If you need a late-night beer or an early morning coffee, here’s a downtown cafe that never closes. By Simon Stanley. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Only someone as effortlessly cool at Huynh Ke Minh Tan could run a cafe as effortlessly cool as Heritage, a time capsule in downtown Saigon filled with vintage apparel, reel-to-reel music, antique bicycles and retro games consoles. The welcoming 25-year-old sits clutching a wooden tobacco pipe at the large worktable in the centre of Heritage’s main space. He explains the quirks of owning a 24-hour cafe.
“We have three lives here,” he says. “In the morning we’re very quiet, in the afternoon it’s a little bit busier, then at night it’s very different. Right here we have a place to work, the sofas are a place to relax and outside we have space to play computer games with your friends.”
The morning of my visit is just as he describes. A few laptop jockeys are gathered around us; designers, illustrators, writers, those looking for a more stimulating environment than the modern chain cafes can offer. A group of friends chat quietly on the sofas and Minh Tan’s clumsy British Bulldogs shuffle around the floor to inspect us all one by one. If you were looking for bohemia in Saigon, it’s right here.
While Heritage maintains a discreet facade during daylight hours, come nightfall it’s pretty easy to spot. As each evening draws on, its tables and chairs creep further out along the pavement, extending the periphery of its activities as the neighbouring businesses draw their shutters closed. With a table numbering system and an army of staff on hand, Minh Tan is running a very smooth, and clearly very popular operation.
Heritage’s drinks menu covers everything you could possibly want – whether it’s 3am or 3pm – from an egg coffee (VND 55,000) to a Baileys coffee (VND 49,000) and plenty of teas, sodas, smoothies and soft drinks in-between.
With cans of Heineken, 333 and Tiger for VND 33,000, and jugs of ‘Special Chillout Mojito’ (available in peach or lychee varieties) for just VND 109,000, Heritage also answers the age-old question of ‘where shall we go now?’ when your only other alternative for that cheeky final nightcap is Family Mart.
As if Minh Tan wasn’t welcoming enough, he even offers free water to the local street sweepers and food vendors, 10 percent discount to tourists and 10 percent discount to anyone showing up on a bicycle. “Because you’re saving the world,” he says with a smile. “We welcome everyone here.”