For a haven in the heart oF one of the world’s noisiest cities, Hanoi Social Club is getting pretty loud. Customers surround the chunky wooden tables that dominate the downstairs portion of the venue. Fuelled by potent, treacly sweet Vietnamese coffee, their fingers pound at the keys of their laptops creating a surprisingly intense low level burr.
Later this evening, Hanoi’s contingent of musicians will take centrestage at one of the Social Club’s regular open mic sessions, rambunctious affairs that play host to everything from ukulele virtuosos to tone-deaf tryers. For now, however, the gorgeous 1920s colonial villa in the heart of the city’s Old Quarter is given up to a MacBook- toting motley crew of bloggers, journalists, curators and other creative types – both foreign and Vietnamese.
Fusing Indochinese charm with a vibe familiar to anyone who has spent any time in hipster enclaves such as Fitzroy in Melbourne or Williamsburg in Brooklyn New York, the Social Club is indicative of a shift that has seen Hanoi cement its reputation as Vietnam’s cultural hub.
When it comes to bohemia, Hanoi is several winklepicker-clad steps ahead of its southern rival Ho Chi Minh City. Hanoians pride themselves on their refined, intellectual approach to life. Thus while their counterparts down south can be found strutting like peacocks under the dazzle of a glitter ball, denizens of the 1000-year old northern metropolis are more likely to be holed up in a bar with a glass of Scotch in hand and a performance poet in the background.