On my visit to Hanoi, I discovered how the “speakeasy” culture had given rise to a number of unique and quaint bars in Hanoi. Here’s the story of hunting for one of them
It’s been about 40 minutes, since I started roaming in the side alleys of Hanoi. I’m here searching for a “speakeasy” or hidden bar, that a friend told me about. I thought the speakeasy would be difficult to find, but not this difficult !!! Now, I’m rapidly losing hope that I will even find it today and I increase my frantic attempts to find it.
Speakeasies draw their origins to the Prohibition era (1920-1933) in the USA. During that era, manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol was banned throughout the country. But this didn’t stop bars. Many of them went underground, operating in secret with innocuous looking shops and other establishments often serving as a front.
Speakeasies were “so called because of the practice of speaking quietly about such a place in public, or when inside it, so as not to alert the police or neighbors”. Quite often the entrance was masked, and entry was only open to those who knew where to find it. Most of the speakeasies died out after prohibition ended.
However, they were to make a come back at the turn of the millennium, when on New Year’s Eve 1999 the bar Milk & Honey opened in New York City. With it was established what is now come to become a hallmark of the modern speakeasy – quiet reserved atmosphere, craft cocktails, old world charm and the all important hidden entrance (with a password or two thrown in).
While the trend is dying out gradually , with speakeasies today becoming more of a cliché for a bar to overprice drinks, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of visiting a relatively new one in Hanoi. After getting some instructions from a friend, I set out to meet her at this speakeasy, called the Other Room. Unfortunately, I misunderstood her instructions and ended up searching the lanes on the opposite side of the road !!!
After some 30-40 minutes of searching, I finally managed to get back on track, starting to go past a little street side soup shop and into a long narrow alleyway.
Turning at the end of the alleyway, I came up to what looked to rather old building with crumbling stairs going up a few floors.
Climbing up the stairs, I was greeted by a sign that looked out of place on the old staircase. Was this it ? Had I finally arrived?
Opening the door and crossing the threshold, I was suddenly transported into another world, one that was quiet, elegant and reserved. Jazz music floated over the airwaves as I made my way to one of the tables. I certainly immediately appreciated the attention lavished to the space, with the well done interiors that immediately took you back to Prohibition era New York.
We spent a little while at the bar, tasting some of their craft cocktails. I found them quite well done, even if a tad overpriced. I had one of their signature cocktails – which was quite nice , and well crafted Old Fashioned. After a quiet evening in a splendidly atmospheric bar, it was time to bid goodbye. The entire experience was certainly one of the most unique bar experiences that I’ve had to date.
If you ever are in Hanoi, do give this place a visit – just for the novel experience of getting there and some finely hand crafted cocktails.
Credits: A big shoutout to Nhung for making this possible, showing me how to get to the bar step-by-step, for the header image and for generally being such a nice friend.