure”. Where else in South East Asia can you feel like you are a Berlin spy? Upon finding Snuffbox, you are taken into one of the most legendary speakeasies of Saigon. The cocktails are just as fun, some presented in wooden chests, others in Beauty and the Beast like a rose glass dome. 

© Logan Ly
© Logan Ly

Refined Saigon

Address: 14 Tôn Thất Đạm, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam 

Refined Saigon is in the same abandoned feeling building as Snuffbox, although on a separate floor, making it easy to bar hop - if you can find the spot. By day it is one of the hidden coffee shops of Saigon, but by night it turns into a speakeasy that serves up classic cocktails in an intimate setting. Already a daytime favourite amongst lovebirds and romantics, in the evening, when only cosy twinkling lights are lit - Refined Saigon makes for a great date night speakeasy. It is also a speakeasy with a rare terrace so that you can enjoy the breezy evening air overlooking the State Bank of Vietnam.

Refined Saigon, Hồ Chí Minh City
Refined Saigon, Hồ Chí Minh City
14 Tôn Thất Đạm, Phường Nguyễn Thái Bình, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam
© Unsplash/MaximFesenko
© Unsplash/MaximFesenko

LOST & FOUND

Address: 19/6 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Thành phố Hồ Chí Minh 700000, Vietnam

The mixologists here are as charming as they are professional and knowledgeable about their cocktails. Sometimes a speakeasy with its dark rooms and cryptic menu names can be intimidating. But the mixologists at Lost & Found are super friendly and welcoming, which adds to the ambience of the speakeasy. I love how playful their drinks are, tapping into the signature tropical flavours of Vietnam (coconut, dragonfruit, jasmine green tea) and infusing them with international ingredients like grenadine, nutmeg, and Angostura bitters. During the day, this hidden gem is all lit up and becomes a coffee shop, so no matter what time of the day you go - you can experience two sides of the same coin. 

© Unsplash/Hari Nandakumar
© Unsplash/Hari Nandakumar

Layla - Eatery & Bar

Address: Second floor, 63 Đông Du, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, 700000, Vietnam

If you enjoy a round of pool with your drinks, step right up to the pool table at Layla - Eatery & Bar. You can find this speakeasy, one of the most popular cocktail bars in Saigon, within a fragmented-like building that smacks the middle of District 1. It gets super busy on the weekend, and you can end up waiting for a seat even early in the evening, but the sip-worthy cocktails are worth it. There is also a happy hour for the earlier crowd, which makes it a great way to try more of their wide drinks selection and pair it with their in-house-made bar food. Even though it is usually packed, if you are solo travelling or going out by yourself, I would recommend another speakeasy since Layla’s crowd tends to stick to whichever friend group you have arrived with.

© Pexels/Inga Seliverstova
© Pexels/Inga Seliverstova

Step one: if you can find them, step two: if you can enter (since some are password required), speakeasies are like a devil’s delight to uncover an imaginary seedy underbelly of Saigon’s nightlife. Sure the prohibition era is long gone (and never happened in Vietnam), but fantasies are fun because they tease the imagination and balance between what is accessible and inaccessible. This is exactly the secret speakeasy bars of Saigon’s whole vibe. While there are a lot of packed, neon-lit bars on streets like Bui Vien Walking Street, the thoughtfully crafted cocktails hidden away in an obscure location taste even better. Some joints add an air of romance, others add a rush of adventure, but one’s thing is for sure - no matter which speakeasy you go to, you are in for a good time. 



The author

Logan Ly

Logan Ly

They say “Life is a daring adventure - or nothing”, and having traveled to over 88 countries and lived across 3 continents, Logan’s wanderlust has been an unquenchable thirst that keeps fuelling his curiosities and passions in life.

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