If you wanted to open a bar and restaurant in Vietnam, what would you do? Go to Cuba? Charles Lecomte and Ruben Fahnestock did exactly that in June this year.
With various experiences in hospitality management and the beverage industry in this country, it was a trip they made in the pursuit of a dream; that of becoming their own boss. Now, barely five months later, the dream is a reality, because they’ve just opened their tribute to that month-long trip; Cuba La Casa Del Mojito. Literally meaning House of the Mojito for non-Spanish speakers, when we caught up, they were definitely living the mi casa, su casa vibe.
Straight off the bat I ask Charles what he thinks makes the place special. His reply is simple: “A warm atmosphere”. Catching the after-work crowd on a Friday night, the atmosphere my photographer Kyle and I encountered was lively; a good time was definitely afoot.
Although this is Ruben and Charles’ first crack at ownership, you wouldn’t necessarily know. Without trying too hard, ‘Cuba’ feels authentic. It’s because everything in it has been brought back from the island itself; shipped in and relocated to their freshly refurbished city-central location. No crap stuck on the walls for the sake of it, nor an overabundance of Che Guevara icons, only well-selected art pieces, a relaxing colour palette, comfortable mahogany furniture, natural tones and happy people. Up-tempo Latin grooves and some of the best Cuban musicians in Asia almost make this last part a fait accompli. For the aficionados of that famous Cuban cigar, there’s even a smokers’ lounge out the back of the L-shaped venue, beyond the galley style dining area.
Of course, none of this matters if you can’t serve me a decent drink. This column is called Bar Stool after all. On this front, ‘Cuba’ easily passes the test. And while you’d be right to have high standards for a Mojito (VND100,000), as good as it is here, this acts almost as a lead-in beverage, and you’d be wrong in my opinion not to run your eye over the rest of the rum-heavy menu. I tried both the Papa Hemingway (VND115,000) and the Bloody Cuban (VND150,000), which were equally delicious. Eyeing up the gin collection, both put me at ease, making me feel comfortable enough to ask for an off-the-menu Sweet Martini (VND150,000).
In terms of prices, it’s definitely part of their philosophy not to make this a ‘high-end’ bar for rich people, meaning everyone’s invited to the party. “We want everyone to come and enjoy what we’ve started here,” says Charles. “Good drinks at decent prices, great music and great food in the heart of the city.”
And cooked up by a Cuban chef, the food here is worth checking out as much as the drinks are. Try the shredded Cuban beef or ropa vieja as it’s called on the island — excellent! Oh, and did we forget to mention the regular live music and salsa nights?
Gracias Señor Cuba. I’ll be visiting your fair shores again. — Jon Aspin
Cuba La Casa Del Mojito is at 91 Pasteur, Q1, HCMC or online at facebook.com/cubanvn