Finding a spot for a peaceful drink in the centre of Hanoi can be something of a challenge. It is after all the second largest city in a country where some 15 million people are negatively affected by noise pollution, according to Vietnam’s institute of occupational health.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the capital’s Old Quarter, where the constant honking of horns mixes with music blaring from various backpacker bars bidding to catch tourists’ attention. There are a few oases from this madness though and the cocktail bar Polite & Co is one such haven boasting top-quality drinks in an environment where you can hear yourself think.
Located a stone’s throw from Hoan Kiem Lake at 5B Ngo Bao Khanh Street, Polite & Co is one of Hanoi’s oldest bars, excluding the city’s ubiquitous ‘bia hois’. The bar opened in 1995 under the moniker Polite Pub and was renamed Polite & Co this September to coincide with the refurbishment of the bar.
Le Long, Bar Manager, said:
“In its early days – it was known more for its beer and was fairly popular among expats.
“The bar has changed its face a few times over the years.”
As of last month, the hidden gem looked fit for a 1920s prohibition-era gentleman’s club. However, management decided to give the bar another revamp focusing on the concept of “Bespoke & Booze”. The result is a cosy yet classy joint equipped with wooden barstools and a beautifully displayed selection of spirits behind the bar – bringing you back to a time of all-things-swing.
The wooden ceiling dons a number of top hats hanging diagonally above the bar – each fitted with LED light bulbs. An elegant touch that is simply – timeless. The dimly lit surroundings add to the warm welcome given by the venue’s knowledgeable bartenders, each of whom are stylishly outfitted in white shirts and black suspenders.
The surrealist art adorning the brick walls opposite the bar adds a layer of intrigue, as does the cigar room in the back which includes more paintings that ramp up the surrealism to dizzying heights. In short, Polite & Co’s new look is fit for a setting of HBO’s hit TV show Mad Men. It’s unlike any other bar you are likely to find in Hanoi, which is exactly why Long thinks it has stood the test of time.
Bars and restaurants come and go every week in Hanoi. However, Polite & Co owner Quan’s ability to keep his finger on the pulse when it comes to Hanoi’s buoyant bar scene is a force to be reckoned with. Quan is also the co-founder of Mad Botanist – a Victorian-style bar known for its wide selection of gin – while his brother Bui Viet owns GC Bar, one of Hanoi’s very few gay bars.
Without a doubt though, what makes Polite & Co stand out the most is its array of spirits on offer. The backbar houses over 500 different spirits from around the globe. A discerning drinker should be able to find their ideal tipple. The menu even includes four pages dedicated entirely to Scottish whisky – a selection any Caledonian publican would be proud of.
Imported booze often means inflated prices, but luckily a trip to Polite & Co won’t break the bank, especially during the daily happy hours of 4pm to 8pm. The happy hour menu includes signature cocktails for only 90,000 VND ($3.96). In particular, the ever-popular Basil Daiquiri (see pictured) is an aromatic yet refreshing delight.
With a proud history, the finest beverages on offer and a beautifully designed interior, Polite & Co has a lot going for it. Another huge factor in this success is its homely atmosphere.
As Long concludes:
“Not too many people come but there are always enough people.”