Mixology and vintage curiosities are the focus at this speak-easy bar, the Snuff Box. By Lorcan Lovett. Photos by Vinh Dao.
Cool people like exclusivity. San Francisco’s Bohemian Club encompassed figures such as Richard Nixon, while one of his best buds, FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover, was a ‘Master Freemason’ by the age of 25. They’re pretty cool, right?
Snuffbox is cool too. Hidden away on the first floor of an old apartment building in District 1, it doesn’t even have a sign – just a logo – and potential punters push a button that signals a green light inside.
Staff then slide back a slot in a metal door to hear whether the person has the right password. At least that was the initial idea until the business seemed awfully quiet, so now you can just walk in.
The interior is broody despite a large disco ball hanging above the bar. There are many vintage curios scattered about the establishment’s two floors, which, as a whole, touts itself as a “1920s themed speak-easy lounge celebrating the end of Prohibition”.
Prohibition ended in the 1930s. But let’s not be picky. Snuffbox has jazz on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Otherwise there’s a genuinely decent playlist of house, dub and electric. The last time I visited, there was a jazzy Jungle Book remix on the go.
The main focus here is the mixology. That’s fortunate, because bottles of Tiger are VND90,000 and the cheapest cognac shot VND200,000. Classic cocktails are VND150,000.
I sipped on a Boulevardier on my first visit and slipped out to the balcony to get some natural light. Snuffbox, I felt, was better judged on a night visit.
The second visit started with a New York Sour (bourbon-based and including an egg white). It was a weekend, the bartenders were friendly, and, after working my way down the list, I began to see a different side to Snuffbox.
It’s a speak-easy after all. The clandestine entrance, the loan-inducing drinks, the pompous huddles of cool people; it’s all intentional.
If Hogwarts had a private club for alcoholics, this would be it. Cool, I thought, and then I looked down at the menu again. A single malt shot priced at VND200,000 stared back at me. Cool.
There will be lots of students who save up all week to nurse a drink here on the weekends. I can see the attraction: the place is a secret, but I don’t really want to know about all of Saigon’s secrets. There’s a thin line between speak-easy and sigh-hard. Check it out to see whether you agree.