At the bar, two Western businessmen sip pho cocktails. Four smartly-dressed Vietnamese women have tea at a table next to us. When a fifth woman in sunglasses and pearls appears, my companion leans over and whispers excitedly: “She’s a very famous Vietnamese singer!” And just like that, I’d made my first celebrity sighting at La Plume.
It’s the kind of place where you can clink glasses with diplomats, CEOs, and celebrities. Food and Beverage Director Dang Thanh Tung even had the pleasure of serving Samuel L. Jackson during his recent visit to film in Vietnam.
Since its inauguration in 1997, this building opposite the Sofitel Metropole has been a meeting place for movers and shakers. But it has a more recent legacy among expats in Hanoi who remember their regular Friday night parties on the terrace. Our photographer, Julie, had a flashback, sitting in the newly remodelled bar space.
“The parties here were wild,” Julie remembers. Before renovation began in May last year, it was just an outside terrace where the over-30 expat crowd would gather every month to dance the night away.
But like the people who frequent it, the bar has matured, too. The infamous roof terrace has evolved into a sophisticated lounge, with rugged, industrial touches. The interior was inspired by Long Bien Bridge, depicted in two huge murals on the back wall.
Custom-made furniture in soothing browns and greens surround a large circular bar, which dominates the space. There are little touches, too; all the tables have been subtly engraved with quotes in various languages by journalists and writers, a nod to the Press Club’s history as a meeting place for media professionals.
The cocktail menu was designed mostly by mixologist Pham Tien Tiep. His drinks don’t just taste good; they’re inspired by stories from Vietnam’s culture and history. He’s best known for his famous pho cocktail, which he invented next door at Angelina, the bar in the Metropole, where Joan Baez sang to guests in a bunker during the Christmas raid of 1972. The warmth of her voice is represented by spices like cinnamon and chilli, and the cocktail’s fiery flare recalls the intensity of the bombs.
We tried three more of La Plume’s colourful creations. The Com cocktail, created by Ba Ly, is a striking bright green, with a rice stalk garnish. Rum and Cointreau create a boozy base for honey, green apple, and a somewhat earthy young rice syrup, while tart orange balances the drink with citrus notes.
Red Shoes is a drink for gin lovers who prefer the sweetness of fruits like apricot and raspberry, with a kick in the form of candied ginger. But perhaps my favourite of the three was the Home cocktail, vodka-based with black tea and starfruit creating a quintessentially Vietnamese flavour palette.
The bar also offers bistro-style lunch and dinner, and a well-rounded menu of small plates and bar snacks, like smoked salmon sliders, goat cheese crostini, and grilled Japanese scallops.
My advice is to get started early on the cocktails; happy hour will get you two-for-ones from 6pm to 8pm. As the sun sinks, the evening at La Plume gets into full swing. Wednesday night is reserved for jazz. An acoustic band sets up in the corner every Friday night at 8.30 to entertain the after-work crowd, and gives way to tropical house and trance at the weekend.
So grab your nearest friend, don your swankiest outfit, and head to La Plume for a cigar and a bottle of wine. If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll meet a celebrity or two.
La Plume can be found at 12 Ly Dao Thanh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi at the corner of 59A Ly Thai To. For more information about their events and promotions, visit facebook.com/laplumebarlounge