Vietnam’s best-known bartender shows us around Hanoi

Let a local insider take you through Hanoi, pointing out the best bars, restaurants (and some mixology secrets) along the way.

Pham Tien Tiep crafting one of his elaborate concoctions.
  • Sudeshna Ghosh
  • December 2018

Amidst Hanoi’s historic streets, award-winning mixologist Pham Tien Tiep – Insta-famous for giving Vietnamese flavours a modern twist with his headline-grabbing Pho Cocktail – is helping craft a world-class cocktail scene from his cosy bar, Nê. We get him to share his story, and quiz him on his favourite spots.

How did you end up as a mixologist?

> After moving to Hanoi from my village, I had lots of different jobs, including working as a waiter in a bar. Ever since I saw one of the bartenders there making his cocktail, I fell in love with this job. I started with cleaning bar equipment and teaching myself, reading up on mixology until I got a job as a bartender. I see cocktails as a work of art – they have a background and soul.

Tell us about your typical day...

> I wake up at 9am for the bartending class I conduct in my bar. I usually have lunch at home with my family and in the afternoons, I catch up with paperwork. Sometimes I go for iced tea with friends to a street stall near work (lotus tea is my favourite).

Then I go to work at Press Club where I consult, and head to Nê later in the night. Some evenings I go out to see what is going on in other bars around town.

Pham Tien Tiep holds mixology classes at Nê bar.
Pham Tien Tiep holds mixology classes at Nê bar.

Where would you go for a drink in Hanoi?

> The Old Quarter has lots of great bars, while in nearby Tay Ho, you can find some hidden gems. Don’t miss Polite and Co in the Old Quarter – this cosy whisky and cocktail bar is one of the oldest in town. If you love gin, you can go to The Mad Botanist, near Saint Joseph’s Cathedral – they have more than 100 kinds of gin. Then there’s 88 Lounge, also in Tay Ho, which offers a wide selection of wines with a great view over the lake.

What is your favourite restaurant in town?

> I’ve always been a fan of Italian food and Cugini Ristorante Italiano in Tay Ho is the best. For Vietnamese, Ca Lang Toan Thang, on the banks of the Red River, is my favourite – it serves the most traditional food in Hanoi with amazing views.

What's the one thing no-one knows about your profession?

> Many good bartenders don’t drink at all because they work with spirits every day!

But you do? What’s your favourite drink?

> Negroni – it’s the only cocktail I drink when I go out.

Describe your signature Pho Cocktail…

> It smells like pho, but tastes sweet and sour, with a hint of spicy.

The Pho Cocktail is a curious creation.
The Pho Cocktail is a curious creation.

What do you think are the skills that are most important to be a good mixologist?

> Customer communication is the most important skill and the rest is knowledge and techniques.

Do you have a great bartender story?

> Yes – it’s to do with a special customer I met in one of my classes in 2013. I was curious about her, so later invited her back to try my favourite drink – the Negroni. She didn’t like it at first but I taught her to appreciate the taste and after some time, it became her favourite drink, too. When we started going out, we’d drink Negronis. Two years later we got married, and when we had our baby, we gave him the nickname of Nê – the same as our bar!

The classic Negroni cocktail.
The classic Negroni cocktail.

What’s in a Negroni?

Start with 30ml gin, add 30ml Campari, then combine with 30ml rosso Italian vermouth. Stir all of the ingredients together with ice, then strain into an old-fashioned glass and garnish with an orange twist.