Bartender is now a very trendy and popular profession, especially for many young people and increasingly blooming in Vietnam. Besides following the available recipes, bartenders will also create their own new recipes to be successful and go further in their career path. These days, Vietnamese bartenders are increasingly creative to put the typical flavors of the S-shaped country into each drink, strongly impressing domestic and international customers.

A bar that wants to last long needs to serve quality drinks. And to make those drinks, people need talented and skillful bartenders who are able to satisfy discerning and fastidious customers. In addition to standing behind the counter “performing” juggling and making attractive drinks, the bartender also interacts and chats directly with customers. Up until now, they have always listened to customers, so today let’s become listeners to the stories from the bartenders!

Destination Review has had the opportunity to talk to two young bartenders including Nguyen Huu Phu, Former Bar Manager at Irusu Lounge and Bien Ngoc Vu, Founder of DOOZY Bar. Coincidentally, both of them attended Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HUTECH) but have been bartenders for almost a decade.

In 2012, Bien Ngoc Vu, a freshman who just entered school not too long ago, started working as a bartender from evening until late night in Bui Vien to experience and earn his own income and also to improve his English. “Gradually, seeing the bartenders mix the colorful drinks, I tried learning and was attracted by the process of making them, then decided to follow the profession. Looking back, 10 years have passed,” he said.

In his second year of college, Vu dropped out to devote himself entirely to the bar. He was strongly opposed by his family because of the negative thoughts of bars, but he still remained determined. After 4 years of efforts to prove himself, Ngoc Vu finally got support from his family because he had a good income, position and remarkable achievements. “They realize that a bartender is also a legitimate profession that they put in their efforts and gray matter to do.”

Since then, Ngoc Vu began to travel abroad regularly and participate in many competitions. With his talent, Vu has won many awards and the most memorable achievement is 4 gold cups and the Champion of World Class Vietnam 2021 title. Ngoc Vu was also the representative of Vietnam to participate in the final Diageo World Class, the world’s largest competition for bartenders that everyone in the profession aspires to compete once in a lifetime. However, due to the epidemic, the competition could not take place in Madrid, but had to be held online and only one champion was selected. Although he did not win, Ngoc Vu made a very good impression thanks to his confidence, professional bartending skills and the typical costume of the Western Vietnamese.

Nguyen Huu Phu 8 years ago was working as a butler for a five-star hotel, and he also changed to a bartender job because of the attractiveness when watching other bartenders making drinks. Huu Phu has also become the winner of major competitions many times such as Winner of Campari Bartender Vietnam 2019 contest (Vietnam’s representative to the final in Milan), champion of La Maison Cointreau Vietnam 2019, Bartender of the Year at Vietnam Restaurant and Bar Awards 2020,…

According to Phu, a bartender in addition to making drinks, also has to chat with his guests. Bartenders need to be well-groomed to impress customers, be a good listener, bring comfort and positive energy so that the guests can have the best bar experience. He can even remember the favorites of his regular customers. “My tips are to take notes on my mobile phone, listen more, and call customers by name while talking,” Huu Phu happily revealed. Moreover, creativity is a huge advantage for a professional bartender because bartending is like an art related to taste.

For Huu Phu, a bartender not only makes cocktails but also transmits culture through drinks. During his career years, he has experimented with many Vietnamese ingredients in his drinks such as fish sauce, soy sauce, coriander,… which are thought to only be found in daily meals. Phu also uses tomatoes and a few other ingredients to simulate the typical Vietnamese sour soup.

Phu said: “I like Japanese sake but later, I want to learn more about Vietnamese culture. Even rice wine is different from place to place. I also use other ingredients such as cananga, magnolia, Northwestern sichuan pepper,… In addition, I also apply different fermentation techniques to drinks.”

Ngoc Vu also affirmed that Vietnam has a lot of unique fruits and ingredients that can attract international bartenders. Vu himself also likes to learn and experiment with strange drinks. He even invests in a laboratory to research and process materials. “I used to make drinks with oysters and fish sauce. Oysters are processed with ultrasonic waves, while the fish sauce is distilled in a laboratory to ensure safety and pure taste.”

It’s easy to see that working at night will greatly affect human health, change the biological clock, and cause body imbalance. Leaving work late at night, bartenders are at higher risk of danger, especially for women. Like other professions in the service industry, bartenders do not have much time for family and friends outside of the industry because of the different “time zones” and are always busy during weekends or holidays. However, Huu Phu and Ngoc Vu said they had gradually learned to control time and social relationships. The two also do exercise regularly to improve their health and maintain their passion for bartending.

In addition to the joy of doing what they love, the two bartenders also receive many other valuable things. They can travel, exchange and learn in many regions and countries. Therefore, they have friends everywhere, and know many people in many interesting professions and fields. The prizes at the competitions are also part of what Huu Phu and Ngoc Vu have gained. Ngoc Vu smiled and said: “People working in the kitchen and bar are very lucky because they can taste good food, good drinks, and know how to enjoy delicious dishes. Eating and sleeping well is the best!”

Once again, Ngoc Vu and Huu Phu both claimed that they have had almost no sad experiences as a bartender, but happy memories are indescribable during the past 8-10 years. Ngoc Vu said: “The happiest thing is that customers like me and come to enjoy the drinks I make. I have many friends who were customers at first. Another story also making me feel real friendship is that in 2020, when I decided to go to Hanoi to start a business, all my friends in the industry in Saigon flew there to celebrate.”

Huu Phu also cherishes friends and relationships he made from bartending. “Once, overseas bartenders introduced their guests to Irusu Lounge for a drink from me while traveling in Vietnam. That made me really happy.”

Focusing on making drinks while listening and talking to customers right in front of them, it’s not easy for bartenders to avoid mistakes. Sometimes they accidentally spill the water, sometimes they make the wrong order,… but according to Huu Phu, as long as the bartender remains calm with a cheerful and polite attitude to the guests, they will gently forgive them. “Sometimes, there will be discerning and fastidious guests to challenge me, making very conflicting requests about the taste.” At that time, Phu will try to find out all the guests’ interests to make the most suitable drink for them.

Currently, Huu Phu is engaged in beverage research for a project focusing on Vietnamese ingredients and techniques. In the future, he will pass on the knowledge to beginners. Phu also wants to launch his own brand. Ngoc Vu, who currently runs DOOZY Bar, plans to open a new bar and restaurant in Saigon.

The nightlife in the bar is often thought of as chaotic, complicated and full of dangers. However, according to Ngoc Vu and Huu Phu, complexity or chaos largely depends on your choices and behavior. There are many civilized bars with polite and lovely customers. In case something goes wrong, the bartender needs to know how to handle it.

To last long in the profession, in addition to great love, bartenders must persistently practice flexibility, sharp taste, professional skills and many soft skills as well as take care of their appearance. Bartender is not only a job to earn a living, but also an art for creation, and also a subject that teaches people how to behave, how to multitask or how to balance their work and personal life.

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Bartenders and stories of stars shining at night


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