The Ministry of Men is a cocktail bar adjacent to the decadent House of Barbaard barber shop located on the 3rd floor of the Sofitel Saigon Plaza on 17 Le Duan in the heart of District 1.
The dashing Dutch duo Tom Goedhart and Guido de Leeuw had already experienced success in Vietnam after spotting a gap in the market for an upmarket male-only barber shop in 2017 by opening the House of Barbaard (deriving from a combination of Dutch words meaning bar, beard and barbarian).
The guest experience they offered was so enjoyable that customers loved to enjoy a drink and hang out way past the conclusion of their grooming appointment. Thus, a drinks component was added and the first Ministry of Men cocktail bar was opened in 2020 within House of Barbaard on 12/4B Nguyen Thi Minh Kai Street with newly recruited Bar Manager Kata Simon providing the highest quality of drinks and service.
Fast forward a few years and House of Barbaard and Ministry of Men have now re-located to premises on the 3rd floor of the Sofitel Saigon Plaza as part of a creative response to COVID coupled with a desire to be more accessible to their guests from a more convenient and larger location.
Co-Founder Tom Goedhart forged his career in the Creative Design industry with a particular appreciation for grand musicals and sweeping theatrical shows. Tom has created an experience at Ministry of Men where guests feel immediately immersed in the elegance of a bygone era with a nod to what I would assume to time stamp to 1940’s style décor.
Fans of movie franchises like Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes and The Peaky Blinders might feel like they have stepped onto the set of these productions expecting Professor Dumbledore, Dr. Watson, or even a Tommy Shelby to materialize at any moment. In my case, the movie Darkest Hour based on British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill sprang to mind as I gazed across the selection of oil paintings of parliamentary settings and famous politicians.
Tom shared with Vietcetera how his summer visits to some of Europe's most interesting and unique places became an inspiration for the design features of the cocktail bar.
"I’m fascinated by the iconic musicals and how adept they are at immersing the audience into the story using that combination of music, decor, sound effects, and lighting and this is the inspiration behind what we want to create for our guests, an immersive experience that goes further than just having a drink."
Tom and Guido have also created an alluring private members area known as the 'Prime Minister's Chamber' at the Ministry of Men hidden behind a plush red velvet curtain. Gorgeous leather sofas abound behind the curtain with a focal point of a real dear head mounted atop a highly instagrammable, one-of-a-kind water vapor fireplace.
Membership for this club is based around a locker box system, with guests paying an annual fixed fee in return for permission to store up to 4 of their favorite whisky bottles as well as access with guests to this special private lounge.
A fundamental factor behind the success of any cocktail bar is of course the quality of the drinks and at Ministry of Men; the driving force behind this is industry veteran Kata Simon who shot to prominence at the Below Whisky Den on Nguyen Hue Street. Kata has been especially successful at introducing its range of signature cocktails, which is being extended from five to eleven libations on July 22nd.
When asked about the thinking behind their signature cocktails Kata explained "Our job is all about delivering an extraordinary experience for our guests through special hospitality and interesting drinks."
"I am very lucky to have connected with Tom and Guido because we have a shared vision and I can use my imagination and creativity to provide a next-level concept around the presentation of our cocktails. Each drink should have a back story and I try to tell the story of the person that the cocktail stands for through every single ingredient that I use."
Kata’s creativity is best personified with the Antonio Vivaldi 4 Seasons cocktail which is rotated on a quarterly basis in keeping with the spring, summer, autumn, and winter seasons. All four cocktails have Campari and Luxardo Maraschino cherry as a base which explains the vibrant, ruby red appearance of all of the cocktails and morph from blossomy and nutty to zesty and fragrant to piney and smoky through to pungent and spicy as they rotate from spring through to winter.
Their David Attenborough cocktail is served in a stunning glass-encased ‘forest’ so brilliantly lit that it’s reminiscent of the planet Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar movie. Kata’s use of dill exudes aromas transporting the cocktail into a new stratosphere with the Madam Roselle, Beetroot wine, Baby Corn jam, and Flor de Cana rum combining for a regal red coloring and a rich fruity complexion.
The Sherlock Holmes is also a visually captivating cocktail served with smoke billowing from the glass alongside a traditional "deerstalker" hat made famous by the detective from Baker Street. This complex, dark and rich cocktail is made with Zacapa 12 YO Rum, Islay Mist 10 YO whisky, Cocoa nib rested sweet vermouth, and Balsamic vinegar syrup and is then aged for 2 days in a pumpkin before serving.
The cocktail designed to pay homage to Jesse James, one of America’s most notorious outlaws is suitably presented out of a miniature safe. It is herbaceous, aromatic, and floral using Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey from the renowned Bulleit distillery as its base. Mancino Secco vermouth, Fino sherry, Elderflower and Vanilla liqueur, Cascara tea, Capers, and Saffron are all added to invoke a unique sensory experience.
Guido de Leeuw, Co-Founder succinctly summarised their approach by sharing “We are able to deliver this experience thanks to the combination of Kata’s mixology, leadership and hosting skills, Tom’s creativity, and my hospitality management skills. We believe that recognizing and making the best use of each other’s strengths builds successful concepts and we are grateful to have a talented bartending team who share the same dream of delivering an outstanding experience for our guests.”
Finally, three is a number that left a lasting impression on me for this article.
It was a pleasure to meet these three creative visionaries who are so focused on the concepts of mixology, creativity, and hospitality. They have delivered three “concepts within a concept” chiefly the Ministry of Men and the Prime Minister’s Chamber next to the House of Barbaard all conveniently located on the 3rd floor of the Sofitel Saigon Plaza Hotel.