By Marco Bouwer
There’s a classy new meetup venue in town, a 1920’s lounge bar with plush leather couches, swingy jazz tunes played from a gramophone player, and a wonderfully reserved atmosphere. Tucked in the welcoming bottom floor of the popular House of Barbaard, Saigon’s exclusive barbershop for gentlemen, is the Ministry of Men lounge bar. It harkens to a bygone era, mixing the post-prohibition twenties and thirties with Victorian aesthetics and well-curated cocktails.
This is good news for lovers of the malted grain, or for those that pay homage to well-crafted cocktails. The latest great place to unwind after a hectic work day, it’s the ideal destination to mosey up to the bar and spend your Friday evening partying like its 1929.
Hidden in a side alley off Nguyen Thi Minh Khai in District 1, the elegant old three-story Saigon home housing The Ministry of Men is the perfect venue. Stepping inside, after leaving the jostling Downtown traffic behind, the reserved atmosphere can be a shock to the system. You’re immediately transported to a simpler time, a nod to the post-speakeasy, pre-Second World War era, velvety 1920’s decor of dark wood and leather, and low vintage lighting. The cozy seating area frames a visually pleasing six-seater wooden bar that frames a glowing backdrop of illuminated whisky, spirits, and bourbon bottles. Savor your first experience.
The gentlemanly interior is one the Great Gatsby would be proud of, resembling an elegant drawing room in an affluent private residence in 1920’s and 30’s London, Amsterdam, Shanghai, or Saigon. It’s a great place to sip on a Scotch or smoke a Cuban, and enjoy classy conversation over a wee dram of Scotland’s finest. Certainly too refined an environment for a rowdy night of cheap ales, mate.
As with many things in life, the creation of the Ministry of Men was the confluence of other events. In this case, it all started thanks to two young Dutchmen looking for a haircut in Hanoi. Tom Goedhart and Guido de Leeuw arrived in Hanoi 5 years ago, and saw in the absence of good barbershops a business opportunity. Soon after they opened their first barbershop in the capitol, and within 12 months they had moved South to open a second shop in HCMC.
That was the House of Barbaard, an old-style, high-end barbershop inspired by European barbering traditions. It’s also the location, and foundation, for the Ministry of Men. The old house had more space than they needed for the barbershop, so they added a small bar and seating area.
As Tom explains, after a haircut and hot towel shave, they found that patrons enjoyed the seating area so much they did not want to leave! They’d hang back in the comfort of the bar area, enjoying good conversation over a golden dram and the occasional cigar. This developed into the current lounge bar, which has been popular since its opening on July 24, in spite of the restrictive COVID-19 social measures. “As it turns out, as business partners our skill sets compliments each other perfectly,” Tom commented. “Guido identifies business ideas, and my strength is execution.” It’s a match, and we’re thankful.
While the barbershop remains traditionally mens-only, the new lounge bar is open for everyone. “We share a passion for lifestyle concepts, which the Ministry of Men certainly is.”
The Ministry of Men lounge bar offers a simple, yet robust whiskey and cocktail menu. Much like the speakeasies of the 1920s, the drinks are serious, and the cocktail selection isn’t overly complicated, alluding to simpler times. Classics like their Grand Whiskey Sour and signature house cocktails such as the Ritzy Elderflower Gin & Tonic are marvelously executed.
While there are only classics on the English menu, the smartly dressed bartenders are more than capable of creating delectable, tailor-made drinks. This is thanks to an exciting partnership with Kata, one of HCMC’s most decorated bartenders. After nearly two decades in the F&B business, and the winner of multiple mixology competitions, she both manages the Ministry of Men, and will run a bartender school from within.
Apart from the unpretentious drinks list, the menu includes some shareable finger bite options. Tom’s favorite is the “bitterballen”, a traditional Dutch snack, which is popular with the patrons of the establishment. Service is good, and you’ll find the slow pace does justice to the seductive ambience of the venue. Be patient, and enjoy watching a bartender expertly whip up your drink. Make ours an Old Fashioned.
A fun concept to be introduced in September is a ballot system. Patrons would be able to vote for the drink promotions they’d most like to see on the next month’s menu. Each month, a drink will be “elected” and added to the menu, giving voice to the establishment’s guest preferences!
The lounge area seats up to 40 guests, with a further 6 at the bar counter.
The Ministry of Men will become a popular meeting point in town. If you want to impress your hot date, this place has vibes for days. Or simply come and lean back in a comfortable leather chair, and lazily swish around your choice of golden liquid.
Ho Chi Minh City
12/4b Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, D1
Open in Google Maps
36 Hang Chao, Cat Linh, Dong Da
Call: +84 28 7772 7737
Visit their website: www.ministryof.men
Send an Email: [email protected]
Hours: Open 7 days a week, from 9:00am till 24:00pm