“It’s about delivering a better experience for the new Vietnamese middle class,” says Rafik Mankarious, the club’s Australian owner. He makes no bones about it — this isn’t aimed at the expat market, even though several expats have been making it a regular haunt — after all, TAPS is a veritable playground for adults. On entering its District 3 location, it’s a visual assault — there’s a lot to take in. To the right is what you might call the VIP lounge area that’s regularly hired out for private parties. All around us are banks of TV screens playing a mix of music videos, sports highlights and fashion TV, and at its core are the variety of high tables, some with their own beer tap — a first in Vietnam, I’m told — and hence the name.
Front and centre is the TAPS stage, where live acts perform and DJs keep the progressive house and trance pumping, but not overwhelming.
“We build the music up gradually until about eight o’clock,” Rafik says. Sure enough, when eight o’clock comes, the lights dim, and while we’re not quite ‘reaching for the lasers’, there is a change in mood. Continuing our tour, to the front left there is an impressive open-plan kitchen, where everything from tasty bar snacks to accomplished mains catering for both Vietnamese and Western tastes are on the menu. We had the grilled chicken salad (VND65,000) and onion rings (VND50,000) to complement our beers. Worth noting is that everything is at a price people can afford. A tower of Tiger will set you back (VND260,000) while a 30-litre keg of locally brewed Red Rock for larger groups is a reasonable (VND2,550,000).
“We’re not about pricing people out of this market,” says Rafik. “Everything is reasonably priced, so we’ve taken out that obstacle to entry.”
The audience isn’t limited to men, Rafik explains — he’s keen to differentiate TAPS from your regular beer club — even though it’s still beer squarely at the middle of its product offering.
“I’ve seen large groups of Vietnamese women come in here and enjoy the dark lager we tap here, Gau Den, and they’ve loved it.”
Made locally by another Australian expat — and Rafik’s business partner in this venture — Gary Bett, Gau Den is what you might call a gateway into something new for the Vietnamese beer market, which is slowly but surely opening up its palette. Although dark beer was around in Vietnam 10 years ago, it was a hard sell.
While on the beer, TAPS claims it serves the coldest in Vietnam, and who I am to argue? I’m shown backstage where the pipes are kept at -2°C, then pumped out using the latest food safety technology, all fully monitored and controlled — there’s not a second to waste when you’re catering for a thirsty Vietnamese business lunch. The other innovation? Beer by the hour! Take your choice and let the good times flow.
And that fairly sums up TAPS, a good time with friendly staff waiting to accommodate your heart’s desire. A definite step up in class from your average beer swill, I could see myself sailing this fair ship again. TAPS ahoy people! — Jon Aspin
TAPS is at 147 Truong Dinh, Q3, HCMC