Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar on the top floor of Caravelle Saigon has been a favourite watering hole of politicians, journalists and soldiers, and has been welcoming people to its rooftop since 1959.
The Caravelle was a hotel of firsts in Ho Chi Minh City; the first hotel to include elevators and the first hotel to have air conditioning. But in an era where the competition for who can have the highest sky bar is fierce, it’s good to be able to pick out people on the ground without having to squint your eyes. It’s a rooftop bar, not a sky bar, and its charm is understated.
When you step onto the outside terrace you are welcomed by fairy lights wrapped around foliage which gives the bar a timeless and classic air. Indoors, the main bar is in the centre of the room, with tables dotted around the black and white tiled floor. On the other side of the bar to the main outdoor section is a smaller terrace that gives an impressive view of Lam Son Square. The famous opera house stares down the soon-to-be new metro station that is currently under construction. It’s old versus new, with Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar right in the middle.
Alex, the director of sales and marketing for the hotel tells me that the history of the bar is something that they are proud to showcase. She says: “We’re a central part of the city’s story, so being able to retain some of that is quite special. We recently had an American veteran stay at the hotel and he knew exactly where to go to get a drink.”
Every night there is live music, and from Tuesday to Sunday there is a Cuban house band playing Latin music from 9pm which gives patrons a chance to have a bit of a dance should the cocktails go down well.
There is a stacked luxury cocktails menu with a diverse menu of drinks to choose from. First up is the lychee caipirinha (VND220,000) which is a refreshing Bacardi based cocktail and features just the right amount of sweetness to not make it overbearing. Its fresh flavours are soft and go down nicely.
Second is the Miss Saigon (VND220,000) which packs a punch with Grey Goose vodka, Bacardi and Cointreau. The high alcohol content is nicely countered with orange and cranberry juice and the presentation is outstanding — as a lime sits on top of the glass wearing a conical hat. A little touch like that won’t make the drink taste any better, but it’s a little detail that helps the bar stand out from the crowd.
Along with the cocktails we order some food.
Alex explains that the concept of the menu was to intertwine the food with the history of the bar and city. She says: “With our food menu we really want to talk back to the story of the hotel.”
We have the News Corp. sharing platter which is named in honour of the journalists that frequented the bar throughout the 1960s and 1970s. It features BBQ pork ribs, chicken wings, garlic bread, grilled mussels and fish goujons and comes in at VND340,000. We also try some of the Night of the 29th sliders, or mini-burgers, which refers to the night before the Liberation of Saigon.
I tried the southern fried chicken, sea bass and New Zealand lamb sliders and they are all delicious — excellent for those looking for a light nibble rather than a weighty meal. Three sliders will set you back VND219,000.
Looking down at McDonald’s on Nguyen Hue, with the Bitexco Tower peeping around the corner, drinking at Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar offers a timely reminder of how the area is rapidly changing. It’s a distinctive spot in the beating heart of town where you can slow down, enjoy a great cocktail and watch how the city is progressing.
Saigon Saigon Rooftop Bar is located on the 9th floor of Caravelle Saigon, 19/23 Lam Son, Q1, HCMC. For more information, go to caravellehotel.com/restaurants-and-bars/saigon-saigon-bar or facebook.com/saigonsaigonrooftopbar