Barbara Adam seeks out Layla Eatery and Bar, an intriguingly elusive downtown nightspot. Photos by Romain Garrigue.

Layla Eatery and BarFor a true “hidden bar” experience, you need a hard-to-find entrance, a dingy set of stairs and a big punchy “wow factor” behind the front door.

Layla has all that and more.

The entrance isn’t all that hard to find, across the road from the Sheraton in Dong Du Street. But it doesn’t really look like a bar entrance. The stairs are definitely dingy, with extra points for a bit of crumbling here and there.

And the wow factor. Layla has that in spades, with its soaring ceilings, fairy lights and greenery.

Take a tour before selecting a seat — the leafy open-air garden area, a huge comfy couch-lined lounge area, a “proper” bar area with a long wooden bar topped with botanicals, and a dimly-lit pool room.

Jay Moir and his partner Annie Vu met and fell in love in Australia when Annie was studying hospitality (and Jay was her teacher.) They wanted to share their love, and their love of Australian-style hospitality to Saigon. And when they found an old apartment overlooking Dong Khoi Street, Jay said they knew they’d found the perfect site.

They gutted the apartment, under the supervision of their partner, architect Dung Nguyen, keeping the original tiles but demolishing the internal walls to create a bright and airy space.

Jay added a menu of rustic sharing plates and Australian-influenced comfort food, while Annie drafted a drinks menu with a strong emphasis on botanicals and unusual flavours such as Nutella and wasabi.

The theme running through the entire Layla experience is “interactive”, whether it’s working with the bar staff to build your perfect cocktail, sharing a cheese (VND295,000), cured meat (VND295,000) or barbecue meat (VND300,000) platter with friends or forming new friendships.

“It’s all about everyone getting together,” Jay said. It’s also about being able to keep the cigarette smoke out of your clothes and hair if you so wish, with the main bar areas non-smoking.

Throw in a “new age and Millennial” soundtrack — kept to a reasonable level in the early evening, then pumped up as the crowd swells — and you’re sure to have a fun and interactive time.

The AsiaLIFE team highly recommends the Kiwi Basil Delight sparkling cocktail (VND170,000), with Bicardi, melon liqueur, kiwi syrup, basil, and sparkling wine, and the Viking Funeral infused martini (VND160,000), with Grey Goose, peach liqueur, passionfruit juice and a burning passionfruit Absinthe boat.

Second Floor, 63 Đông Du, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City