When word covertly filtered its way down to me earlier in the week that Ho Chi Minh City cocktail bar Summer Experiment had won itself a slot in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2021 first ever 51-100 list, it had me thumbing through dusty back issues of Word Magazine that I have stacked in the living room bookshelf at home as swiftly as you can yell “Taxi!” when a glass smashes on a bar room floor.
I know that sounds odd, but hopefully it will become clearer in a bit.
I guess I should’ve picked up the phone first and called Jay Moir, the Australian co-owner and grunt behind “Summer”, to congratulate him and his team on their gong.
Summer Experiment (77) joins Hybrid (96) in Nha Trang and Nê (76) in Hanoi as this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars Top 51-100 List reps from Vietnam
For Jay, his wife, Annie, and their team, this kind of international recognition is something they’ve been striving for ever since they plunged into Ho Chi Minh City’s cocktail bar scene almost five years ago.
Instead, I went about blowing the dust off some old dog-eared print magazines that I’d been involved with in a past life, to see what exactly I’d scribbled about Jay years ago, including his vision for Vietnam’s hospitality industry in the future.
This is the first time bars in Vietnam have been recognised in some way by Asia’s 50 Best Bars, the “drinks academy” that any self-respecting cocktail bar in the region worth its swizzle stick tries to dazzle in the hope of making their list.
Until now, not one bar in Vietnam had ever made the list in the event’s history.
According to Asia’s 50 Best Bars, the event was created with the purpose of showcasing the best and most innovative talent in the drinks industry in our region.
Ranking is based on votes by Asia’s 50 Best Bars Academy members, which include knowledgeable and travelled members of the bar industry, drinks media and mixology experts from across Asia.
You may read into that as code for a bunch of drunks, but they are highly organised and functional and wield plenty of power in the industry.
The academy spans 14 countries and countless cities across the continent and aims to reflect the diverse drinking scenes in Asia from cocktail bars in large hotels, backstreet speakeasies, tiki joints, whisky dens and venues that focus on wine and beer.
In an exciting treble for Vietnam’s hospitality industry, Summer Experiment (77) joins Hybrid (96) in Nha Trang and Nê (76) in Hanoi as this year’s bars recognised during a live online countdown this week.
So here I was digging up old copies of a now sadly defunct, but much-loved, expat mag that had previously covered the industry and stories like this one in Vietnam.
I have the article here online (which would’ve saved me a lot of time dusting), but I also wanted to touch and feel a real magazine again and to reminisce about the pleasures of working with print.
It also afforded me a timely trip down memory lane to see just how far Jay and Annie have come with their respective careers.
Back in early 2017 when their first bar, the wildly-successful Layla Eatery & Bar, had newly-opened, my editor at the time sent me down there to check it out, meet Jay and see if I could put together a story for it.
I’d been in the job a little while and had covered plenty of stories like it.
You know the deal: new bar in town, listen to the spiel, take note of the decor, drinks, prices and anything out of the ordinary that catches your eye.
And, at the end, hope the person you chat to gives you plenty of “samples” to try out as a bonus.
After which, you kind of forget everything anyway, but that’s another story.
(Note: Jay gave me plenty of samples)
Still, you could say I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for to knock out a half decent story by the time I’d arrived down there.
There were hooks aplenty for me to hang a story on as it turned out, especially given how attractive the space was, how tasty the drinks were and just how the general vibe felt about the place.
Still, I’m pretty certain if I’d been blind to them, then Jay would’ve had me covered with one of his well-rehearsed pitches that we’ve all come to know so well.
I’d imagine it would’ve gone something like this: “Join us for some sneaky beverages and fun banters [sic] with typical awesome Australian-style hospitality” – or something like that.
Anyway, I’d spent enough time sitting at bars over the years to know I could draw on that “knowledge” to help me nudge something over the line before the deadline without his help.
On that day, the enthusiasm, excitement and professionalism flowed from him in much the same way as bubbles do from a freshly-popped bottle of champagne.
He made my job easy.
Now, I know you’re thinking I should be talking more about Summer Experiment in this article than I am, but hear me out because I think it helps explain why “Summer” has made it into this year’s top 100 list.
Here’s some of what ended up in my article:
“Something feels different upon stepping inside XXX for the first time that sets it apart from other cocktail bars in the same category around Saigon.”
“Led by career F&B professional from Australia, Jay Moir, who has worked the full gamut of hospitality jobs from bar-back in a casino to duty manager in a five-star hotel, XXX staff epitomise its reason for existence – for the love of cocktails.”
“XXX service is what any bar should aspire to; service that reflects pleasure at meeting new customers and greeting old ones when they return. The staff are warm, welcoming and considerate, which creates a hospitable atmosphere.”
“XXX proves that it’s possible to deliver on a promise of high quality drinks and service without having to pass the cost on down to the customer. This is a cocktail bar that everyone can afford.”
Does it sound familiar?
Now replace the XXX with the words Summer Experiment.
It fits well, doesn’t it.
That’s why it should come as no surprise that Summer Experiment has made it into the top 100 bars list in Asia for 2021.
Although Layla and Summer Experiment are very different bars, the ethos remains the same – great drinks, great service, fun times.
While Jay and Annie have kept their eyes firmly fixed on some day breaking into the coveted Asia’s 50 Best Bars since the beginning, they and their team haven’t lost sight in the meantime of what it takes to be successful in hospitality and to keep punters coming back night after night.
As I wrote in a feature article when Summer Experiment opened back in late 2019 for The Bureau, “Summer” is more than just another cocktail bar.
It’s a commitment to the craft of bartending and cocktails on a level that we’ve never seen before in Ho Chi Minh City.
And now others in the region are finally beginning to recognise that. – Matt Cowan
*This is not partnered content
Summer Experiment is at 77-79 Ly Tu Trong Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Follow The Bureau Asia on Instagram @thebureauasia
Follow Matt on Instagram @mattcowansaigon