At times I am hesitant to review cafes already reviewed by others. I feel like I am retreading old territory, rather than generating new content. But invariably, there is a new discovery involved – further insight into this crazy city and its caffeine scene.
Today I set off to review one of food blogger StickyRice’s favorite cafes – a nameless place under a banyan tree that sounded rustic and special. It was also very close to my house, and perhaps chased a bit by yesterday’s meanderings, I figured the better part of valor was to stick close by, on foot.
I arrived however, to find that the steamroller of development had come first. The tangled power lines were still there, but the banyan tree was replaced by the massive skyscrapers I mentioned in a previous post.
So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut might say. The sheer size and variety of Hanoi’s cafe scene means that it is infinitely fluid and ever-changing. Cafe’s pop up and disappear, are renovated or moved or simply abandoned. Some, however seem to have amazing staying power and endure for generations – and from his wistful description it seemed that Sticky’s banyan tree cafe might be such a place.
However, I am sure the price offered by the national power company for whatever small piece of real estate the cafe had was irresistible (who knows what other incentives or compulsions were involved – I doubt there is much rule of law when in comes to eminent domain in Vietnam, especially if the government is involved). And the neighborhood will doubtlessly be transformed by the new project anyway (that is, if it ever gets completed)
I ended up at a place called Cafe Arabica on Cửa Bắc, that is clearly aimed at the new neighborhood that the skyscrapers promise – decorated with nice but generic photos of coffee beans, air conditioned, and wired. Aside from the staff member fiddling with his iPad and a fashionable young lady who left early on, it was empty – and I got the sense the place was generally not too crowded. I was hoping for a nice second floor view, but the A/C wasn’t on up there, so I stayed on the bottom level. Overall, an antiseptic experience without much to say for it. The goal was clearly to generate the Starbucks-type experience – almost the opposite of the traditional street cafe – but perhaps reflective of the future of Vietnamese development?