“We want people to swim, but everyone is shy,” Xuan, the manager, says. We sat at a wooden table opposite 2KU’s owners, Anh The Dinh and Tung Tran. They opened their first Beer 2KU (deliberately risqué name — ask a Vietnamese friend to explain) three years ago on Thuy Khue. As for why the pair wanted to open a chain of bars, Anh says simply: “Because I like beer.”
With a degree from Hanoi Architecture University under his belt, Anh ditched the suit and tie to design 2KU’s recycled decor. The place is littered with old beer bottles-turned-lanterns, handmade wooden tables, and graffiti murals, most of which he creates himself. He even designed the crew’s military-inspired uniforms. “Before, these were boring bars, with not many customers. But now we’ve changed them,” says Xuan.
Beer Maketh the Customer
The concept focuses on making a space where Hanoi’s youth can drink beer and get creative, with food playing second fiddle to pints. Menu staples include bia hoi-inspired fare like hot pots (VND250,000) and banana flower salad (VND50,000), and Xuan tells me that soon they’ll be rolling out a Western menu on Quang An. Still, beer dominates, most notably their dark draft variety (VND25,000), a rare option on Hanoi’s bar scene.
The name and design recall a brand familiar to Ho Chi Minh City, the pop-up-style 5KU, famous for its recycled wooden decor and frequent vanishing act. But when asked about their relation to the southern city’s BBQ chain, both owners scoff. “We’re not the same. Beer 2KU is about lifestyle and music. In 5KU, there are no drawings, no live music. It’s different,” they insist.
Construction at the new Quang An location is weeks away from being finished, but already the bar is bustling with curious customers. “This place is very special, very romantic. It’s different from the other Beer 2KUs,” Xuan beams.
And it stands out, shining in all its ramshackle LED glory between upscale bistros like Al Fresco’s and Don’s. Long have I pined for a rooftop where I could sip bia tuoi (VND15,000) with lake views. And finally, 2KU has materialised this dream of mine, combining open-air atmosphere with wallet-friendly fare and an artistic vibe. All we need now is someone to start the pool party. — Jesse Meadows
The West Lake branch of Beer 2KU is at 22 Quang An, Tay Ho, Hanoi