An extra topping of art, please

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Every nook and cranny in Ho Chi Minh City has options galore for residents of all ages and walks of life to hang out with their friends.

It is a city of innumerable cafés and restaurants with myriad settings that customers can choose from, depending on their mood, company and the occasion.

But amidst all this bountifulness, there is something lacking, something that the city once known as the "Pearl of the Orient" should have and does not.

"I wish there were more cafés and restaurants where art works like paintings and films are shown. Saigon, unfortunately, has a dearth of good quality contemporary art - both by local and foreign artists."

"A developed city has a developed arts scene and 'art cafés' are part of this development," said Nick Ross, chief editor of the Word magazine that focuses on expat matters.

There is some heartening news for Ross.

A few art cafés and restaurants in the city are gaining a popular following among both locals and expats, a development that augurs well for the future of the art scene in the city.

PENDOLASCO
87 Nguyen Hue Blvd.,
Ben Nghe Ward, District 1

HIMIKO VISUAL SALOON
324 Dien Bien Phu St.,
District 10

CAFÉ THU 7
37 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St.,
District 1

L'USINE
151/1 Dong Khoi St.,
District 1

BET CAFÉ
57 Tu Xuong St.,
District 3

ANNAMITE RESTAURANT
21 Tu Xuong St.,
District 3

In fact, these cafés could spark greater interest in art among the city's youth who are, to a casual observer, not giving these days to visiting museums and galleries to pass the time.

Pendolasco

This Italian restaurant in District 1 offers more than authentic pizza, pasta or spaghetti. Every fortnight on a Thursday, it shows Italian movies with English subtitles on its terrace.

In a local market dominated by Hollywood and Korean films, Pendolasco is apparently fulfilling a need for more diverse fare, as the increasing numbers of youth attending the film shows suggest.

"I pay VND50,000 for the ticket and will get a free soft drink. I also like to eat a pizza and watch the film at the same time. As I study Italian language and culture, the film program here is helpful for me," said Nguyen Thu Lan, a 19-year-old student.

Himiko visual saloon

This is a visual café where owner, managing director Nguyen Kim Hoang, has tried to "create a friendly environment so fine art can be accessed by an audience that has not given enough attention to it in comparison to the other arts."

Since it opened in 2005, they have organized 15 workshops, 31 exhibitions (painting, sculptures, installation, video art, fashion shows and decoration lights). "Besides, we have also introduced new books, short films of writers and film makers," said Hoang.

Himiko promotes art works of both local and international artists.

"Himiko has received financial support for a part of the rental expenses from the Denmark fund (CDEF). So now I can support young writers who want to introduce their new books at Himiko with free space and a 50 percent discount for organizing parties and services. For exhibitions, we normally organize the event and the artists take care of the expenses. However, we may take care of the opening ceremony party as well if the artists have impressive work but cannot afford it (and we have barter arrangements of art works as well)," said Hoang.

L'Usine Space caf


L'Usine, a new café in center of HCMC has a special room for painting exhibition

Opened very recently on Dong Khoi Street in District 1, the café is a part of the L'Usine shop which sells fashion for both women and men. As customers kept asking for drinks while they were at the shop, the owner decided to open a café and added a room for painting exhibitions by very young artists.

The café with its spacious terrace is located on the first floor of a French colonial building, accessed through a small lane with painting shops on either side.

Bet café

The popular folk play, Ngao so oc hen (Clam, cockle, snail, mussel) is now being staged at the Bet coffee shop in District 3. The folk story, highly appreciated for its satirical humor, is performed by young actors and actresses. Ngao so oc hen play tells the story of a beautiful widow who plays tricks on good-for-nothing officials in a feudal setting. The play has been staged many times over the years in Vietnam and foreign countries such as South Korea.

Thanh Van, a journalist, said: "Bet café offers the opportunity for young Vietnamese actors to act on stage. As HCMC youth meet up with friends at the cafés but not so much at the theater, this is good way to introduce folk art to the younger generation."

Café Thu 7 (Saturday café)

Famous composer Duong Thu has opened a café within a café in HCMC that invites famous scholars to talk about their areas of expertise in literature, poetry, art and other subjects. Duong Thu said he wished that everybody is able to live in a world filled with cultural values and become intellectuals.

Annamite restaurant

The French restaurant in District 3 recently introduced the book "Technique du peuple Annamite" by famous French author Henri Oger with images that capture the customs, traditions and vocations of Vietnamese sketched between 1908 to 1909.

The restaurant, which serves traditional French cuisine including snails and scallops, has many pictures of traditional life in Vietnam that takes one on a trip down memory lane.

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