by An Vu
"I drink to make other people more interesting," said American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway about the drinking culture, or more generally, which he usually did in a bar.
With the import of bar culture from Western countries, now Ha Noi's nightlife is being coloured by the birth of lively, dynamic bars. Increasingly, the opening of these bars is opening new leisure spots for young people to enjoy.
Along with the development of modern society, many young people see bars as a new kind of entertainment to enjoy after a long and stressful day at work. Different kinds of people go to bars for different purposes.
A close friend of mine said that in Ha Noi, the cultural charm of bars includes the combination of art, music and cocktail flavours, in which each is a "place to hide yourself and be seduced by the retro style".
"You can never fail to keep yourself busy here at sunset when all the lights are on," says Phan My Anh, 26, my bar-mate.
Anh's favourite bar is Funky Buddha, one of the older bars in the Old Quarter, which was opened in 2008. The bar is modern and specially designed with a new style every year, though its music remains unchanged. "Talking about bars in Ha Noi, those in the Old Quarter must stand first in the list. If you come too early, you can dissolve yourself in a music environment of electronic music and good drinks. Among the old bars, it is much larger and cooler," Anh adds.
She also spoke of her deep regret about the recent closing caused by the fire at Ha Noi's Zone 9, a cool collection of shops, cafes, and other businesses housed together in an old state-owned company building.
"Its disappearance has left much regret for the businesspeople, as well as local artists and foreign tourists."
I think Anh is one of the few who knows how to treasure the spirit that the bars brought about in young people's lives. Through time, though, the image of bar has been distorted in many ways.
Trinh Thanh Binh, 30, a bank officer, says he only wants to hang out with friends at pubs, adding that today's bars have lost their original qualities.
"There was a time when bars were buoyant places for gentlemen to gather. Today it is maybe the same, but that kind of classical culture is no more. It seems most of the youngsters come to bars nowadays to mess around, to be drunken and dance crazily," he says.
"The youth only want to show off that they are better and wealthier than anyone, by wasting expensive wine and wriggling like mental patients at the bar," Binh adds.
Another close friend of mine, Dang Phuong Mai, who has finished her studies abroad, shared the same opinion with Binh. She told me most bars in Viet Nam are not diversified enough to hang out with friends.
"Usually at a bar, I enjoy dancing rather than drinking. I love cocktails the most. There are also many things to watch for at a bar, like dancing, people and various kinds of drinks. In Viet Nam, most people focus on having their drinks, and are not so much into other activities."
"Certainly, I do not have a favourite bar in Ha Noi. Bars in HCM City are much better. The outside space is what I love in a bar, especially if it has a green patio I will rate it ten stars. In the old days, opening a bar was only for the wealthy and those who had big purses, with high taste for drinks and music. But now, anyone can open a bar with a bit of music, some alcohol and blazing lights. But still, my favourite bar is Shrine, a bar for ladies in HCM City. They have good music there," Mai says.
Truong Hanh Nhi, 24, an office worker for a foreign organisation, says we should not see bars in a negative aspect.
"If teenagers come to a bar to show off, or a different group of people come there to kill time, those who works at an office see the bar as a way to release stress and to have fun, but not to be too self-indulgent. It is not like some older people who think that anyone can enter a bar, and not all of the bars are a mess. Some have strict regulations on age, dress codes and prices. Some are for those enjoy only listening to music and not dancing.
"Most of the time I enjoy all kinds of wine and sisha with my friends," Nhi says.
Nhi also has some advice for young people, who see bars as a kind of modality they can live without: "Bars are not bad, in themselves. The most important thing is how you mobilise yourself in every environment. If you are resourceful, you will not let anything bad happen to you in a bar." — VNS