The nightspot at the top of the stairs

(No.10, Vol.2, Oct 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine, Advertorial)

Photo: Broma Saigon Bar

I was standing on the pavement on Nguyen Hue at lunchtime, in front of a medieval-style wooden door that it amused me to think would suit the entrance of a castle or dungeon. I knocked several times to no avail and a street vendor assured me the place opened only at dusk. The name was ‘Broma Saigon Bar’. My suspicion that this place might be a little on the risque side was heightened by the fact that ‘broma’ is Spanish for ‘joke’ and not in the sense of a funny story but closer in meaning to ‘prank’. In order to dispel my fears and prejudices I arranged to meet the owner one evening and I can assure you (or maybe disappoint you) that this is a place to which you can have no qualms about taking your maiden aunt, should that be your thing.
When I returned that evening, I noticed that Broma is like no other Saigon bar. There is no barker at the ready to grab you by the arm and drag you into the doorway. Broma announces itself by soft bluesy music wafting through the porch. A blackboard to the side tells you what is on offer: ‘Shooters VND70,000, Cocktails VND120,000. Beers from VND40,000. Turkish Food’ – reasonable prices, considering this is the very heart of town.
I followed the staircase with little candles placed in the corner of every eighth step to guide me up two floors and found myself in a very western bar. Broma has not long been in operation long and there are plans to have an English pool table here soon.But for the moment, most folk gravitate to the open-air section one flight further up.
Such a pleasant surprise, after all the noisy bars where you hardly hear what a friend half a foot away is saying, to find a place dedicated to a quiet drink and conversation.The decor is that of a bedouin tent with divaniyah seating. The awnings can be drawn back to suit the weather and the lighting from oriental lantherns is subtle. The only other light is the bright blue of the three by one metre fish pool on the floor. The breeze is cool, the Bitexco tower looms above and there is a brief teasing glimpse of the river. This would be a premium spot for enjoying the New Year firework display. There is an element of the tree house here as you feel free in a secret hideout which is world away from the reality of the street just below.
The brains behind all this is Mr Nam, a Vietnamese who grew up in Australia and has travelled the world extensively. He propounds his philosophy as we sit down together for cocktails. This is a place to ‘Warm up, not to throw up,’ he says. I envisaged a place where people might like to meet and chat before at the beginning of a night on the town. In actual fact, a lot of people like to stay for hours. Just then appeared a local couple with friends and a one-year-old baby. How many bars do you know where you can safely go with an infant? Mr Nam continues, ‘My intention is to educate my fellow Vietnamese as to what a refined bar looks like. Here we serve in fine glasses-no bottles! I have trained the staff to stay in the background ready to serve and not to disturb.’ How refreshing! So many bar staff do the opposite. They pounce on your glass even before you have finished urging you to buy another one.
Both food and beverage were highly enjoyable. I started with the Spanish Sangria which is red wine which has been macerated in fresh fruit. Then I tried some cocktails. There was the ‘Ruby Heat’, which made use of ginger and Dalat blackberries and gin. Then I tried a couple of Vietnamese ‘Breakfast’ cocktails. The ‘Recipe of Pho’ and The ‘Rhum Bo Hue’ make use of the herbs in two of Vietnam’s most famous breakfasts plus rum. By now I was almost half as high as the Bitexco Tower so I stopped after a little concoction of pink guava, malibu and white rum. The nibbles were great. I had minced lamb on pitta bread, falafel (deep fried chickpea patties) and hummus (puree of chick peas with olive oil).
Broma is a useful addition to the Saigon bar scene and is well-suited to those who enjoy a quiet drink with friends in atmospheric surroundings with attentive but non-obtrusive service and with a chance to savour exotic beverages and snacks. Fear not the trek up the stairs!

Broma Saigon Bar
41 Nguyen Hue St, Ben Nghe Ward,
Dist.1, Ho Chi Minh City
Open 6 p.m. until late. Tel: (08) 3823-6838

By Ritch Pickens
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