Since 1995 this small hideaway has served as a welcoming hub for weary travellers, as an antidote for the homesick, and most importantly, one of the most original bars in Hanoi. It exudes a warmth seldom found in this part of town, and none of the smash-and-grab ethos which seems to permeate throughout many of its neighbouring establishments.
The walls are adorned with pictures of famous faces, heroes and villains alike, jostling for position around the bar’s old wooden framework, which lends itself perfectly to the gloriously organised chaos that is most nights in Polite Pub. Like all great bars it is chameleonic in nature, and in the early hours of its daily opening schedule it can be the perfect place to sit and enjoy a whisky from the impressive selection on the crowded back bar. Fast-forward a few hours and the majority of patrons will find themselves shoulder to shoulder with their immediate neighbour, making 5 Hang Hanh one of the most sociable addresses in the district.
The drinks selection is beyond reproach, and as a Scotsman in constant dismay at the ubiquity of Johnny Walker, celebrity-endorsed whiskies and little else which sits atop the majority of shelves in Hanoi’s establishments, it is nothing short of a pleasure to be greeted by old friends like the Bowmore 12, Glenrothes Vintage Reserve, Caol Ila 12 and Islay’s Ardbeg 10, which stand defiantly against the standard line-up.
The Chocolate Factory
Moving on to a closer inspection of to the cocktail menu (around VND100,000 to VND150,000 per drink) is enough to fill any bartender’s heart with glee, and as impressive as Polite Pub’s spirits selection is, its cocktail menu is nigh on impossible to resist. Scrutinising the ingredients list of each drink, I wonder how it came to be that Willy Wonka ended up working back-of-house in a small speakeasy-cum-old English pub, slap bang in the middle of the capital of Vietnam, and how reliable that glass elevator of his could possibly be, what with the country’s notoriously unstable WiFi and all.
I opt for what I am told is one of their best sellers, the Saint Germain Des Pres, which marries perfectly the quickness of Grey Goose vodka with the robust flavour of St. Germain elderflower liqueur, held together by blackberry purée and a dash of lemon for a sense of balance. Though maybe not for those of you out there looking for a bit more immediacy in your libations, it is simple, effective, endlessly flavoursome, and “so shines a good deed in a weary world…”
Polite Pub celebrated its 20-year anniversary last month, and it is no surprise that the establishment has lasted so long. A unique location with one of the best back bars in the city, and an imaginative cocktail list that wouldn’t look out of place in a London pop-up, the owners and staff can blow out the candles with pride, and look forward to the next decade with zeal. — Calum Sutherland
Polite Pub is at 5 Hang Hanh, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi