WHERE to WATCH

Sport is big in Vietnam and sports bars of different styles are easily found.

By KEVIN RAISON on July 08,2019 10:22 AM

WHERE to WATCH

PHOTOS LE DIEM

Hanoi is a rich and lively city with much to offer for all walks of live. What’s more is that the city takes on a different feel for each time of the year. I’ve heard many a time about Hanoi’s four seasons and the different feelings they provide, the different experiences people have from each, and the memories they make during those strikingly different periods. Coming from north of Boston, I grew up knowing four seasons as well and they were richly imprinted in my memories. Those seasons of course are: Baseball season, (American) football season, basketball season, and hockey season.

Vietnam likewise has its own passion for sports. North Americans reading this will remark on the ardent fervor with which soccer captivates the country while much of the rest of the world call it football. Whatever one calls it, the passion is real, and this is coming from someone who’s from a part of the US that a French tourism book I checked described as “rabid” about sports - an admittedly fair analysis. After big victories in Vietnam one can often see huge swarms of people taking to the streets to celebrate in an act referred to as to “di bao”. Racing up and down the streets on motorbikes, the chaos has an illusion of control but it really is utter and absolute unrestrained passion. I’ve legitimately seen choreographed dance groups block off intersections to celebrate before all piling back into a van to continue on in the impromptu parades that can gridlock downtown areas for hours on end - all proportionate to the scale of the victory of course.

The main event, however, is the actual sport. Plenty of people will watch at home on various networks, which results in the interesting effect of the entire block all responding the same way, but at ever-so-slightly different times. The result where I live is that, several nights of the year, I’m privy to perceptible waves of frustration or exaltation that sweep through the neighborhood. The love for Vietnam’s team borne through the sport of football is contagious I must admit, and while my case is only at a moderate stage (symptoms may include wearing the red Vietnam team shirt on key days and possessing multiple “Viet Nam vo dich” headbands), the audible shouts of excitement and anguish on key nights from my otherwise diffident landlord upstairs clearly shows the path of how my case will likely progress. My trips to sports bars in Vietnam certainly have not helped my prognosis; there is a certain comradery to be out with strangers who, for 90 minutes, can be some of your best friends. Here are some of my favorite sports bars in Vietnam.

Hanoi has countless options when it comes to football. One can see also men and women … okay, mostly men … stopping on the side of the road to look into a café screening big matches. If you’re going to make plans to watch a game, football or otherwise, there are a couple of locations I would recommend above others.

First, New York Sports bar (formerly O’Leary’s) at 38 Ba Trieu has a very authentic ‘merican feel to it based on the décor and vibe, with a massive screen on one side and several smaller screens placed around the dining area. The menu, while including sports bar staples such are burgers and pizza, is indeed rather Vietnam-inspired. Shrimp or minced clam on rice crackers? Yes, that absolutely works while watching the game.

Even the charcuterie board is fantastic, ‘cause let’s face it, most anyone watching the game is gonna be drinking and you’re likely going to want a little somethin-somethin to go along with it even if you’ve already eaten. The hotpot is pushing it I’d say, if want your eyes on the game and not on the ongoing process of cooking the food, but in winter time if you’re going to meet up with friends well in advance of the kick-off and you can be sure of getting a good table, then it’s brilliant, or as they say where I’m from: “wicked pissah.”

If you don’t want the hassle of going into Hoan Kiem but still want a sports bar experience with minimal frills, B-Dubs at 3 Le Trong Tan is the place to go. For those who know the American chain Buffalo Wild Wings, B-dubs is what they’re known by in Vietnam. Located inside the Artemis shopping center, I didn’t think much of the place at first, but I was able to book a table over the phone just fine (in English at that). The menu is classic: burgers, ribs, wings, all the usual suspects and their range of sauces to choose from really finishes things off right on the menu. The fact that they have some mixed plates and deals on beers makes it all the better to go with a group, especially as there’s ample car parking, so whoever your designated driver is won’t have to suffer any more than they already are. The place fills up fast so book in advance. Screens are at every angle imaginable so no worries there.

WHERE to WATCH

For our friends down in the ever-splendid beach-side city of Da Nang, they’ve got a plethora of smaller dive-y joints that are fantastic for going with a couple of mates, but if you want a bigger experience head over to 406 Vo Nguyen Giap, where you’ll see a place called Dirty Fingers. The vibe of this place! God I almost want to move. What it may lack in number of screens it makes up for in food selection and the fact that the bar is HUGE compared to most. A long U-shaped contraption allows ample seating and quick service while a large projector screen in the corner looms over patrons, ensuring there’s no question of what’s on. Across the street from a wall hiding a resort, the location is quiet but it’s on the main road, which makes the Grab or taxi ride back home all the easier, and the big open front promotes the kind of ventilation most sports bars can only dream of. As for the name, they’re talking about you when you visit, as the ribs and wings - well you don’t need me to explain the rest for you, right?

Much further south you’ll find Ho Chi Minh City spoiled for choice. Two names spring to mind when I’m there though. First is Guru Sports bar at 10 Ky Dong in District 3. Guru features the most complete web-presence of any of the sports bars I’ve seen in Vietnam. The place is exceptionally polished with an extensive menu of high-class items (for a sports bar) that’ll really make the pre/mid-game meal special. With all the ritz and refinement expect a high price point as well. Most plates are around 200k and up while a bottle of beer can be had for about 50k, and the prime selection of craft beers gives you the range to get exactly what you want. The additional games area ads another novelty factor to the experience.

Lost Boy’s Hideout at 147/2A -2B-3C, Le Van Luong in District 7 provides a more down-to-earth alternative elsewhere around town. Imagine Peter Pan crossed with Jimmy Buffet but with better taste than either while still distinctly being Vietnamese and you’ll get a vague idea about the place. While there aren’t as many screens as other places, the pool tables and outdoor seating to take advantage of the city’s evenings make it just right. It’s a cliché, but oasis invariably comes to mind.

In addition to these particularly remarkable joints, “beer clubs” can be found throughout the country, the most famous of which might be Vuvuzela. The chain provides beer, air conditioning, and passable food, so while it might not be a remarkable choice it’s at least a reliable one that can be found in just about any city in Vietnam.

Of course, there are countless more places but almost nothing could beat an authentic experience like sitting in a “bia hoi” next to My Dinh Stadium when Vietnam won the Suzuki Cup last year. That’s the point though; it’s about the people, not the place or the pint. Perhaps though, with this list, you’ll know where you want to go to cheer on your team. And remember, please drink responsibly.

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