When does a bar raise the bar? When it's Paris' Café de Flore, New York City's literary White Horse Tavern or Harry's in Venice. Or when the humble barkeep is someone like Nguyen Qui Duc.
A memoirist, poet, scriptwriter, translator, former on-air personality for U.S. National Public Radio and the son of the highest South Vietnamese official ever imprisoned by the North, Duc now presides over Hanoi's Tadioto a hip, brick-lined spot in a city fast becoming a place of cultural ferment.
This isn't just a place to sip Hanoi beer. For one thing, the upstairs rooms have become a free space for literary readings, informal salons and outlandish installations that dare to treat images of communist icon Ho Chi Minh with irreverence.
While a West Lake location would have been more lucrative, Duc puts more stock in the fact that "the bar is a point of unlikely intersection for all sorts of people: film directors and street kids, gays and multiracial couples who don't want to be hassled." To keep nosey parkers and police from objecting, he pulls down Tadioto's shutters when proceedings go late.
On our visit, Swiss NGO workers unwound next to Hanoi's leading rap group while Aussie kids strummed bluegrass. They were all made welcome by a media host turned cultural emissary a half-sage, half-schmoozer who has replaced John Wayne as Vietnam's leading "Duke."
For more information, see tadioto.com
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