By Richie Fawcett
It all started, as most stories do, as an idea on the back of a scrap piece of paper, I don’t smoke ( only when I’m on fire ), so there is no cigarette packet to put in a museum one day…however…there IS… a LOT… of ART. Find a comfortable spot, mix a martini, settle down, and listen…this may take some time.
Having been in Vietnam around five years at the time the genesis of The Studio Saigon started to take shape, I’d learnt enough about the countries history and drawn enough of the streets of HCMC aka Saigon, to combine them with my other passion which is the making and drinking of cocktails.
I had the desire to publish my own art book for a long time and by putting two and two together, I combined all three interests and added one more to being a price list…essentially the catalyst that led to the making of The Studio Saigon was created at that point…not a space yet, but a book. No ordinary book.
Named “Cocktail Art of Saigon Drinks Manual volume 1” it was Part art, history, recipe and price list, it became the cocktail menu at Shri rooftop restaurant and lounge for 5 continuous years, and the inspiration for many young Vietnamese bartenders to help sow the seeds for writing their own books and setting up their own bars one day.
The Concept was to base the cocktails on the buildings and streets that I had drawn from the first moment I arrived in 2011, and add the history of those streets and buildings too create the cocktail that represents.
The book was launched at Shri on 22nd November 2016 and became an instant hit with the tourists and local bar community. In 2017 the book was nominated for worlds best cocktail menu at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans.
With the book created and published, now all I needed was a real venue to showcase the now extensive historical collection of Pen and ink sketches of Saigon and somewhere to make the cocktails from the book to bring it all to life…and thats exactly what we did.
The Concept was born, but still needed a home. Then, one day in Late November a good friend and soon to be partner gave me a tip off about a 1st floor space with a balcony in the heart of District 1.
A historic building on Ly Tu Trong and one that was built in the 1920’s…the perfect location for The Studio Saigon…without hesitation I secured the space and started the hand drawn plans in meticulous detail.
One room was to be the gallery…the first room that you enter, and the bar, hidden through a secret door at the back with a balcony over looking the street.
I saved all the money I could to pay directly for everything from scratch without borrowing from anyone, except to included two silent partners to help with creating the community that would use the space.
The concept was appointment only with minimum spends so that I could manage the events clearly. My choice of bartenders to help with the cocktails was wide given Id trained most of them in the city by this time, so staffing was simple.
The Keys were handed over on 1st January 2017 and fit out started immediately…taking 4 months with TET in the middle…we were ready by May and threw our first parties in June and July that year…The rest you could say, is history.
We’ve had so much fun over the years in our humble, happy place, helping as many charities and social enterprises as our humble budget permits, yet happy to spread the love with the notoriety we poses to extend their catchment areas for assistance…and, yet , now we face new challenges to adapt to a different world to the one we were in when we first created out concept.
One of the key drivers to our survival is diversification and speed of adaptability to pre-empt and steer a clear path through the changing market conditions that have, in the last 18 months, been extreme to say the least.
More on this in the next part where I will explain what we do and are doing to remain competitive and relevant in todays World, where both cocktails and art seem superfluous, yet I strongly believe that they are both essential.
In part 2, I will explain exactly why cocktails and art are as important as ever in todays World.
Thank you for reading our story and stay safe.
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