Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

Dinner theater comes to HCMC.

A collective groan can be heard across Saigon on any given evening. “There’s nothing to do,” so the familiar complaint goes. More to the point, there’s nothing new to do in our city. We’re all quite familiar with the different areas expats and locals flock to for nightly entertainment. Drinking, dining, dancing, live music, even darts and sports are all a part of our existence, but many of us yearn for the novel. We want a new experience that injects some culture and sophistication into the city.

Enter Thibault Detraz and Jeremy Gremillet, a pair of Frenchmen who set out to reclaim an old French coffee shop on the second floor of 143 Nguyen Trai, but found themselves embarking on an entirely different journey. Nestled in one of the many nooks and crannies along Nguyen Trai is their brainchild, Bo Nong (meaning pelican), a cabaret that brings the French passion for fusing live entertainment with dining. When asked about the inspiration for a cabaret, they laughed and proclaimed, “Well, we are French!” The only thing French about the fare on offer here, however, is the wine. The food and entertainment are decidedly, and deliciously, Vietnamese.


An unassuming stairwell leads guests to a set of red curtains, behind which lie the Bo Nong cabaret. Simple, subtle, and very cozy, Bo Nong’s small round tables ring the central stage. Fans of cabaret and live theater are familiar with excitement that starts to build the moment you take your seat, knowing the action is going to be close enough to reach out and touch.

Working in conjunction with their chef, Thibault and Jeremy assembled an elegant set menu, with a la carte options, to provide a wonderful meal that will satisfy foodies yet leave the focus on the show. The set menu is priced at VND300,000 per person and comes with appetizers, a main, and dessert. Appetizers include a trio of fresh spring rolls that consist of traditional shrimp and pork, chicken and mint, a la lot roll, and a pair of deep fried prawns encrusted in sticky blue rice. Light and crunchy, when dipped in an accompanying coconut sauce they are nothing short of spectacular.


We went a la carte and sampled the young haiti apple salad with prawns and water celery that, at VND125,000, was a tender, moist prelude to our mains. The stewed beef with green pepper delivered a kick, but their version of cha ca La Vong, along with the prawns for appetizers, is what stood out on the menu. Thibault will readily explain, “We want patrons to enjoy their meal, but the food is not the focus.”

Come Hear the Music Play
One goes to a cabaret not for the food, but for the entertainment, which Bo Nong delivers. As the house lights dim, a small troupe of dancers assemble on stage and begin to stomp and drum their way around, causing the room to vibrate. Brightly colored costumes add flair to the show. Once the performers have your attention, the real fun begins. The emcee elicits active participation from the audience as people are drawn into assisting with magic tricks and other delights. They coax some audience members on stage, as this writer was, and then ask personal questions about dinner companions. Of course, it’s all in good fun, there’s no cause for alarm if you find yourself under the lights.


Should you survive your bout of stage fright, the show will continue in the form of a narrative. “All the artists are local talents,” explains Jeremy. “We found them through word of mouth, and the musicians study at the Conservatory of Ho Chi Minh City.” Of particular note were the lead dancer and the musicians who played the dan tranh, a 17-string zither, and the dan bau, a monochord zither. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing these instruments played well, the music emanating from them may keep you spellbound.


Bo Nong presents old world Vietnamese culture and beauty in a way only the French can manage. Combined with food and wine, you just may find yourself captivated by it all, looking forward to the next iteration of their show. And dare we hope, that more such cabarets will follow, one day giving Ho Chi Minh City its own Little Pigalle.


Ticket prices only (per person, per show): Standard VND500,000; VIP VND700,000; Premier VND1,000,000. For booking call 090 302 0243 or visit for more info.

Images by Adam Robert Young

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