Peter Cornish wets his whistle at a new District 7 watering hole, Coolabah. Photos by Romain Garrigue.

Happy Valley has a new bar. Better yet, Happy Valley has its first bar!

“That’s great!” I hear you say, but, er, where is Happy Valley? That’s a fair question, and we had to check the map ourselves.

It turns out Happy Valley is the new Phu My Hung City Centre development, on the right just off Nguyen Van Linh as you come over the bridge from the Harley Davidson showroom heading towards Bui Bang Doan. Confused? Check the map, it’s not hard to find.

Coolabah is under the hospitable care of Ben and Amanda Daley, long-term residents of PMH stretching back to the days when Nguyen Van Linh was a dirt track and looking out the window you’d see water buffalo grazing below. As old-timers in the hood, they’ve kind of got things down pat when it comes to designing a new hang-out that appeals to the neighbourhood’s varied crowd.

Sitting on the ground floor of Block L Happy Valley, Coolabah aptly takes its name from the Australian Coolabah Tree, a solitary outback plant used as a gathering point by the country’s indigenous population, and as a shaded meeting place for early settlers. Out front is a large, decked patio, something missing from many of the local drinking holes, that offers a wonderfully relaxing space for those of us who like to do our socialising in the fresh air.

Inside is loosely divided into two areas, one with stools and high tables, great for beer drinking with friends, the other providing more of a dining space or somewhere for a coffee, cake and chitchat. The vibe is that of a local bistro bar, keeping it casual and friendly, with bare brick walls and large chalk boards displaying the daily specials. Thursday is burger night, comping a local draft beer with any burger purchase. Get stuck in.

There’s a decent selection of beers on tap, not going heavily on craft brews, and this is one of the few bars in town that’ll pour you a glass of Stella Artois (VND90,000) straight from the tap. Happy hour from Tuesday to Friday kicks off at 4pm with San Miguel, Tiger and Sapporo coming in at VND40,000 for a draft. House pours are generous and wine by the glass is from VND100,000.

While not billed as a place for fine dining, Coolabah serves up some honest, home-style food in an elevated pub-grub style. The chef is from Italy, so the pasta is on point, and with sea food brought in fresh each morning, the menu is a well-balanced choice of Western and Asian dishes that appeals to Phu My Hung’s mixed crowd. Vegetarians are certainly catered for, and the falafel with humus goes down great with a cold beer.

Korean businessmen grab coffees on their way to work, Vietnamese mums swing by for a chat as their kids play in the nearby kindergarten, local international school teachers gather for after-work sundowners, and sports fans stop in to grab a game on one of the bars four screens. Coolabah lives up to its name as a gathering place for the local community.

So R15, Duong Nguyen Van Linh, Phuong Tan Phong, District 7, Ho Chi Minh City
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