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Hẻm Gems: Hide From the Monsoon Rain at Đặng Thị Nhu's Lost & Found Cafe

Lost & Found Café is a newly opened sister establishment to the popular Lost & Found Bar. Both adopt a pre-1975 Saigon vibe that I, as a Gen-Z Saigoneer who is nostalgic for old Saigon, immediately click with.

“Originally, the name came from our cocktail bar, because a lot of people trying to find it would get lost. A lot of the things we have in the bar and the cafe were also from previous restaurants and bars; things that other people lost and we found. A lot of the old antiques also feel like 'lost and found' items. Some people come to the bar or cafe with a lot to do or feeling lost in the day, and we hope, by giving them alcohol or coffee, they can find out what they are meant to do,” Tyler Maurice Kooy, the cafe and bar's owner, explains regarding the meaning behind the name.

The Lost & Found shopfront on Đặng Thị Nhu Street.

There are, I would say, two contrasting sides of Saigon: the intrinsic serenity of an old city and the frenzied energy of a modern city. Such juxtaposed qualities can be found right in the heart of District 1. Đặng Thị Nhu is a small 30-house street that lies quietly parallel to the hectic Lê Thị Hồng Gấm and Trần Hưng Đạo streets.

Lost & Found Café sits at 40 Đặng Thị Nhu and, once you get to the street, you probably won't miss the enchanting signboard of the cafe. Kooy explains that his wife Thảo, a native Saigoneer, came up with the cafe’s centerpiece: a signboard with vintage handwritten fonts and imagery: a phin coffee and the phrase "Cafe - Sinh Tố - Nước ép."

A few tables line the wall.

Similar to numerous small cafes in District 1, the coffee shop consists of just a few tables beside a counter that takes up almost one-third of the inside area. But what immediately catches my eyes is a shelf filled with technology pieces from a former epoch: a cassette player, an old TV, a typewriter, and pre-1975 antiques.

Tyler (left) and Thảo (right).

Above the shelf, photos of all sizes capture Saigon and its people in decades past. Kooy notes that his love for this vintage vibe dates back to the day the couple found the French colonial-style building on Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street where the Lost & Found bar is located: “When my wife and I first looked at the space, we felt very inspired by this 1950s–1960s low-rise building and tried not to do something outside of what the building is.”

They decided to switch things up for the cafe, going for a more modern, classic style with white and black tiles, instead of more retro ones, and light blue paint instead of dark green. Choosing between the bar’s somber depiction of a bygone Saigon and the cafe’s brighter, more modern tone is a matter of personal preference.

The egg coffee at Lost & Found.

I order an egg coffee while Kooy serves morning customers as usual. This, to be honest, is the first time I have ever tried the Hanoi beverage. I cannot tell whether it is authentic or as good as egg coffee is said to be, but I can report that the 100ml shot of thick egg coffee got me so caffeinated and hyper that it takes me a full day to recover. I understand what Kooy must have felt when he tried his first phin coffee in Gò Vấp six years ago — a drink strong enough to keep a jet-lagged traveler awake for the entire night. My drink is so rich that I could only take it one sip at a time. When I rush to finish it, I can feel the dense coffee slipping down and burning my throat, pumping up my heart.

Saigon masala (left) and sakura blossom (right).

In addition to egg coffee, Lost & Found's signature drinks include bạc xỉu, Saigon masala, sinh tố bơ and soft drinks served in glass bottles like xá xị, Coke, and 7-UP. The Saigon masala is a spicy milk tea served in a ceramic pot.

Born and raised in Saigon, I would confidently say that street cafe culture is the soul of this city. No matter if Saigon is busy or facing a down period, every day from 5am until 10pm, street cafes are always fully packed. Going to the cafe is an indispensable routine for every Saigoneer regardless of their age. And the cafe is the most versatile place to be in town: it's an ideal venue for fun, school, work, or business. There is no need for in-depth research to understand why Saigoneers choose a coffee shop and a particular kind of coffee. It is simply because of an appealing vibe, fine taste and a friendly owner.

Old photos are framed on the wall.

There is more to the story of why Kooy selected the particular street to be the home of Lost & Found. It has been five years since Kooy first visited Đặng Thị Nhu and later became a loyal customer of Saigon Coffee Roasters, which once existed there. “I've been coming to the street for about five years. Over the years it's changed so much. A lot of the restaurants and cafes and bars that were on the street are not here anymore. It's been an evolution to watch,” he says.

According to Kooy, Đặng Thị Nhu was once a busy street full of tourists and locals running up and down through clothing shops, restaurants, bars and cafes. Unfortunately, due to the outbreak of the pandemic and a six-month strict lockdown, the street now has only one vegetarian restaurant left from its old roster. “I have watched it [the street] for the last year since I opened the Brick and Barrel bar up the street on Calmette. I realized there are a lot of younger local Vietnamese who want to go shopping and there were no other cafes for them to go to anymore,” he explains.

They rented the place for a year knowing the potential of the business but now, after a year of varying degrees of lockdown, the cafe is finally open and has attracted an optimistic following. “We have the same guests every day — our regulars in the morning and the afternoon — who have the same drinks, and [we have] that coffee relationship where you know their orders before they order.”

The cafe's interior.

As someone who rarely commutes to this area, if I hadn’t listened to Kooy, I could never have imagined how the empty street looked so different not long ago. I arrive at the cafe at 9am that morning. Under the fierce sun of Saigon in the dry season, the street stands sit alone amidst a bleak silence. Although I enjoy this calmness, perhaps I should travel here in the late afternoon and experience a busier atmosphere once.

Lost & Found Café is open from 8am to 9:30pm.

To sum up:

Taste: 4.5/5
Price: 4/5
Atmosphere: 4/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Location: 4/5

Lost & Found Cafe

40 Đặng Thị Nhu, Nguyễn Thái Bình Ward, D1

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