Elijah Ferrian puts his cocktail-nerd hat on at the best new speakeasy-style bar in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by Vinh Dao.
I’m wandering around Phnom Penh a month or so ago, when I land at Le Boutier, a great cocktail bar that had some spirits I haven’t seen since back in the States. After some discussion about the apparent lack of passionate cocktail bars possessing a deep selection of spirits in Vietnam, the bartender there informed me about this place in Saigon I had to try: The Alley.
As soon as I got back in town I tracked this place down. Hallelujah. I worked in and opened cocktail bars for years, and right away this place had me feeling like there’s finally a place to go and nerd out on drinks with someone.
Pham Minh Tan is from the coastal province of Ben Tre in the Mekong Delta. The Alley is his concept, and he designed the entire place himself.
“I love making cocktails. I love enjoying cocktails. I started from zero. In 2003, I remember seeing a bartender making a cocktail, and it was, I now know, probably really bad.” Pham laughs. “He just threw everything into the shaker. I knew then, after watching him, that I wanted to make cocktails.”
The concept is a version of an American-style speakeasy, a hidden bar that was popular during the time in history where the United States had banned consumption of alcohol, thus driving the industry underground.
“We focus on cocktails, a big selection of single malt whisky, and fine foods.” Pham says. “We also make sure we have ambient, soft music, either with a DJ or an acoustic set. You can come here with your friends and business associates and just enjoy your time. Every corner of this place there are stories developing.”
Long drinks like gin and tonics, bourbon and cokes are VND119,000. Beer from VND79,000, and a diverse wine list starts at VND139,000 a glass. But the real treat here are the rare cocktail one won’t find elsewhere in the city, and Pham’s original drinks that are creative and relevant to Vietnamese culture.
The Mekong Delta is made with dried banana-infused bourbon whiskey, banana syrup, lime juice, egg white, and ginger bitters.
The Mustard Sour combines bourbon whiskey, apple juice, mustard, lime juice, sugar syrup, and pink pepper. While the Gastro Infusion (all three priced at VND179,000) consists of shiso-infused vodka with balsamic vinegar and black truffle oil.
Happy hour is a fantastic 50% discount on select drinks and food from 5pm to 8pm everyday. Fresh Nh Trang oysters (VND39,000), mustard leaf fresh spring rolls (VND119,000), and grilled Australian beef wrapped in betel leaf (VND149,000) are all great ways to balance out the drinks.
In the future The Alley plans to focus on pushing their design and experience toward a full-on speakeasy with a password required for guests to get in. It’s going to be exclusive, yet still maintaining the welcoming vibe.