With his deep love for Hanoi and an eye for innovation, Bien Ngoc Vu — commonly known in the bartending establishment as Vu Ngoc — left his hometown Saigon to the north of Vietnam to fulfill his vision of the one-of-its-kind, contemporary bar Doozy.
Vu Ngoc’s enthusiasm and unceasing dedication to the industry in the past year, along with his initiative to explore relatively new concepts in bartending, made him the well-deserved Bartender of the Year at the Vietnam Restaurant & Bar Awards 2022.
“Extremely humbled and honored” to take home the trophy, Vu Ngoc felt that this award is a source of motivation for him moving forward. Focusing on the use of modern equipment and machinery, his mixology style harnesses modern methods like the use of sound waves, distillation, and fermentation processes of ingredients to create cocktail flavors that defy traditional drinking culture.
We caught up with Vu Ngoc after his win at the Vietnam Restaurant & Bar Awards 2022, where he shared his journey in the F&B industry, his insights into the industry, and the exciting plans he’s got on his mind for the future.
How long have you been in the F&B industry? How did your journey start?
I’ve been in the F&B industry for 10 years now. I embarked on my journey as a waiter at a small bar in Bui Vien. At the time, I was simply looking for a part-time job as a university student. After seeing the bartenders there making a bunch of colorful cocktails, I took an interest in the job and officially started as a bartender in 2013.
Can you give us a background of your education and work experiences that led you to where you are today?
In 2014, after two years of experience in bartending, I got a position at Glow Skybar as a Senior Bartender. In 2017, I started providing consulting services for a few bars and restaurants and joined the Elements Management Group (a few of their projects include Sky XX, LAI Cantonese or TOWA Japanese restaurants) a year later as their beverage manager, where I learned more about business operations and the paperwork involved. Last year, I opened my first business in Ha Noi – Doozy Modern Cocktail Bar.
What does it take to be a real bartender?
For me, a real bartender must, first of all, possess basic F&B knowledge, and then customer service skills. A bartender doesn’t necessarily make the most extraordinary drinks, but basic F&B knowledge is a must, in order to ensure customers’ wellbeing. In terms of service, I think an “ordinary” drink combined with exceptional customer service can help deliver a satisfying customer experience.
Tell us more about Doozy Bar – your role and contributions.
Doozy means something outstanding or unique of its kind. The music, service, atmosphere, and of course the cocktails, are different from the other bars in Hanoi. Having visited so many different places before, Hanoi stood out in my heart with its impressive slow-paced lifestyle and the local cuisine characterized by the unique Northern and seasonal ingredients – the fruits, the herbs, and the spices.
With a vision of creating a mixture of the classic North and the lively South – where my hometown Saigon is, Doozy was born with its distinctive characteristics, brand image, and products. In fact, Doozy is one of those bars that has a redefined cocktail culture in the capital city.
At Doozy, I’m in charge of building up the bar’s main concept, planning the menu, and overlooking our staff’s training process. Our menu here at Doozy is a combination of local ingredients and technologically refined ingredients for creative flavors.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the drinks you create?
My source of inspiration is local ingredients and those unique to Vietnam. To be honest, Vietnam has yet to be able to showcase a characteristic ingredient representative of the country, not because our food scene is dull, but rather because it’s so diverse with geographical-based as well as seasonal ingredients. So for now, I’m focusing on local ingredients and I’m also aiming at bringing more ingredients from the kitchen to the bar.
Do you have a signature drink?
My signature drink “Be Sober, Fellas!” is a Bulleit Bourbon whiskey and milk and dried squid-washed Saigon beer concoction, inspired by Vietnamese people’s beer-drinking culture and the bartender’s handshake concept.
Our beer-drinking culture has been there for a long time and gradually become a culture unique to Vietnam. You can easily catch sight of people juggling down a chilled bottle of beer in every corner and street of Vietnam, and the best part of a cold beer is enjoying it with the popular grilled dried squid snack.
The mixture is a balance between sweet and sour, enriched with a hint of umami, toasty and buttery flavor. The finishing touch delivers a satiny and spicy feeling with a light toffee flavor lingering on the tip of your tongue.
To you, where do Vietnamese bartenders like you stand in the global F&B scene? What can you do to further elevate Vietnam’s name?
I believe that Vietnamese bartenders have a distinct advantage over their international counterparts in that we have a diverse cuisine as well as a wide range of ingredients. At the same time, the prizes that Vietnamese bartenders have received are proof that we have been recognized by foreign friends for our ability. Compared to Southeast Asian countries, our F&B industry is relatively young, yet we are developing at an exceptional rate, especially within the past 3 to 4 years.
To further elevate Vietnam’s F&B industry, I think we need to stay together in developing and promoting our culture, support local products, and excel more at showing off our identity and signature to international friends. In order to succeed, efforts should be concerted instead of solitary, and constant learning is fundamental as the F&B industry is evolving and changing on a daily basis.
What’s next for you?
I’ll come back to my hometown Saigon for my future developments. At the moment, I’m working on an F&B consulting service company and two upcoming bars, one is a contemporary and minimalism-combined bar in Thao Dien Street, District 2, and the other is a modern classic drinking spot on Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1, the heart of entertainment in HCMC.