Beer in Cu Lac
Drinking in Vietnam is often a raucous affair. The nouveau riche head to flashy, deafeningly loud beer clubs to drink imported brews until they vomit, while older generations prefer to sit on plastic chairs on the sidewalk and joyously drink case after case of local lagers. The fine art of quietly whiling away a beautiful afternoon with a few cold ones hasn’t quite caught on yet.
Bomb Crater Bar, in the tiny village of Cu Lac in Quang Binh Province, offers just that. This region of central Vietnam was flattened by the U.S. military during the war, and even today it’s hard not to notice the remnants of the relentless carpet-bombing.
The bar sits between two such reminders: broad craters created by 2,000-pound bombs aimed at a fuel depot in 1971. But now, the area is peaceful. A cool breeze whispers through bamboo trees, water buffalo graze, and the placid Son River flows gently by.
Local residents Nguyen Thi Ngoc and Dinh Anh Tuan own Bomb Crater Bar. Up until last year the land it sits on was unused, and the couple decided the location was perfect for tourists in need of a cool drink during Quang Binh’s scorching summers.
They enlisted Lesley Arnold and Mark Heather, expats who have lived in a neighboring town for three years, to help create a watering hole. Bomb Crater Bar opened last July, and severe flooding forced it to close for six months starting in September. Ngoc and Tuan only reopened it in early March, while Arnold and Heather serve as freelance bartenders and expert storytellers.
The bar isn’t trying to exploit the area’s past; the craters just happen to be there. “We wanted something that respects the history of the area but also embraces where we are now, which is really about tourism,” says Arnold. The nearby town of Phong Nha is the epicenter of the province’s booming cave tours, focused on Son Doong, the largest cave in the world.
The setup is bare-bones, with a thatched roof covering the bar and a few seats. The drinks menu is compact, but Arnold hopes to get a craft brewer from Saigon to begin shipments at some point.
One doesn’t visit Bomb Crater Bar for a wide range of booze, however. The setting, especially for someone used to the nonstop insanity of Saigon, is unbeatable. Traffic on the old French highway which runs past the bar is light, and the view across the Son is gorgeous; a postcard-worthy vista of rice paddies, low mountains, and tiny hamlets.
Far away from the outrageous beer clubs of Vietnam’s major cities, Bomb Crater Bar allows one to nurse a cold bottle of Huda, brewed in the old imperial capital of Hue, and talk for hours while the river flows quietly by.