Outstanding live-music bar, owned by blues guitarist Curtis who performs here virtually every night with a rotating band (from 9pm). Yes covers of classics are played, but the improvisation is such that each tune takes on a life of its own. Sunday is a jam session. The bar's decor, all 1970s chic and 'groovy baby' furnishings, suits the sonics perfectly.
From the sinuous curve of the hardwood bar to the smoothly arranged bottles on the shelves, soft chill-out rhythms, funky caramel leather furniture and fine tapas menu, Vesper is a cool spot by the river. There's a roadside terrace, but traffic noise is epic.
Unofficial HQ of the kitesurfing brigade, this beachside cafe-bar is a relaxing place for a drink, but it quietens down by night when the party crowd is elsewhere. It also offers surf lessons and rents out state-of-the-art gear like windsurfers (one hour/half-day/full-day US$12/30/45), surfboards (one hour/half-day/full-day US$7.
An essential pilgrimage for coffee fiends is P Trieu Viet Vuong, around 1km south of Hoan Kiem Lake. This street is lined with scores of cafes – some modern spots with iPad-toting teens and others more old school. Settle in to the eclectic beats and kitsch Communist memorabilia at Cong Caphe with a caphe sua da (iced coffee with condensed milk).
Others have come and gone, but ‘Apo’ has been around since the early days and remains one of the must-visit clubs. A sprawling place with a big dance floor and an outdoor courtyard for cooling off, it’s quite a circus, with a cast comprising travellers, expats, Vietnamese movers and shakers, plus the odd hooker (some odder than others).
This busy bar is home to the commendable ‘Hands off the Kids!’ campaign, which works to prevent paedophilia. There is now a permanent classroom for vulnerable street kids on the premises. Part of the proceeds from the food, booze and T-shirt sales go towards the cause. Sign up at the bar if you’re interested in volunteering to teach English.
A very cool, tucked-away cafe in a colonial building, with huge plate-glass windows, high ceiling, marble-topped tables, photos of old Saigon, lashings of elegant charm, baguette sandwiches and other wholesome fare on an appetising menu.
Part cool art gallery and part chic cafe and bar, Manzi is worth seeking out north of the Old Quarter. A restored French villa hosts diverse exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography, and the compact courtyard garden is perfect for a coffee or glass of wine. There's also a small shop selling works by contemporary Vietnamese artists.
A hip lounge bar, Guava is the place to come if you are seeking some style while you drink. Choose from sunken sofas inside or a leafy garden patio outside. Regular drink promotions include two-for-one surprises most days, such as Bloody Marys to accompany the Sunday ‘hangover breakfast’. On that subject, great food is served here.
Le Pub is a great place to hook up with others, as there’s always a good mix of travellers and Hanoi expats. There’s a cosy, tavern-like interior (with big screens for sports fans), a street-facing terrace and a rear courtyard. Bar snacks are served, the service is slick and the music usually includes tunes you can sing along to.
The local brew is deservedly renowned around Vietnam, and the best place to try it is at the brewery's bustling beer hall. Lunchtimes get very crowded – the food is cheap and very good – but staff can always find room for a few more drinkers. The brewery is a short cab ride to the southeast of the city centre.
With cheap (US$2) cocktails, loads of happy-hour specials and shisha (water pipes), Rose Bar ticks all the boxes for backpacker fun a long way from home. Bring along your MP3 player of choice, and you can usually hijack the sound system. Rose Bar often stays open after midnight in the busy season.
One of the places where backpackers wind down after a boat trip or wind up before the next one. Cheap beer, flowing shots, regular promotions and indie anthems ensure this place is crammed every night. Watch out for the beer funnel, as things can get very messy. The pool table is a popular institution.