Peter Cornish gets introduced to the newest old-timey bar concept in District 7, Speakeasy. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
Life as a journalist inevitably means time spent in bars. Some might say it’s an occupational hazard. Others may call it a perk of the job. As a journo for seventeen years, Brett Davis has certainly spent some time propping up bars around the world, and wondering what it would be like to have his own.
The inspiration for his bar, Speakeasy, came from a visit to the legendary Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco, a fantastic step back in time to the days of Prohibition and secret passwords to gain entry to hidden bars. Drinkers are transported to a bygone era of illicit alcohol and like minded company, of hidden rooms and secret exits should unwanted visitors come a knocking.
Times have changed and speakeasies are no longer hangouts for those wanting an illegal tipple. Nowadays they tend to be bars that have modelled themselves on the atmosphere of these Prohibition-era drinking dens, a place for a quiet drink and some social conversation. And this is what Davis and his partner Nhan Nguyen have aimed for with their bar.
“We’re trying to create the kind of neighbourhood bar that used to exist everywhere, somewhere chilled like an extension to your living-room.” Davis explained. There’s no sports playing on the TV, no staring idly at the screen. Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges play looped in the background, black and white and silent, befitting of the speakeasy era.
This is a bar for those who prefer their drink with quiet conversation, rather than a blaring YouTube Top 40 playlist. It’s a bar where the staff remember your name and will ask you how your day has been. A place to sit and have a chat. If you don’t know anyone, expect a friendly introduction to the guy sitting next to you.
Drinks are kept honest and old school. Happy Hour is from 3:30 till 7pm when Tiger draught comes in at a reasonable VND25,000 and bottles at VND30,000. Mixed drinks are VND65,000 and a generous pour of wine is only VND80,000, but if you want bells and whistles with your cocktail, this is probably not the place for you. Davis is a whiskey man so has a collection to impress, and is happy to share his knowledge.
With a focus on booze rather than food, there’s a selection of jerky and free popcorn from a machine at the bar. If hunger pangs really strike, wood fire pizza can be delivered from VII Re Pizza across the road in less than 10 minutes.
Speakeasy is a comfortable bar just to sit and have a chat. The vibe is chilled and there’s no pretence about the place. Like speakeasies from days of old, word of mouth is spreading quickly among Phu My Hung locals. This month will see the start of Sunday afternoon live music sessions, adding to what is proving to be one of the most popular bars in the neighbourhood. If you decide to swing by, perhaps grab your Fedora. Davis’s partner Nguyen believes people should wear hats again.