It’s not that I’m the head of some ‘secret social elite’ here in Saigon. Far from it. It’s more that Powers Bar is mine, I’m claiming it, and while I’m sure you’re not one of the ‘tanktop romeo’ types that line Bui Vien, nor one of the many sleazy ‘creepers’ this city breeds, I just can’t take the risk that you are.
Therefore, if you are, and that takes some balls to admit, please discontinue reading. Avail yourself of any of the other finely written articles in this month’s issue, and stay away from Powers; I just can’t have you turning my new favourite place in the city into something it’s not meant to be.
Japanese Dive Bar Heaven
The thing that I like about this District 1 dive is that I like a lot of things. Located in the ‘Japanese Quarter’ off Le Thanh Ton, going there has been like returning to a country I only recently fell in love with. It’s also reminiscent of some of the front bars I use to frequent in cities like Melbourne, and grungier parts of East London.
From the well-worn furnishings and décor, the downstairs lounge room vibe (there is also an upstairs section for the odd private party) and the glow of its well-stocked mantle, Powers is everything I like my closest friends to be; stripped-back, unpretentious and consistent. Consistent because it also serves the best quality alcohol you can pay for, which will cost you the usual amount.
Looking like anything but a chain, turns out the Powers Bar concept has a couple of cousins in Tokyo. “It’s all about comfort,” says bar manager and cocktail-maker Ryo, a friendly guy from Osaka with a penchant for talking about his favourite baseball team the Hanshin Tigers. Just ask him about it to get the conversation rolling.
Opened a year-and-a-half ago, the mix of clientele is Japanese-heavy, many of whom live in the area. This aids that sense of escape from Vietnam you’ll get, along with its proximity to one of the best late night ramen and ‘gyoza’ joints I’ve ever been to. It must be said that these two have been working in perfect harmony for me since I discovered this gem. If I was ever to write a column called Great Nights Out in the City, I’d start with this combo. Just walk 20 metres to the right outside the doors and you can’t miss it.
Given its heritage, then, it’s no surprise to find it thriving where it does. In among the cavernous alleyways off one of the city’s busiest high streets, it’s an area where you feel you’ve finally found the old town you’ve been missing. To get there might be the hardest thing you do all night, but simply turn left off Le Thanh Ton and into the last gated hem before you hit Thai Van Lung, then veer right. That’s when you’ll spot the small ‘Powers’ sign, a glow of red light, and possibly myself, nursing a Jack and Coke and talking in broken English to my newest best friend. — Jon Aspin
Powers Bar is at D/C: 17/27 Le Thanh Ton, Q1, HCMC