Mao’s Red Lounge warms the masses

Cozy, comfy and cheap, this lounge in the heart of Ha Noi’s old quarter makes Michael Libucha’s little red book of favourite bars.

Mao’s Red Lounge is the comfortable warm sweater of Ha Noi’s Bar scene. Nestled in the heart of the old quarter on Ta Hien Street, the bar is an unpretentious, snug and comfy place to lounge, drink and be yourself.
Like a trusty old sweater, it’ll keep you warm all night with a late closing time and friendly service. The bar staff here are hard-working but won’t hassle you with constant inquiries about whether you’d prefer a Carlsberg beer instead of the cheap Halida you’re drinking.

Those looking to get freaky on the dance floor it’s best head to one of Ha Noi’s few proper night clubs like New Century; those looking to impress their date with stylish settings and expensive flirtini cocktails should saunter down to bars like the Sofitel Metropole’s Met Pub.

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But if you want to chill out, have a chat or just check out where my dogs at, Mao’s is the destination. Mao himself, who is sometimes affectionately referred to as ‘the Chairman’, is a friendly fixture on Ha Noi’s bar scene.

He was the man behind Half Man Half Noodle, a similarly relaxed bar that won mention in local entertainment guides for its good vibes and vaguely Jamaican atmosphere. Last year Mao sold out his half stake in Half Man Half Noodle, which is still open for business. The Red Lounge is the first bar that’s his own.

When Mao ran Half Man, he developed its reputation as a cosy and intimate retreat from the old quarter’s hustle and bustle. It was a favourite among many of Ha Noi’s expats, who still enjoy drinking and smoking the night away there in relative peace.

Mao has tried to carry over these qualities to his new lounge, which opened in November last year. The vibe’s the same and so is the decor, except that Mao’s decorations this time also include traditional Vietnamese fashion hung up on the walls and some strange doctored pictures.

Mao’s make-do sound system plays a wide range of rock, dance, funk, Latin and reggae music, and anyone can bring their own CDs to play. There’s also an acoustic guitar in the corner for anyone to strum.

The bar doesn’t open until 4pm, which is probably when Mao gets out of bed after another late night. The busiest nights are usually Fridays and Saturdays, but one of the best times to drop in is on Sunday nights, when Mao shows his generous side by treating patrons to a free scorching Vietnamese hot-pot dinner. It’s also a chance to chew the fat with Mao, who says he’s always happy to offer streetsmart advice to tourists who need a helping hand.

The lounge’s location on Ta Hien Street makes it an ideal base or launching pad for a night of bar hopping. Watering holes Red Mask and the Tet Bar (formerly Le Maquis) are a stumble away down the street, as is the old quarter’s most popular bia hoi corner, at the intersection of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen. And if the chairman takes a fancy to you, he may even slip on his own trusty old sweater, leave the lounge in the hands of his disciples and join in your further forays into the capital’s nightlife scene.

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