Hanoi is fast becoming Vietnam’s ground zero for artsy-chic trends. The city not only has a stellar choice of modern hotels, but also a burgeoning cafe culture. Drinking a cuppa is a social ritual here, honed to perfection by both beautifully-attired Hanoians and expatriates.
There’s a staggering number of eateries and drinking holes to back up Hanoi’s cool reputation, yet the following five are highlights of any visit to the jewel in Northern Vietnam’s crown.
Part art gallery, part cafe and bar, Manzi is housed in a quaint, white and spacious colonial villa. It has a very eclectic menu that rotates almost every month. Before you sit down to enjoy a drink, keep your eyes peeled for the art exhibits: the shows here focus on non-commercial, local artists, with the sort of art you’d never find in the touristy galleries of the Old Quarter. Manzi also functions as a full-fledged alternative art space, often hosting talks, fashion shows, screenings and other art-related events. If you have come to Hanoi to soak into one of Asia’s most eclectic art scenes, Manzi is the best place to do it—especially on a sunny day with a cup of coffee in hand.
Can you believe that Hanoi has a Harry Potter-themed cafe populated by young sorcerers? It’s in Hang Tre, just a short walk from Hoan Kiem Lake. When you walk in, besides the dungeon-like walls, Always looks like a plain coffeehouse—yet with a Deathly Hallows symbol used on the sign. It’s in the backroom that the owners have cast a spell of literary nostalgia: there are Harry Potter character portraits framed on the walls, a Firebolt broomstick, a Hogwarts uniform, and the odd group of Potter fans dressing the part and playing monopoly. The best part is that Thiet, one of the owners, is a realistic Harry Potter impersonator. The drinks are served in chalices (not unlike Helga Hufflepuff’s, perhaps?), are modestly priced, and are good, too. Try the Butterbeer, of course.
Maison de Tet Decor
Maison de Tet Decor is housed in a beautiful French mansion by Hanoi’s lake with the perfect mix of colonial charm, spot-on lakeside views and organic coffee to die for. The Maison works like a restaurant, serving hearty breakfasts, lunch and dinner—but it’s the coffee and the location that really makes it stand out. Beans are roasted on site, either as single, international brews coming from as far as Ethiopia, Guatemala and India, or as clever “Elemental Collections” that blend beans from all over the world, creating fascinating new tastes. The best part is, if staying at luxe InterContinental Hanoi Westlake, the Maison is in walking distance along the lakeside.
Founded in 1946 by the current owner’s father, this old-school cafe is tucked into the first floor of a discreet building on Nguyen Huu Huan Street, right in the heart of Hanoi’s Old Quarter. With its low wooden tables, potted plants and decadent walls, Cafe Giảng is a Communist-era Hanoi throwback, and yet in tune with modernity thanks to the crowds of young Hanoians who flock here to sip their hours away. The speciality is ca phe trung, or “egg coffee”: a rich blend of chicken egg yolk, sweetened condensed milk, Vietnamese coffee powder, butter and cheese. This unique recipe, invented to cope with the lack of milk during Communist times, still makes for a frothy and irresistible brew.
Hanoi Social Club
Packed with retro-chic furniture, vintage tiles and attractive wooden tables and chairs on all of its three levels, the Hanoi Social Club is a great space for breakfast and brunch and—as the name suggests—rubbing elbows with some of the city’s most cosmopolitan crowd. All this character leads to one thing: good coffee. The cafe also offers Vietnamese and Western food, including vegetarian options. It all goes down perfectly, while a well-respected soundtrack of acoustic guitars and international wails fills up the gaps between munches and conversations.