There are few moments in life guaranteed to cause me to completely rethink my choices than lying on my back, vaguely concussed, with the last vapors of a nitrous balloon fading my brain. The balloon itself is dangling precipitously from my prone mouth. It looks vaguely as if I have fellated a chimp to completion. I am on the floor because I fell. In a bar along that strip of lake known affectionately by fellow inebriants as “Tay Ho’s Valley of the Damned.”
Until this goddamn virus kicked in I was practically paying rent there. You know the place. Rastaman. Babylon. MusicBar. Even if you’re new to Hanoi, you KNOW the place. Almost every city east of Goa feels like it has at least one Skid Row of (more or less) 24-hour establishments catering to the afterhours (or early morning, or mid-morning) intoxication needs of its patrons.
An afterhours bar in a city where beer is available 24 hours a day may seem an odd necessity. But that suggests the draw of such spaces is only the promise of spiritous refreshment limited only by financial circumstance. It is also the glory of watching the sun rise over the opal-colored waters of Tay Ho with folks from all over the world. Folks who share little in common except, perhaps, that they have all been told, at one time or another by someone somewhere: “You REALLY need to cut back.”
Nah. The difference between your average expat drunk and the semi-permanent residents of the Valley of the Damned is that when dawn threatens to break over the land, the average drunk prefers to slink back home under the cover of darkness. Not the Valley of the Damned. For us, when others ease back on the engine, we take that throttle, jam it forward and break off the handle.
The hangover from so much cheap booze will stalk you like a crippled leopard with a taste for human kidney. Do not let him win.
“I’d like you to line up four shots of Jägermeister for me with a Long Island Tea back. Oh yeah, and one of those balloons that you’re pretending you don’t sell as a chaser.”
Dawn breaks. Good folks get up to go to work. The party moves back and forth between tables out by the lake and huddled behind security doors until the local constabulary moves on. It doesn’t matter. The crowds shuffle around. Europe. Australia. The Americas. The random Vietnamese who may or may not be working the room (they are). Freak. Flags. Fly. The ages vary, but generally skew younger although the occasional Boomer alcoholic can be spotted trying to commandeer the music laptop because, damn it, somebody HAS to play any Skynyrd. This scene will be followed by air guitar. It is always. Followed. By air guitar.
The key to a good bender, of course, is to keep it moving, keep drinking. The hangover from so much cheap booze will stalk you like a crippled leopard with a taste for human kidney. Do not let him win. Fight back. Stick together. When Rastaman shuts its doors, move down one bar. The Music Bar seems to, at least this month, have the greatest staying power. On a weekend morning last month, there were still between five and a dozen revelers–your correspondent lost his ability to count and do simple arithmetic equations around 7:35 a.m. It was a motley assortment of humans, but all seemed to get along.
(Such amity contrasted with a few days before when a late-night reveler, by late night I mean 11:44 a.m. the next morning, decided he would cap of his night out by trying to fight the entire block. This is not recommended.)
So when even the staff at Apini, Nameless and Fish Bar decide to demonstrate their concern for the health and welfare of their customers by kicking them to the curb, know that the party continues along the waterfront of Tay Ho, just a few short steps down from Au Co into the Valley of the Damned.
Illustrations by: Francesc Moreno