Viet Nam News
by Ollie Arci
Louis Armstrong once said “if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” Luckily for Hanoians, they now have a chance to find out, without causing too much offence to Satchmo.
Away from the bustle of downtown Hà Nội and the relentless pursuit of the Next Big Thing, the JW Marriott has taken a step back, and embraced the old-world charm and glamour of the Jazz Age. Like one of Jay Gatsby’s parties, Cool Cats dims the lights and invites you to settle in for an evening of effortlessly opulent entertainment. Even the entrance, with its roped-off black awning suggestive of a members-only Midtown haunt, channels a Roaring Twenties speakeasy, thankfully without the annoyance of prohibition.
Warmly welcomed by hostesses donning black silk and pearls, one can tell the bar manager, Nicola Veronese, has a keen eye for detail. The theme continues inside, as patrons are ushered underneath glittering chandeliers to stools at the well-stocked bar or cosy chairs fanning out from the small stage. The understated decor belies a sumptuousness that evades the eye at first glance. The space is larger than the usual basement jazz club, and the atmospheric impact is a little lost in the high ceilings, but the low lighting and red curtains backing the stage add an air of authenticity.
Canadian pianist Joshua Lebofsky heads up a revolving quartet of talented local musicians. Dao Minh Pha accompanies on the double bass, as the piano-and-bass format has been opened up to include Le Viet Hung behind the drums and Nguyen Trung Dong on trumpet. Vu Bui Thu Thuy performs lead vocal duties. The musicians make a valiant attempt at capturing the excitement of an informal and unplanned Greenwich Village jam session from times gone by, and Lebofsky allows each player the room to breathe. The drums are a particular highlight, with the sticks a blur of highly energetic rhythm, eliciting peals of applause from the crowd. The result is grand but intimate.
Lady in red: Miss Vu Bui Thu Thuy serenades guests with her sultry vocals.
The band plays four nights a week (Wednesday - Saturday, 7pm until late), and the club hopes that future performances will include guest musicians. If pulled off successfully, Cool Cats could well become a staple of Hà Nội nightlife, at least for the more discerning set.
The drinks menu is a mix of perennial favourites and modern twists. The venerable Old Fashioned was strong but not overbearing, and the Sidecar’s citrus twang would not have been out of place at the most fashionable of Parisian watering holes. The pièce de résistance is surely the bespoke Martinis and Manhattans expertly crafted at your table. The bar boasts a healthy array of whiskeys covering all palates and prices, as well as beers, wines and other spirits. Those so inclined can enjoy the cigar lounge, open so as not to miss out on the music. The overall feel is one of luxury, and Cool Cats strives to cater to every indulgence.
Cool Cats offers a selection of cold dishes; with cured meats, cheeses, and salads. Additionally, a range of fresh seafood options is available, including lobster, crab, and oysters. Light nibbles are on hand to accompany the drinks, which is a nice touch. Overall, you probably wouldn’t make the trip to Cool Cats for the food, but it’s good to have the option.
Hà Nội suffers a dearth of decent jazz joints, and one would hope the addition of Cool Cats to the scene signals a burgeoning interest in the music. It’s also encouraging to see local talent on display. As always, a diverse collection of musicians will face some teething trouble, but from the looks — and sounds — of things, Lebofsky has a talent for bringing out the best in his charges. It will be interesting to see how the group evolves over time, and I’ll be sure to return for another night of quality cocktails and music.
After just a couple of weeks in operation, Cool Cats seems to be quickly hitting its stride. A raucous night this is certainly not, but if you’re in search of a dip into decadence you could do little better than whiling away a few hours at Cool Cats. — VNS