As the next generation engages with the arts, spaces that host small-scale exhibitions or music and dance events might become the testing ground for young artists before they reach international acclaim.
Added to that, the coworking economy is thriving. In the last year alone, spaces like Toong, WeWork, and Public Office have all opened in Ho Chi Minh City making a total of over 40. Although many have their own areas for breakout sessions and events, some organizers prefer to have a change of scene by booking a boutique event space in Ho Chi Minh City. We’ve even hosted fashion pop-ups and events in our Vietcetera office.
The British Council also recently counted 180 creative hubs in the country—a community that is also often looking for spaces to hold special events. And, added to that, Vietnam is hosting more international conferences than ever. In 2018, Ho Chi Minh City was named 18th best Asia-Pacific conference host city—one place behind Seoul and one ahead of Brisbane. Although mostly held in five-star hotels, boutique event spaces for welcome drinks and end-of-conference goodbyes are increasingly in demand by conference organizers.
Soma Art Lounge in District 2 is Saigon Outcast’s little sister and it’s one of our seven boutique events spaces in Ho Chi Minh City.
Seven Boutique Event Spaces In Ho Chi Minh City
Here, we round-up seven of the most interesting boutique event spaces in Ho Chi Minh City. Most of the ones we’ve chosen double up as a regular bar or cafe—while also regularly hosting their own or external events.
Bann Bar & Cuisine
The owners of Bann Bar & Cuisine, Vana and Hang, want the place to be “a neighborhood spot…where regulars can walk in and the bartender has already started making their favorite drink.” | Photo credit: Joy Nguyen
According to the owners, Vana and Hang, newly opened Bann Bar & Cuisine—from the Vietnamese word for “friend”—is ”most-easily categorized as a bar.” But, they tell us, “We want Bann to also become the first place artists have in mind when showing a new collection, playing a show, or organizing a poetry reading.”
Bann Bar & Cuisine have found a balance between elevated but informal food and creatively understated cocktails.
The newly opened 5th- and 6th-floor spaces have easy access to the heart of District 1 as Bann is right next to The Reverie on the city’s main thoroughfare—Dong Khoi. That means The Sheraton, The Park Hyatt, and The Myst, as well as grand dames of Saigon’s hotel scene, like The Grand, The Majestic, and The Continental, are all on its doorstep.
And, in a local bar scene that’s blossomed with speakeasies and cocktail lounges in the last year—like Drinking & Healing, The Rabbit Hole, Corked Tales, and Alley50—Bann have found a balance between creatively understated cocktails and elevated but informal plates of bar food.
Bann Bar & Cuisine’s Blood and Sand, a cocktail from the 1920’s whose original recipe is equal parts scotch, orange juice, sweet vermouth and cherry liqueur. “I won’t say we’ve perfected it, but our version sure is tasty and, I’d like to think, respects the original recipe.
Opened by the two friends who were disappointed with “same-same vibe of most nightlife options in Saigon,” the owners wanted to create “a neighborhood spot, albeit with impressive drinks, dishes, and decor where regulars can walk in and the bartender has already started making their favorite drink.”
The 5th floor is a regular L-shaped bar, and the 6th floor is a dramatically-lit room perfect for events. Its windows take in the 180-degree sweep of the bright lights of downtown District 1, and there’s a large wooden shared table for 12 people in a space that can probably host 35 people.
In Short: A venue that has a 180-degree view of the bright lights of District 1, creative cocktails, and elevated but informal bar cuisine.
Size: 35 people on the 6th floor that features a large wooden table shared table for 12 seated guests, and more at the bar downstairs.
Recent events: They’re hosting DJs upstairs like Max Cleo and the owners promise “a diverse array of events” to come.
Location: Bann Bar & Cuisine, 6th Floor, 71C Dong Khoi, District 1
Padma de Fleur Cafe
Padma de Fleur serve lunch but there’s no menu. It just depends what the chef finds at the market in the morning. | Photo credit: Dai Ngo
“We found this place by accident,” Padma de Fleur Cafe’s “owner and cleaner” Quynh Anh smiles. Padma de Fleur Cafe is in the cool side street at 55 Le Thi Hong Gam in District 1’s Nguyen Thai Binh ward that is also home to the Inside the Box sneaker store, a Secret Garden restaurant, and the open-fronted Chat coffee shop. It was once a residential property before being abandoned for six years. “The agent who was helping me look for a space gave me the wrong address. When I arrived, behind me I noticed this building that is now the Padma de Fleur Cafe,” Quynh Anh adds about the space she opened four years ago.
Padma de Fleur’s “owner and cleaner” Quynh Anh wants to host some intimate evenings of music and dance…and more flower workshops.
Behind the café is an open-kitchen courtyard where they also prepare their flowers. And upstairs is a mezzanine floor that leads up again to a garden. “The plants are really thriving now,” Quynh Anh says proudly showing us around.
The team of “wild-at-heart floral artists” serve lunch but there’s no menu “because it depends what the chef brings in every morning,” according to Quynh Anh. They also do dinner. However, their main income is from their flowers that fill the front of the café.
The main income for Padma de Fleur’s “wild-at-heart floral artists” is from the flowers that fill the front of the café.
Once this busy season for flowers for weddings slows down, they’ll focus their attention on a new garden homestay in “the most beautiful town in the Mekong, Sadec.” There, besides welcoming guests, they’ll grow plants and flowers they can’t find anywhere else. And back here at Padma de Fleur Cafe, they’re also planning some intimate happenings—like an evening of dance, “something casual that uses these different levels,” Quynh Anh says looking up at the cafe’s mezzanine—and more flower workshops and private events like the ones they’ve hosted in the past.
“And remember, we close every Monday just like all the other museums,” Quynh Anh laughs as she walks us to the door.
In Short: A flower-strewn café in the cool enclave of 55 Le Thi Hong Gam.
Size: Approximately 30 people.
Recent events: Flower workshops, and dance and classical music evenings.
Location: 55/5 Le Thi Hong Gam, District 1
The Old Compass Cafe And Bar
The Old Compass Cafe’s Dang Duong and Mark Bowyer offer an open invitation for you to “swing by for a coffee, a craft beer, or a glass of wine…[and some] Vietnamese family cuisine.”
The co-founders of this District 1 café, Dang Duong and Mark Bowyer, offer an open invitation for you to “swing by for a coffee, a craft beer, or a glass of wine…[and some] Vietnamese family cuisine.” It’s also home to one of Vietnam’s most well-informed and original travel guides, Rusty Compass. They apply their local knowledge to walking tours of the city that start out at the café. And most weekends The Old Compass Cafe also host “wine, beer, and conversation” to a backdrop of music from the ‘60s and ‘70s, or head over any afternoon and have a read of a copy of the Mekong Review while sipping a café sua da.
“We opened four years ago,” Dang Duong tells us from behind the counter of The Old Compass Cafe.
“We opened four years ago,” Dang Duong smiles looking around the 3rd floor one-room Old Compass Cafe. “This place was built in 1963, starting with the first floor,” Duong adds, “and in the ‘60s and ‘70s this was a popular eating alley.”
The café serves breakfasts, lunches and snacks to a regular stream of customers, mixed with some tourists walking in off busy Pasteur Street.
The first event they ever hosted was with the author Larry Berman. “He was our friend, and he discovered we’d opened. When he said he wanted to come visit, we gathered some friends to hear him talk,” Duong remembers. Since then the venue has also hosted local musicians and salon-style talks like the Living Room Series.
In Short: A touch of nostalgia at a café connected to one of the best resources on Vietnam.
Size: 42 people for events
Recent events: Acoustic Fridays, the music of the 60s and 70s, salon-style talks, guest authors like Andrew Lam, Nguyen Qui and Denish Ching, and fundraising events.
Location: 3rd Floor, Apartment 11, 63 Pasteur Street, District 1
Salon Saigon was the home of US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. between 1963 and 1967. Today, it has a permanent art collection and a series of artistically inclined events.
True to the name, since it opened Salon Saigon has hosted a series of talks and events inspired by the French literary and philosophical salon gatherings of the 18th and 19th century. “It was the realization of a dream to have a place that would not only host events and exhibitions but also discussions and meetings between creators and intellectuals…a place where new ideas and projects could emerge,” Salon Saigon’s director and artist, Sandrine Llouquet, explains.
The opening of Salon Saigon was “the realization of a dream” for director and artist Sandrine Llouquet.
The Vietnamese-American founder of Trails of Indochina, John Tue Nguyen, acquired Salon Saigon’s property in 2000. It used to be the home of US Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. between 1963 and 1967. Then, in 2013, John Tue Nguyen decided to renovate the property and dedicate its space to the promotion of Vietnamese culture with Hanoi’s Art Vietnam Gallery founder Suzanne Lecht as an advisor. It finally opened in 2016. “Besides artist’s talks, concerts, performances, conferences, screenings and gatherings, I also started programming exhibitions by young Vietnamese contemporary artists,” Sandrine adds.
The opening night of Salon Saigon’s permanent collection made the space “more like a museum.”
More recently the gallery side has focused on showing a private collection “more like a museum” of the owner’s collection of contemporary Vietnamese art.
“On the ground floor we display artworks engaged with Vietnam’s history—works by Tiffany Chung, Hoang Duong Cam, Ha Manh Thang, and Nguyen Manh Hung. And on the first floor are artworks that revitalize traditional Vietnamese mediums such as lacquer, silk painting, or ceramics with pieces by Dinh Q. Le, The Propeller Group, Oanh Phi Phi and Bui Cong Khanh,” Sandrine explains finally.
In Short: A unique collection of Vietnamese art and an eclectic selection of events centered around music and talks.
Size: Around 50 people for performances, 40 for private dinners, and 150 for cocktail evenings.
Recent events: A talk by artist Brigid McLeer, a panel discussion hosted by San Art on “Responses to the Legacies of War,” and a classical music evening called Nocturn.
Location: 6D Ngo Thoi Nhiem, District 3
Architect Le Ha Hoang of ShapeUs Studio says Serif is “a really special location.”
We included Serif Space in this list, not just because it’s a Vietcetera project in collaboration with Rice Creative and architect Le Ha Hoang’s ShapeUs Studio, but also because it’s a dedicated open-air event venue with intimate views of Ben Thanh Market. “It’s a really special location,” according to the architect.
There are two parts to Serif Space. The first is an outdoor area with modern-industrial design—lots of steel and retro lighting strips “that go in weird directions”—and a bar that serves craft beer and mixed drinks.
The second part is a connected room with a large District Eight conference table, that doubles as a ping-pong table, and bare exposed plaster walls and French shutters. The common philosophy is connectivity, whether playing ping-pong or mingling at the bar. “The concept was to explore how we could create a space that accelerates interactions,” Le Ha Hoang adds while taking in the view of Ben Thanh Market and bustling Phan Boi Choi below.
“The concept was to explore how we could create a space that accelerates interactions.”
And the name? Serif is a typographical term for the small flourishes that finish off the lines of letters. And Serif Space is a flourish that finishes off this old building at 58 Phan Boi Chau.
In Short: The views down onto Ben Thanh Market from a dedicated event space with a conference and games room, and an outdoor bar.
Size: Approximately 60 people.
Recent events: Behance’s co-founder Matias Corea gave a talk, a special event by the Domdom Popup Pub, an exclusive Fernet Hunter and Renkon night, and a rap conference hosted by Wowy and V.Sik.
Location: Serif Space, Level 4, 58 Phan Boi Chau, District 1
Soma Art Lounge
One of Soma’s fashion shows featuring the work of The Old Is New Again. | Image and feature: Soma Art Lounge
Soma Art Lounge is Saigon Outcast’s artsy little sister. While Outcast puts on bigger events like the Seafood Festival and the Thao Dien Flea market, Soma Art Lounge hosts open mic nights, intimate film screenings, and underground art exhibitions. “I’d say Soma Art Lounge is like Outcast, but indoors,” founder Linh Nguyen explains. Linh has also opened the rooftop bar, Rogue, in District 1, that capitalized on the city’s booming craft beer scene.
Linh Nguyen at Rogue, that capitalized on the city’s booming craft beer scene. Soma, over in Distirct 2, is “like Outcast [one of his other venues], but indoors,” accoring to Linh.
Tucked away on District 2’s Le Van Mien, Soma Art Lounge has created a small arts community with neighbor Vin Gallery. Add those two venues to The Factory Contemporary Arts Center and the new Arts-Ventures and you have a richly varied gallery tour of the District. End it in Soma Art Lounge for a creative cocktail or an organic Vietnamese coffee, “and we’re going to switch up the menu, put more local products on there like a charcuterie board with cha lua and lap xuong,” Linh adds.Although listed here as a boutique event space, Soma Art Lounge have already outgrown the title because they’ve recently expanded into a large neighboring room. It hosted 220 people for the recent Gender Funk night. “We can make as much noise in there as we like,” Linh smiles.
In Short: An underground arts space that might be the mid-size venue the city has been waiting for.
Size: Expanded to approximately 250.
Recent events: Gender Funk, open mic nights, rap video launches, and fashion shows by The Old Is New Again.
Location: 6B Le Van Mien, District 2
Yoko in District 3 has been hosting left-field events for sixteen years.
Yoko is an institution. The homely café, bar, and event space in the heart of District 3’s cafe quarter has been hosting left-field gatherings at this location for the last sixteen years. Vietcetera even held a première of our Danis Nguyen and Saigon Ink tattoo video here. In fact co-owner, Phuong To Nguyen, also known as Tofu, used to be the manager at Saigon Ink, the city’s most famous tattoo studio. She’s been co-owner of Yoko for three years, and she’s also the lead singer of the Tofu Band.
Phuong To Nguyen, also known as Tofu, jamming with Yoko’s other co-owner, Tran Hoai Anh.
When we enter it’s early evening and Tofu is jamming with co-owner, Tran Hoai Anh. They’re launching a new music project soon although they’ve already been playing together for over ten years. It’s going to be called Hermit 11th. “It’s kind of down tempo electronica…kind of trip-hop,” Tofu nods. “We might do a candlelight show and I don’t mind if anyone falls asleep. Actually, I’d really like that,” she smiles looking at the person already sleeping on Yoko’s bank of soft seating.
Some of Yoko’s seductive seating and homely but sophisticated decor.
Later there’ll be two bands playing. “We audition a lot, but only choose one or two to play here,” Tofu adds before returning to the jam session on the stage.
In Short: A stylish but homely event space and bar in the heart of District 3.
Size: 80 people seated and about 150 for events.
Recent events: Live music including the co-owners music projects like Hermit 11th, and special events like project launches.
Location: 22A Nguyen Thi Dieu, District 3