First published July 2022 | Words and photos by Luke Digweed
Luke Digweed is a contributing writer for Vietnam Coracle. He has been living in Vietnam since 2011, mostly in Huế but also in Đà Nẵng & Sài Gòn. While living in Huế, he ran the Huế Grit Tour & co-organized events & small concerts between 2017-2020. His most recent ongoing project is Festivals of Vietnam which documents ceremonies, rituals & processions around the country….read more about Luke
Over the centuries, Huế’s poetic landscapes have played maudlin retreat for some of Vietnam’s most renowned historical figures. Confucian emperors, introspective romanticists and historical revolutionaries have all found moments of escape – in celebration or in sorrow – during both turbulent and peaceful periods of history. Huế’s tropical climate can be merciless: blazing summers melt into sticky seasonal downpours and the East Sea wind can chill you to the bone during the long, grey winters. At times, there are more reasons to drink than not.
DRINKING & NIGHTLIFE IN HUE
Beer, Bars, Breweries, Cocktails, Rice Wine & More
Huế isn’t the party capital of Southeast Asia, but there is an appreciation for beer and liquor throughout the city – much like the rest of Vietnam. If you enjoy an alcoholic beverage, there’s a range of locations to suit your needs. From cheap local beer restaurants to artisanal craft beer breweries, from dive bars for local artists to backpacker hangouts aimed at budget travellers and expats. Here are my personal recommendations for drinking and nightlife in Huế.
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Drinking & Nightlife in Huế
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*Intoxication: It’s exciting to drink in a foreign country. Going out and having a good time is a highlight of visiting Vietnam. Vietnamese drinking culture is collective and convivial. Please drink responsibly and remain respectful and polite, even when intoxicated.
- Quán Góc Hồ: 38 Trần Nguyên Hãn [MAP] | Open: 8:00-22:00
- Quán Bình Trịnh Công Sơn: 19/9 Kiệt, 19 Đặng Văn Ngữ [MAP] | Open: 10:00-23:00
- Tà Vẹt: 11 Võ Thị Sáu [MAP] | Open: 08:00 – 23:00
In Vietnamese, nhậu equates to a beer restaurant where food and drink (almost always beer) take equal precedence. Nhậu is the idea of togetherness (although I am told that any relationship between the Vietnamese words nhau (together) and nhậu are coincidental). Sit together. Order together. Drink together. Eat together. Laugh and talk together and end by fighting together over who will have the honour of paying the bill. There is no room for individualism here. That means you need to have someone else with you – don’t go alone! Traits of Vietnam’s collectivist culture manifest at the nhậu table. If you are invited to nhậu with Vietnamese people, do not pass up the opportunity. Remember, all dishes are portioned for groups to eat together. Nobody orders dishes for themselves.
Nhậu restaurants are a lively, sometimes rowdy, environment. Even if you do not have Vietnamese company to show you the ropes of the nhậu restaurant, it’s still worth a trip. However, be equipped to translate any menus (your phone should be able to help with this!)
While there are countless amounts of nhậu restaurants around Huế, my current favourite is Quán Góc Hồ. Tucked down a citadel alleyway and sitting beside a small lake. A range of well-cooked meats and seafoods are available as well as a regularly updated specials menu on a chalkboard. My friends love the deer ribs (sườn nai); I love the grilled triggerfish (cá bò nướng). I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll like too! Get here before nightfall (17:30 is a good time) and soak up what’s left of the day beside the lake with a beer and some appetizers.
There’s an entire district of the city dedicated to nhậu in Huế. Streets are full of restaurants, targeting guests of different demographics. A part of this area has a small pond (named Heart Lake – Hồ Trái Tim) surrounded by restaurants. While this area has lost its sparkle in recent years, it’s still a great area to walk around and choose where to eat. Quán Bình Trịnh Công Sơn, on Heart Lake’s southern point, is one of the most popular nhậu restaurants in Huế, accounting for three separate locations across the city. This ‘nhậu district’ extends north of Heart Lake into Lê Viết Lượng street and Lê Quang Đạo street. If nothing takes your interest around Heart Lake, don’t hesitate to take a walk to a nearby area.
One of Huế’s most popular nhậu spots is Tà Vẹt. Maybe in step with recent cultural evolutions, this place attracts a younger crowd. Tà Vẹt is successful and this is proven by the size of its expansion; once a single building, now it comprises an entire street corner on some of Hue’s most expensive real estate. Tà Vẹt is expensive, but that’s because it serves some of the best-tasting nhậu food in Huế. The atmosphere is always buzzing and even if you are not so keen on alcohol, the food will not disappoint. (The menu is also in English.)
IMAGES: Nhậu in Huế
- OCB: 48b Chu Văn An [MAP] | Open: 7:30-00:00
- Tụm: 2nd floor, 37/1 Hoa Lư [MAP] | Open: 18:00-22:00 (closed Mondays)
- Cochincung: 77 Nguyễn Lộ Trạch [MAP] | Open: 20:00-1:00
Huế has a rich art history which permeates in various forms. OCB bar is a prime example of this. Owner and artist Hoàng Ngọc Tú has been involved with art bars before, including Mo Do and Then Cafe. While OCB isn’t his first, it’s certainly his most visually striking. Sparsely lit with strobes and a creative use of second-hand furniture and ornaments make it stand out on a bar-filled street. OCB also includes a range of artworks from local artists. It’s a great place to meet friends and feel the beat of the city’s most exciting creatives.
If you’re looking for something more intimate, Tụm is perfect: a cosy second floor apartment-cum-bar slightly north of the citadel. The owner is artist Nguyễn Hoá who has gone to extraordinary lengths to make or grow almost everything in the bar by himself. A self-proclaimed perfectionist, Hoá is forever moving things as he tries to find the right location for each piece of furniture and ornament. Hoá also makes his own rice wines (rượu), of which he has an impressive collection and uses them to create his signature cocktails. Hoá is a great resource for art-related events and locations around Huế. He’s enthusiastic to share information about the Huế art scene or discuss art both locally and abroad. Tụm is a great location for a chilled discussion or just to go alone and lose yourself in a book.
*Note: at the time of writing, Tụm was closed due to the owner’s personal reasons, but if you message Hóa in advance, he is willing to accommodate you. Contact him via the Tụm Facebook page: www.facebook.com/GocnhocuaTum
Cochincung isn’t really an art bar; it’s more of a ruin bar decorated with pop art and graffiti. The bar features upcycled old furniture and is situated in a Vietnamese bungalow across three rooms and a minimally furnished back garden that looks onto the river. Cochincung doesn’t open until 8pm, which means you only ever see the bar at night (perhaps to its advantage!). Beers, cocktails and soft drinks are on the menu – they occasionally brew their own beer. Cochincung has live music on weekends and occasional open-mic jam sessions. Take a guitar and shred what you’ve got.
IMAGES: Art Bars in Huế
- Imperial Craft Bia Brewpub: 21 Ngô Gia Tự [MAP] | Open: 15:00-23:00
- The Cham Craft Beer & Whisky: 56 Nguyễn Tri Phương [MAP] | Open: 10:00-00:00
The history of beer (bia) in Vietnam is a short yet interesting one. Rice wine (rượu) was the brew of choice before the French colonialists arrived with hops and yeast. Over the past century, brewing technologies have been exchanged with different nations corresponding to the political alliances of the time. Until recently, there wasn’t much variety in the beers being brewed domestically, except for those imported from abroad. However, around 2015, in line with its global boom, craft beer and microbreweries started popping up in Vietnam’s biggest cities.
Imperial Craft Bia Brewpub is Huế’s first craft microbrewery. Owned by a husband and wife team, they offer a range of Vietnam-brewed craft beers from around the country. As of 2021, they also brew their own beers in-house, proven by the three large fermentation tanks that quietly chug away at the back of the bar. While their bottle and can selection is modest, Imperial Craft Bia keeps their twelve taps well stocked. Whether you’re a stout fan or prefer a juicy IPA after a long citadel walk, Imperial Craft Bia is the choice for people who enjoy unique locally crafted beer. They also have a range of pub foods available, including the best pizza in Huế (trust me, I’m a pizza boy).
The Cham Craft Beer & Whisky is another location that sells craft beer in Huế. They also focus on stocking beers from around Vietnam but also extend their menu to include imported beers and a range of liquors, such as vodka-infused tonic and whiskies. The Cham Craft Beer is a part of the Hue Purple hotel, which means if you over indulge, you can book a bedroom only a staircase away from the bar!
IMAGES: Craft Beer in Huế
Cocktails & Wine:
- La Residence: 5 Lê Lợi [MAP] | Open: 8:00-23:00
- AURA Mixology & Karaoke: 30 Chu Văn An [MAP] | Open: 17:00-23:00
Cocktails are easily available all over Huế, but a significant amount disappoint. If you’re looking for something completely unique and very local, head to Tụm and OCB for rice wine-based cocktails (see the Art Bars section above). Cocktail bars that focus on quality come and go quickly in Huế. No owner has found the right medium to make the business successful. It’s been a while since I’ve even thought about cocktails in Huế, so this section of the guide took some groundwork.
Azerai La Residence is Huế’s premier accommodation: a 1930s colonial mansion turned into a luxury hotel. Sat alongside the city’s prestigious Hương (Perfume) River, it provides the ideal setting for a tipple, either in the lounge or outside by the swimming pool. La Residence is perfect for an impromptu celebration or a more formal drink in an impressive setting. At the time of writing, the hotel’s cocktail menu was limited to just a few drinks, but once tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels, I’m certain there will be a lot more on offer.
I visited AURA for the purpose of this guide and I have to say it is the most far-removed bar I have ever visited in Huế. Judging by the design, AURA is targeting button-down playboys and try-hard socialites. If that were all this bar had going, it wouldn’t be on this list. Fortunately, the cocktails were to measure: a variety of classics and in-house specialities made by a competent bartender. I went for the Huế Royal Tea cocktail – a flamboyant, alcoholic rendition of trà cung đình Huế. While the bar may serve people that would rather be in a Tokyo or Manhattan sky bar, there are small acknowledgements to Huế if you choose to pay attention to them. The staff were friendly and the interior well-designed. Above the bar are several luxury karaoke rooms which will accommodate any desire to spill your voice into a microphone. Just check the prices first!
IMAGES: Cocktails & Wine in Huế
Tourist Bars & Clubs:
- Hue Backpackers Bar: 10 Phạm Ngũ Lão [MAP] | Open: 6:00-23:00
- DMZ Bar: 60 Lê Lợi [MAP] | Open: 8:00-23:00
- Brown Eyes Bar: 56 Chu Văn An [MAP] | Open: 17:00 – 02:00
Writing about tourist bars and clubs in Huế might seem antithetical to Vietnam Coracle. But I think anyone who likes to drink, socialize and stay up late will inevitably end up in this area of Huế. The following bars are Huế tourism institutions.
Huế Backpackers Bar is exactly what it says it is. You’re going to come here and meet many young people eager to talk and share their Vietnam travel stories and experiences. Backpacker bars bring people from all over the world into contact with each other, and that might make Huế Backpackers one of the city’s most exciting bars. Games and theme nights regularly happen here to break the ice between you and whoever is beside you at the table. Options for bar food are plentiful, including Western and Vietnamese.
DMZ is a slightly different establishment. The bar was founded in 1994 as a place for war veterans and war-curious travellers to congregate and take tours of the DMZ (the demilitarized zone that divided north and south Vietnam during the Vietnam-America war, located just north of Huế). Its business model evolved with the changing times, turning into a backpacker bar, a restaurant and incorporating a hostel and karaoke booths, too. The Covid pandemic pushed the bar into another evolution as the owner attempted to appeal more to domestic travellers. It’s hard to predict how DMZ will respond once tourism is back in full swing, but I’m certain it will once again be a place for travellers to mix and mingle.
Brown Eyes is another cornerstone of Huế’s nightlife. The entrance reads ‘Open until the last one passes out’. Indeed, staff here can attest to the amount of times this sign has been challenged. Brown Eyes is Huế’s only ‘international style’ club, meaning you are free to roam around, mingle and dance (Vietnamese clubs generally keep customers at a designated table). Entrance is free. It’s loud inside, usually with a live DJ, but there’s an outdoor garden for people to talk and sit. What I admire about Brown Eyes is that it’s a great place for both international guests and local Vietnamese people to enjoy the music and dance together. There are rare instances where businesses attract the clientele of both markets: Brown Eyes does it with carefree fun.
IMAGES: Tourist Bars & Clubs in Huế
*Disclosure: All content on Vietnam Coracle is free to read and independently produced. Luke has written this guide because he enjoys Hue’s nightlife and wants readers to know about it. For more details, see the Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and About Page