In the fast-developing speed with a lot of modern buildings, construction and dense flows of vehicles, Hanoi is slow, quiet and old somewhere.
Wandering in small streets in the city, you can stray into a vintage cafe which is like a time machine taking you back to some period of the old days, to uncover a different Hanoi.
Cuoi Ngo Cafe
No.4, Lane 78, Alley 68 Cau Giay, Cau Giay Dist, Hanoi
Like its name suggested, the cafe lies in the end of an alley behind a mouldy gate. Here it opens to a yard of red bricks leading to a house with red tiled roof, a familiar house in the Northern countryside.
The small cafe is cozy with the dim yellow light, cute flower vases, and old tiny tables and chairs, like in the living room of a house. In addition, black and white pictures on the wall also paint the antique colour for the place.
Especially, pictures by Trinh Cong Son, one of the greatest local musicians are also found here. They are hung in the wall with an intention to create a spot for his fans.
They come here to enjoy Trinh Cong Son’s music, which was composed in his own style in the 1960s-1990s and called affectionately as “Nhac Trinh” (Trinh music) as well as share their passion to him and his music with others.
His typical blue songs and melodies were played almost everywhere in the period, also emphasizing the ancient atmosphere of the place.
Nha San Art Café
Laneway 6, Vinh Phuc, Ba Dinh Dist., Hanoi
No one has ever thought that it is a cafe. Because it looks like a temple from the first glance for its gate. More surprisingly, it is actually a house on stilts, the typical house of people in the mountainous areas, making it the matchless cafe in the city.
It features wooden columns, walls, roof, floor and stairs of a house on stilts. But its wood-interior design starts changing from the staircase landing to the second floor, where both spaces provide an exotic view, especially from the second floor.
Here it fills with old furniture popular in the 1990s, such as sewing machines, clocks, telephones, and radios. Some motorbikes from the 1960s displayed here giving it a mini museum look. Furthermore, old Vietnamese songs from the 1970s also add the antique touches for the place.
But young visitors bring the modern ambiance for it, like a gathering point. It’s also a haunt for art lovers to come and enjoy talks by artists and attend book launches, while live Vietnamese music fills the air every Friday and Saturday night.
No.39 Hang Cot, Hoan Kiem Dist, Hanoi
As a “member” of the Old Quarter in the city center, the cafe features typical architecture of the old houses built more or less than a hundred years.
Stepping through a small spiral stair, you will get into a garden terrace with banana trees divided into three small spaces in split level floors for different view onto the street.
The theme décor is bamboo, the typical tree of Vietnam’s countryside, making it natural with an old ambiance through ornaments, lampshade made from bamboo fish traps or bamboo fans and wooden furniture.
From each floor, you can catch a typical scene of a peaceful Hanoi with interlacing electric wire, big green trees, a pagoda and small tea stalls that many locals favour to sit on small chairs. You can also have a sunbath here under the sunset.
Besides basic coffee, tea and beer, the menu here is unique for a lot of Vietnamese typical delicious sweet dessert that are favoured by the local people for a light drinking and eating in the afternoon such as tào phớ (syrup with soya bean curd), chè đậu đen (syrup with black been), chè đậu xanh (syrup with green bean), chè bưởi (syrup with pomelo’s skin), chè ngô (syrup with corn), chè sen (syrup with lotus nuts), etc.
No.5 Lane 411 Truong Chinh, Thanh Xuan Dist, Hanoi
Hidden in small alley far from the busy center, the café might be recognized by its smell. But it is not the odor of coffee. It is the smell of moss and mustiness, particularly in rainy days, which makes the place different.
No one knows how old the house is. It seems to be there since the last century and never changes.
Getting through the yard with creepers, some small trees and pots of plants, the mouldy concrete wall and floor, the tiny short stair tiled with typical marble of the period, the rusty bars of the windows, the old furniture such as TV, fans, bookshelf, light bulbs, and pictures, the narrow space of each room in unusual structure, etc., everything goes back in time in a popular house of the 1980s or older.
Each corner is a quiet space for people to remember and study the past or just enjoy the special tranquility in the modern time. The small terrace viewing onto the yard also reflects the habit of people in the old time, where they usually gathered to drink some tea and relax after dinner.
The menu is quite simple like its house, just some kinds of tea, local coffee, bottled beer and some fruit juices. But the cheap price, average at VND25,000, is ideal for a ‘trip’ back in time.
No.103 Van Phuc, Ba Dinh Dist, Hanoi
Under a carambola tree that inspired the name for the café, it is a fresh atmosphere to sit here and watch the new sunlight of the summer which is coming.
Together with the outdoor in the small garden, the indoor space is also favored for its vintage design and serenity where the East meet the West.
Old stuffs such as telephones, cassettes, typewriters, cameras, clocks, or speakers common in Vietnam of different periods and posters of Marlon Brando, Charlie Chaplin, Brigitte Bardot, etc. may lead you to the classic Hollywood studio in the 1960s. The menu is also interestingly designed vintage with old pictures as well.
It is an ideal corner to work, read a book, or just escape the busy life for a while. It is also a favorite place for couples to talk or enjoy romantic moments in the sweet melodies of French love songs.