Hanoi may be famous for its unique culture, street food and gorgeous French colonial architecture, but it’s cocktail scene is one of the coolest I’ve discovered in SE Asia.
When I visited Hanoi, I wasn’t drinking much, but decided to check out a few places I’d heard did cocktails worthy of starring on menus at some of the world’s best bars.
I enjoyed the lapsang martini I had during happy hour at the Polite Pub, but the pho cocktail I had at Ne was what really convinced me Hanoi’s cocktail scene is on the up and up.
Before we get into it, a note- pho is pronounced ‘fuh’. If you say it like it’s spelled, it translates to prostitute in Vietnamese.
In Vietnam, pho is comparable to a national dish. The noodle soup, typically topped with chicken or beef, can be eaten for really any meal.
Served at the swanky, alleyway Ne bar, the pho cocktail is the creation of Pham Tien Tiep, who won ‘Best Bartender in Vietnam’ in Diageo’s 2012 World Class competition.
Initially, Tiep says he wanted to create a drink that would represent Vietnam’s history and uniqueness as a country.
“I created the pho cocktail at the Metropole Hotel, just above the war bunkers where the American musician Joan Baez sang to the staff and guests in December 1972 as bombs fell on the city,” Tiep told Word Vietnam magazine. “The alcohol in the cocktail is lit on fire to represent the bombs, while spices, such as chili and cinnamon, reflect the warmness of her voice.”
The originality of the drink makes it a popular choice among visitors, which are locals, expats and tourists at Ne bar.
The entertainment in how the tipple is prepared doesn’t hurt either.
When you order a pho cocktail, the bartender grabs a tall metal rod that kind of looks like a candle holder, split into three levels.
If, at this point, you’re not sitting at the bar, walk up to the far end (furthest away from the door) to watch the show.
On the rod, there are three saucers, which the bartender adds spices to. Then, he lights the sauces on fire and pours warmed gin and Cointreau through the top cup. As the flaming mixture falls through the apparatus, it pours into a cup. That cup gets poured through the boozy spice race again and again- usually five times in total. As this happens, blue flames stretch into the air and the smell of spices fills the bar.
After a few passes, the spiced liquid is cooled with ice and then served to you with chili, cilantro and lime garnishes.
Upon first taste, you find many of the herbs and spices actually used in pho- cinnamon, star anise, cilantro, cardamom.
It’s quite literally pho broth in cocktail form.
The drink is savoury, yet sweet.
It’s served with chili, so if you like your pho spicy, you can add a bit of heat to the drink form as well.
It’s the boozy pho you never knew you needed.
Weird, yet wonderful.
It was, without planning, the last drink I had before deciding to cut out alcohol for a few months. What a way to go out- a flame fuelled, perfectly spiced, delicious drink.
When I visited Ne, I walked there from the Old Quarter, but you could also take a Grab if you’re worried about walking around at night. The bar usually doesn’t open until 7:30 pm, so it’s a great stop before or after dinner.
The night I arrived, they opened at 7:30 pm, and I was one of the first customers in the door- strolling in around 7:50.
I spent about an hour at Ne, fully reading the menu- it’s full of other cool drinks that use ingredients that pay homage to Vietnam, like fish sauce, and then just enjoying my drink.
I’ve heard later in the evening, the bar can get quite packed, and there’s usually live music. By the time I left around 9 pm, there were a dozen or so people milling about the bar, and it felt like it was about to get much busier.
Because I wasn’t drinking much in Vietnam, I didn’t check out very many of the cocktail clubs that people recommended to me. If you’re on the hunt for fun, tasty tipples in Hanoi, three other bars to check out- Mad Botanist, The Alchemist and The Hanoi Social Club.
Have you ever had a cocktail, like the pho one I tried in Hanoi, while travelling that used local culture or ingredients to help you experience the place in a new way?