When driving past La Bodega on an afternoon or evening you will often see people sat outside on the high chairs enjoying a glass of wine, coffee or a cocktail — it’s the spirit of European café culture in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2.

The building was renovated from its previous life as a garage, and retains its cosy and intimate feel. The colour scheme is warm oranges, and the dim lighting is evocative of a different time and place. It’s shabby chic, and feels like the kind of bar you could stumble across down a Barcelona side street, which is a comparison that pleases La Bodega’s two French owners, Alban Philouze and Dorian Duplessix. For them, having a continental flavour was important when they were setting out to create a bar that customers feel like they can relax and socialise in.

 

The bar itself is built from the orange bricks of the kind you see piled up on construction sites around Ho Chi Minh City, which is a nice familiar touch, and European artwork takes pride of place on the walls. La Bodega doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard, which is definitely part of the appeal.

Coffee, Wine and Cocktails

 

From 7am a Vietnamese man sells his own family made ca phe da from Dalat, priced at VND15,000. There is also cappuccino (VND25,000), tea (VND20,000) and fresh juice (VND45,000) available throughout the day. There are also churros (a pastry based snack) to nibble on.

 

Alban and Dorian say that they have focused on quality rather than quantity when it comes to their wine selection, and they offer wines from across France, Spain and Chile. Their best-selling red is a full-bodied Spanish La Planta which comes in at VND150,000 per glass.

 

But La Bodega really shines most through their cocktails. First, I tried the Delice Tropez (VND110,000) which is made up of rose, Absolut vodka and lemonade. Created to refresh the socialites of St Tropez during the summer heat, the good news is that it works in the heat of Ho Chi Minh City, too — it’s not too sweet and is super refreshing.

 

Next up was an excellent example of a mojito (VND100,000). It’s a generous serving of this dependable classic, and the glass looks like nature has taken over as the mint leaves and cucumber fight for space inside the glass.

 

Finally, I tried the Bloody Caesar, which features clam juice and is a slightly different take on the Bloody Mary. It’s a notoriously difficult cocktail to get right, but Alban, who is an accomplished mixologist, managed it with all the elements in the right place. It’s a little spicy, and a little salty, with neither the flavours of the tomato juice or the clam juice overpowering it.

Open (Almost) All Hours

 

In keeping with the liberal European vibe of La Bodega, they are open almost 24 hours every day — from 7am to 5am, with alcohol not served before midday. On two Fridays each month there is live jazz music, and Alban has organised fun theme nights such as ‘gym tonic’, where fitness goers can come by after a workout to drink a gin and tonic for VND50,000, providing they are wearing their lycra and head bands.

 

‘Aperoke’ (apero and karaoke) takes place each Wednesday from 7pm, where everybody who sings gets a free special cocktail.

 

Alban and Dorian are building La Bodega bit by bit, and the next stage will be introducing tapas food to the menu, which should be available this summer. La Bodega is a sunkissed spot off Thao Dien where you can kick back at a slower, more European pace.

 

La Bodega is located at 11 Xuan Thuy, Thao Dien, Q2, HCMC. For more information visit facebook.com/labodegasaigon or call 01659 123369


Photos by Olga Rozenbajgier

Thomas Barrett

Born and bred on the not-so-mean streets of rural North Yorkshire in the UK. Thomas’s interest in Vietnam was piqued during a Graham Greene module at University, where he studied his classic novel, The Quiet American. He came wanting to find out what makes modern Vietnam tick, and stayed for the life-giving energy that Saigon brings every day. You can follow him on Twitter at @tbarrettwrites

Website: www.tbarrettwrites.com

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