Before embarking on the path of mixology, Vang Hieu Trung, also known as Trung Vang, used to be an environmental engineer. What led him to the bartending career, as well as to DOT Bar, came about quite serendipitously. With a passion for mixology and a priceless talent for storytelling through cocktails, Trung Vang has established a solid foothold in the industry with notable accomplishments after six years of pursuing this career professionally.
My interview with Trung Vang took place at DOT Bar in the afternoon, and that was also my first time visiting a bar during the daytime when it was devoid of the usual vibrancy and liveliness. Stepping off his “stage,” Trung Vang sat down and shared his journey and perspective on this career after winning the “Bartender of the Year” title at the Vietnam Restaurant & Bar Awards 2023.
What made you switch your career?
When I worked as an environmental engineer, my older brother opened a hostel featuring a small bar. I wanted to help with my family business, so I studied hospitality management and took a bartending course at Saigontourist. After working in a bar at Bui Vien for about a year, I started working with my family.
What brought you to DOT Bar?
After a prolonged restriction, the entire food and beverage industry gradually bounced back. I was working as an operations director for a restaurant in Thao Dien, but I didn't feel like I belonged there. When DOT was looking for a Bar Manager, I met Minh, the owner of DOT Bar, through my network in the industry. We clicked well together, and that's why I decided to join the DOT team at the beginning of 2022.
Why did you decide to stay with DOT Bar?
Walking up to the bar at DOT, you'll see a distinctive sign that reads: “Stay true.” That's DOT's spirit: always encouraging people to express their true selves. Our guests don't need to worry about whether their clothes, hairstyle, or personalities fit here. At DOT, we don't judge. Like Minh and me, DOT is simple, genuine, and approachable.
My cocktails at DOT reflect my personality and style as a good storyteller. I can convey stories in my creations rather than simply offering a drink.
Where do you draw inspiration for your cocktails?
Every aspect of life - culture, history, art - can be my inspiration. Every time I visit a new place, culture and learn something new, creativity floods in.
A bartender is an artist, and mixology is a form of art. Each drink drafted is a distinctive creation filled with great stories, priceless experiences, sincere efforts, and the artist's distinct identity.
Of course, like everyone else, I used to be inexperienced in the early days of my career so mistakes were unavoidable. I made some not-so-good drinks and wasn't good at dealing with guests either. But with relentless practice, I’ve finally become who I am today.
What are the three cocktails you drink most often?
Negroni, Highball, Penicillin. They're all classic cocktails.
When visiting a new bar I haven't tried before, I would have its classic first. If they are good, I can feel at ease trying their signature drinks.
How has Vietnam's bar culture changed in the last five years?
Recently, the nightlife scene in Vietnam is becoming more vibrant, with many bars sprouting everywhere. People also feel less animosity toward the idea of hanging out at bars. In the past, bars were associated with drunkenness and vice, but now they are seen as places to come, unwind, and meet new interesting people.
Bartending is also recognized as a professional career requiring much training and practice, thus worthy of appreciation. The bar culture has also changed the lifestyle of younger generations. Instead of going home after work, they tend to visit a bar to chat and socialize before heading home.
How far do you think Vietnamese bartenders can go?
With many Vietnamese bartenders making a splash in regional and international competitions, Vietnam is gradually establishing its name on the global mixology map. In the next 2-3 years, Vietnam's nightlife scene will develop on par with other countries like Thailand.
I always want to support a new generation of Vietnamese bartenders to elevate the Vietnamese Food and Beverage sector. I also hope to participate in international awards, such as "The World's 50 Best Bars," to introduce Vietnamese ingredients, culture, and people to the world.
What does winning at World Class Vietnam and the Vietnam Restaurant & Bar Awards mean to you?
These awards serve as milestones in my journey, motivating me to improve even more to make me and the whole Vietnamese F&B market proud. This year's accomplishment also inspires me to strive for a spotlight on our team's collective effort next year.
In the near future, I will invest in DOT and become its partner. That decision affirms how serious my commitment is to DOT bar.
Soon, DOT will move to a new “home” with a lot of transformations. We'll also change our menu, retaining only a small part of the current one. As my main focus is on management and product development research, I will leave the “stage” to younger talents.
Considering myself as an older brother in the industry, I believe that those with a desire to learn, dedication, humility, hospitality, and the ability to control their emotions will be able to go far in this career.
Translated by Bich Tram