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.”
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