Cocktail-artist Richie Fawcett has invented a new dimension of drinking artistry which tantalizes the senses in every respect. As a self-styled ‘bartist’, he has launched his book Cocktail Art of Saigon featuring 41 original recipes. They are accompanied by his own cocktail illustrations, with fine-art street scenes of the capital Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and fascinating stories of the city’s history. He is set to open his own bar and art gallery later this Spring. The Studio Saigon will be located in the heart of downtown Old Saigon on the first floor of a 1930s residential block. Entry is through a hidden entrance that is used as a motorbike parking hall. The adventurous initiatives reflect the fast emerging bar scene in Vietnam, with many talented bartenders and an increasing clientele seeking discerning cocktail experiences with world-class standards.
British bartender Richie Fawcett moved to Vietnam in 2011. He set up numerous bars in the country and progressed to manage the city’s first rooftop destination, Shri Restaurant and Lounge, where he gained a reputation for inventive mixology. As a talented photographer and fine artist, he took inspiration from the exotic corners of old Saigon to create a portfolio of pen drawings. The energy and curiosity of his pen racing across the paper creates exuberantly detailed street scenes. His book Cocktail Art of Saigon draws ideas from the culture and idiosyncrasy of the streets and its characters. It immerses you into the city’s history, and his cocktails are inspired by everyday life, emperors and missionaries, poets and revolutionaries. For the first time, the Cultural Department of Vietnam has officially authorized the interpretation of the country’s history in this way. The lavish book serves as the cocktail menu at Shri Restaurant and Lounge, and will become the central inspiration for his new bar & gallery The Studio Saigon, where a selection of these cocktails will be served.
As a judge in the prestigious Academy for selecting the World’s 50 Best Bars, Richie has an expert’s eye for perfection. Describing his own dual venture, Richie adds, “My book is about how much I enjoy this amazing city, its warmth and its history. Each drawing is equally detailed, and the street scenes and friendly people have inspired me to create these new cocktails. My new bar is for friends and customers who I have enjoyed drinking with. The bar and the book reflects the way in which I discovered the city – hopping on a scooter or walking at random, and discovering a thrilling new experience around every corner.”
Cocktail Art of Saigon, the book / menu – drinks with a view
The hard-back book features 41 original cocktails by Richie Fawcett – to celebrate 41 years of peace after the war. His pen illustrations flow throughout, showing a tour of historic landmarks and lesser known corners of old Saigon, as the eye is drawn to the cocktails. Recipes feature ingredients from local markets, house-made specialities, local liqueurs, and premium spirits brands. Easy enough for fans of fine cocktails to savour and appreciate, they will inspire you to turn your hand to mixing yourself, even if to enjoy the heady aromas of the exotic fruits and spices. Fascinating narratives about the city keep you reading as you sip, and make the book ideal for fans of world-travel and gourmet discoveries. The book is currently available from Shri Restaurant and Lounge for VND500,000. (approx. £17.50 / US $22) and soon via Amazon.
The Studio Saigon, the bar
This curious hybrid bar-gallery is set to open in April 2017. It epitomizes so many aspects of Richie Fawcett’s admiration for the city. Even the balcony overlooking the historic street corner holds a significance – simply watching passers-by in every corner of the city inspired him to create his book and his bar.
Inside, classic white walls create a gallery space for Richie’s black and white sketches. Step in further to be surprised by a floor to ceiling panorama of the city. Walk through an invisible door cut into the picture, as if to enter Old Saigon by stepping through a frame. The bar area, in contrast to the gallery, is an intimate and cosy awakening of sensations. Enter through another door to an area which serves as Richie’s storage for traditional oriental herbals. It is decorated with tones of grey, warm orange and silver. Curios and ornaments which he has sourced from local antique markets are displayed on the many shelves. They include a collection of balance scales, which are also a symbol in his book to indicate the taste balance of the cocktails. The array of local herbs in the drawers are used in cocktails from the book for bespoke omakaze creations by Richie.
Sink into leather sofas and armchairs next to the fire and enjoy one of the cocktails from the menu, inspired by the country. As if you were in a private lounge, the open bar is like a bar in reverse. The open cabinet gives the impression you are sitting amidst the action, in the same way as at a chef’s table in a fascinating, skilled kitchen. With an additional drinks trolley for table side mixing, the mood recalls old Saigon during the height of colonial French rule, when it really was called the Pearl of the Orient.
From there, double doors open onto an intimate balcony. In early evening, as the heat of the day subsides, the sounds of the street echo into the room. The imagination drifts into the night, as calls from streets sellers grow fainter as they move past.
Exotic ingredients, through to simple, humble produce from local street markets, are adventurously prepared in Richie’s cocktails. Aromatic peach and vanilla, lychee and ginger, cucumber and elderflower, almond and cherry – then you are hit with the surprise of smoked barbeque or the refreshing tang of beer. The cocktails in the book follow three categories to reflect Richie’s artistic concepts: area, landmark buildings, and streets. Areas are represented by small batch bottled cocktails, and buildings and streets are individually represented in formats from handmade wooden carved boats, turtles to mini BBQ trays. His collection of six original small batch, bottled cocktails bear labels with illustrations of old Saigon. They are already on sale at the iconic lifestyle shop and bar L’Usine http://lusinespace.com Ho Chi Minh City.