An exciting combination of Tiki culture and a pop-up bar is set to shake up the city’s nightlife, if only for a month. Lorcan Lovett visits the new rooftop bar. Photos by Jonny Edbrooke.
Some bars may be unrecognisable on the second or third visit. That’s probably down to the alcohol.
But a fresh venture in Saigon’s upmarket drinking scene has heralded the arrival of a fastidiously detailed pop-up bar that lingers like a hazy dream.
Shri Rooftop Bar and Restaurant perched at the top of District 1’s Centec Tower has transformed an underused room, metres away from the stunning skyline view, into a slice of Hawaii, although not for very long.
TIKI certainly could be a tipsy illusion, with its hammocks, birdcages, and a projector showing surfers, topped by goldfish bowls hanging over the tables, harbouring a few oblivious fish.
“The idea for a pop-up was an obvious one,” says Richie Fawcett, mastermind behind the project. “Where you are standing now (in TIKI) was empty all business hours.
“This is a bit of fun. It’s different; it’s fantasy, a break away from the staff’s normal routine and good for moral.”
Opened to a party of 150 people on Friday, 4 September, TIKI claims to be the first of its kind in the city – a temporary concept set to disappear after its first month.
Pop-up bars have appeared across the city before, usually in vacant plots among building developments, but TIKI has forgone cheap beer and barbecues in place of a curious, kitsch den.
Fawcett describes the project as a way of “showing there’s still a pulse somewhere at Shri”, which is among the oldest rooftop bars in Saigon.
“There are a lot of serious places out there,” he says. “I do not know whether they’re fun or not.
“I think (creating TIKI) is because of the artistry in me. I like to draw and take pictures, and it’s coming out like that.
“An artist is never satisfied unless he is making something – drawing or pop up bars.
“Everyone loves something that is new. If you have a good collection of ideas that can keep going in a circle, there is no reason why you should not have something every few months.”
Designers in District 2 used Fawcett’s sketches to plan the layout. From there, TIKI was fitted out in 24 hours. Within 36 hours all the exotic cocktails were ready to be prepped and guzzled down.
The Tiki movement spawned from 1930s USA, fusing Polynesian-style décor and mythology with Californian beach-bum panache that soon spread worldwide.
The bar serves a medley of cocktails created in the era, including the Headhunter, served in a totem pole, and the classic Zombie, a combination of fruit juices, liqueurs and rums.
“Two of these and you are a zombie,” says Fawcett, as the Black Pearl, a large pirate ship sharing cocktail, bubbles dry ice on the bar.
It’s a venue full of quirks. The Shipwrecked Sailor is served on a castaway raft and those feeling lucky can spin a wheel for VND 250,000 where the pointer lands on dud or pricey prizes.
Fawcett brings substance to the novelties too, presenting three homemade syrups including pandan leaf and coconut for that local familiarity.
“Cocktails are only as good as the quality of ingredients you have in them,” he says. “You want something that is going to stand out.”
Like his concoctions, Fawcett stood out during the cocktail renaissance in the 1990s where he worked as head bartender for years at Hush, actor Sir Roger Moore’s business in London.
Bond fans may be disappointed to hear that Sir Roger favoured a weak Bloody Mary over a Martini.
“It was an amazing experience to work there,” he says. “I met all the old A-listers and held his 75th birthday.”
After learning from the best, Fawcett opened numerous bars around the globe, about 10 in total, and began his operations in Saigon four years ago.
Things could have panned out a lot differently for him. Fawcett’s career began with deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics; intrepid endeavours are no rarity in the Fawcett family.
His great, great, great uncle and explorer General Fawcett famously ventured deep into the Amazon in search of a lost civilisation, and was never seen again.
Fortunately, modern day Fawcett is a familiar sight around these parts after launching bars Sixsenses and Sorae, and taking on the task of training a division of Vietnamese bartenders in the progress.
“If I have a bartender working with me I say take attention away from the tools,” he says. “The way you make your money is connecting with the guests.
“The real joy of bartending is making something from scratch. I ask you what you like and if you do not like it, I will balance it out in a different way.”
There’s a plan to renovate Shri in the next six months while creating a whole new world on floors 24, 25 and 26 above the restaurant.
So far the team are reluctant to reveal the details, only sharing that it will have a “natural concept” with a 360-degree view over downtown Saigon. More news is expected next year.
Breezy, quirky TIKI may well be washed away by a wave of creativity soon because Fawcett has plenty of new sand castles to build in the space.
This could be the dawning of a new style of pop-up bar in a city that embraces transience like no other.
“I think people need to think originally,” adds Fawcett. “They need to create something from scratch themselves. They can’t just copy and paste. There are so many extra concepts out there that you can do well.”