Treat what ails you at this moody, apothecary-themed speakeasy

Up until recent history, apothecaries in the West offered alcoholic concoctions in the hopes of remedying what ails you. Everything from headaches to joint pain to stomach issues to dental hygiene were “cured” with booze. For one to get a proper stiff drink, one would not go to the local watering hole but to the dentist or pharmacy. I specifically recall being in rough shape at work due to unknown causes, but what I expected was a combination of a flu and a stomach virus. Lunch break arrives and I go to the tavern just simply to get out of the office and the bartender commented the moment I entered that I looked terrible. He quickly whipped up a hot herbally tasting tea with whiskey and campari. The effects were almost instantaneous. I felt like a brand new man. Before the readers start commenting about the medical reasonings: advantages and harmful disadvantages, I just want to say that I didn’t care at that moment—it worked!

Drinking and Healing (2nd floor, 25 Ho Tung Mau, D1, Sun-Thu 6:30pm- 2am; Fri&Sat: 6:30pm-3am) follows this exact concept. Sure, for those from Paris and New York this renaissance of associating old tyme pharmacies with speakeasy digs is not a new concept or even a novel concept. Prescription Cocktail Club just south of the Louvre on the other side of the Seine and Apotheke located in Manhattan’s Chinatown, are the first ones to come to my mind. Drinking and Healing is the Vietnam answer to those and the return of restorative cocktails.

Drinking and Healing is located on the 2nd level of a 150-year-old French colonial building about 100 meters away from the Saigon River. The old building is beautiful and full of romantic character just by itself. The interior is dark and the lighting is moody. There’s a DJ (every Friday and Saturday night) at a dedicated DJ booth playing old school hip hop from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and Biggie Smalls. (Am I so old now that hip hop music from the generation before me is used to create a loungey ambiance?)

The lighting is too dark to show the exposed original refurbished colonial architectural structure. Instead you are instantly drawn to the bar section and the very “Instagrammable” neon lit sign directly next to the smoking section balcony.

The drinking menu has a bespoke section with options for flavor profile (ie. sweet, spicy, creamy) to alcohol base (vodka, gin, bourbon, whiskey, etc.) and then ingredients (cinnamon, pineapple, herbs, etc.). I selected the drink to be sweet, with a bourbon base to be flavored with citrus and rosemary, similar to a Brown Derby, but with rosemary—which I quite enjoyed. My companion chose a simple gin and tonic, which I found to be an excellent choice to see the girth of talent from the mixologist, which he perfected and the drinks will only get better from here. You also have the option of telling the mixologist what ails you and he or she will determine the best potion. Then, of course, their more classic and signature cocktails are listed on separate pages.

What also makes Drinking and Healing stand out is their selection of liquor and infusion program. They have a special private collection that is not available for distribution in Vietnam and over a dozen wines and liquors infused in-house with herbs, spices and fruits. You can even request for a custom infusion and if the mixologist agrees, will have it ready for you after 2 weeks when the infusion process is complete.

Chicken wing lollipops

Drinking & Healing also offers a food program as well, some small sharing plates like chicken wings or you can indulge with a burger with melted cheddar cheese and an added baked cheese plus crispy bacon. The chicken wing lollipops were lightly fried and served naked, but with the traditional Vietnamese chili sauce on the side. The burger can compete with any of the joints in Saigon that specializes in serving hamburgers. It might be the remedy in itself. You might just leave Drinking and Healing exclaiming—I’m healed!

By Paul.Y.Kim | Oi Vietnam