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Apartment cafes add charm to Saigon

By Huynh Nhi    March 23, 2021 | 12:14 am PT
Apartment cafes add charm to Saigon
Customers at an old apartment cafe in Saigon. Photo by Instagram/wide_focus.
Cafes housed in some of Saigon’s old apartments evoke a sense of nostalgia, serenity and seclusion from the time a customer ascends the old stairs.

From sidewalk stalls and fancy roasteries to an array of winding alleyways, finding a good coffee spot in Saigon is easy.

Besides, some old apartment buildings have been luring potential coffee shop owners with their serene setting, nostalgic ambience and affordability.

Customers here typically sit along open corridors to play music, belt out songs or just watch the hustle and bustle in the alley below.

Tran Lam Anh Cuong, 46, owns one such cafe in an apartment in Alley 19, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street, in busy District 1. A passionate photographer, he discovered the charming alleyway while on a photo walk and was instantly mesmerized by its thick yellow walls tinged with age.

Seeing how the neighborhood was tranquil, he decided it would be the location of his cafe. He envisioned it as a place for art, photography and film lovers along with delicious beverages.

"With my great love for photography, I wanted to set up a small cafe to connect young people interested in photojournalism and documentary filmmaking," he said.

Unlike large cafes that can comfortably lay out furniture, it is a tight squeeze at his apartment cafe. Cuong has taken advantage of every nook and cranny available to maximize the seating.

It means placing two rows of seats along the hallway or a single row of high stools sometimes so that patrons can enjoy the view of Alley 19 below.

Inside, he has a long communal table and chairs under a light well to serve as a work station for customers. Brightly lit, the open space under the sky well is an attractive feature of Cuong’s cafe that keeps customers coming back.

Apartment buildings have sky wells that are utilized as working or creative spaces. Photo by Instagram/tiemcaphesaigonlife.

The sky well of an apartment building is utilized as working or creative spaces. Photo by Instagram/tiemcaphesaigonlife.

Dong Lam Thanh Tung, 32-year-old owner of a cafe on Nguyen Trai Street in District 5, is impressed by its enclosed neighborhood that is full of color and personality.

The small residential zone captures the beauty of the 200-year-old Ha Chuong Hoi Quan and its ancient red-tiled roofs. Built by the Fujanese at the end of the 17th century, the pagoda in the Phung Hung Market area is an important historic site in the Chinatown.

"I chose this location for the cafe because of its cultural and historical values that show another side of animated Saigon and is worth learning about," Tung said.

Bao Duy, 19, who is passionate about arts, is a regular at quiet cafes like this one where he can practice guitar riffs or work on school projects with friends. He especially enjoys the ambiance at an apartment cafe that provides just the right amount of privacy.

"It is not loud like the cafes along the main street. Instead it engenders a precious feeling of tranquility and airiness," Duy said.

 
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