La Habana. Photo by Francis Xavier

A 12-year veteran of the Saigon scene, La Habana maintains its charming, Spanish-terrace-inspired premises in District 1. Any night of the week, just off the main drag of Hai Ba Trung and along Cao Ba Quat, you’ll hear live music floating from its cavernous entertainment area. On the Thursday night we visited, it was ballad night, and a regular band from the Philippines were filling the place.


Stepping inside, you feel instantly at home. That’s because there’s a natural warmth to the La Habana front bar you can’t deny, especially at night. In addition, there’s not a hint of the pretention you’ll find at Saigon’s newest range of self-styled VIP entertainment venues, only a relaxed, comfortable vibe and a diverse range of regulars happy to get involved in actual conversation. It’s just the way owner Jane Speeger likes it.


“My place is like your front room or your back room,” she tells me. “There’s no need to dress up or pretend to be something you’re not. Everyone is welcome.”

La Habana. Photo by Francis Xavier

La Habana. Photo by Francis Xavier 

Not Part of the Plan


Offering a full list of cocktails and a very well-equipped bar, getting into this industry wasn’t something Jane had planned when she first came to Vietnam.


“It was unexpected,” the Shanghai native says. “My husband and I came on a two-year contract, and now 14 years later, we’re still here.” She has a great sense of humour about the whole thing, laughing frequently with customers and describing the differences between her home city and where she is now as like “coming from Mars”.


As with many bars, there’s a long story behind its origin, but you’ll have to buy Jane a La Habana special (VND150,000) to get the whole story, or perhaps the delicious daquiri floridita (VND120,00) or the fruity but not overpowering sangria red (VND120,000).


Since her unexpected change in life course, it’s been a labour of love for Jane, and something that has attracted people back time and time again.


“I’ve known some of my customers for more than 10 years,” she explains. “La Habana is a famous name that people know in this city. We do swing dancing, we used to do salsa, but basically it stands for relaxing good times. That’s why we haven’t changed too much. I just do my own thing. It’s a lot of work, but we have fun, too.”


La Habana is at 6 Cao Ba Quat, Q1, HCMC. Besides drinks and live music they serve up Spanish and Cuban-inspired cuisine with a small menu of German fare (Jane’s husband in German). You can book the place for functions and the live music starts every night from around 9.30pm

La Habana. Photo by Francis Xavier

La Habana. Photo by Francis Xavier

Jon Aspin

Over the last 10 years, staff editor Jon Aspin has been producing ‘sparkling’ copy for everyone from mega rich beer companies and consumer electronics giants to local caravan dealers and Swedish Phd students. Born in the North East of England but raised in Australia, Jon has now worked on three continents, and remains curious about the others. Arriving in Vietnam 'on sabbatical' sometime during 2013, Jon soon got appointed ‘captain’ on a movie about a war and has tried not to look back since.


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