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Hẻm Gems: Come up, We're Watching Old Movies on the Neighbor's Wall

“Thank you for contacting Khô Our business hours are 6pm to 1am, Monday to Sunday. Open doors. Cocktails, craft beer, outdoor screening — Thursday and Sunday. Thank you and we hope to bump into you in Không!”

During an earlier visit to my friend’s office, I was introduced to a hidden bar on top of the building, where we can hang out, sip beer, and watch movies together. The bar uses a projector to screen films a few times a week on the empty wall of the neighboring building. I was intrigued by what I could find out about this special place online and by the cryptic greeting note, so I decided to book myself a seat on Thursday.

The wall doubles as a screen.

In the middle of the air — không trung means in midair — a movies scenes are caste on the white wall. In midair, on the third floor, in a narrow alley, film enthusiasts lounge around in silence, their eyes transfixed by the moving pictures. Occasionally, someone would slurp their beer and exchange whispers with their screen pal.

“This place was born of [my] love for cinema and habit of observing the city through the window. Both contain their own stories. Be it through the screen or the window, we’re always curious about and hope to learn more about humanity and the experiences we’ve yet to live through. At times, I also exist through a frame via somebody else’s eyes. So, in the frames live the lessons, and opening Khôngtrung means reaching new horizons. To live my life and gain an understanding of others’ lives,” the founder told me when asked about the meaning behind the bar’s name.

Khôngtrung only has about 20 seats. The open space is well-ventilated, tranquil and peaceful. There’s no sign boards or instructions, as if the place is purposely challenging newcomers to see who’s lucky enough to reach the treasure. Khôngtrung does not run online ads either, so most patrons are here due to a happy accident or via introductions (like me).

The furniture is mostly secondhand, brought in by staff members from “everywhere” as they believe that “objects should also have a chance to live a full life.” Some special items, like an embroidered omelet-themed tablecloth, were handmade. Run by a group of plant lovers, the rooftop is populated by flora residents that the staff hand-selected.

Movie screenings are the main courses here at the cozy hangout space. Around 7:30pm on Thursdays and Sundays, the films start. The wall of the next-door building is flat, windowless and sans decorations — very suitable for screening. The sound comes from two speakers in strategic positions so that everybody can hear the dialogue.

Most titles that have made the wall have been Asian features as they share many parallels in culture, setting, and people with Vietnamese culture. Khôngtrung tends to select films based on intuition or in accordance with seasonal changes and current affairs. “June begins with International Children’s Day, so we would choose films for kids, or young-at-heart adults. July is often very rainy, so the theme shifts to solitude, as you can’t go anywhere with your friends.”

Following a period of trials and errors, Khôngtrung fixed the screening schedule to every Thursday and Sunday. Outside of that timetable, Saigoneers can still come to drink, chat and listen to music. Should you feel the need to organize a screening on your own, you can make a request and pay a fee of VND60,000 per participant. Occasionally, the place itself also becomes the setting of independent film productions.

During my first time at Khôngtrung, Tsai Ming-liang’s Days was the film du jour. It depicted a ruthless sense of aloneness with long, still shots that barely had any dialogue. Admittedly, it wasn’t an easy-to-watch feature. The Khôngtrung member who curated it agreed with me, but they still insisted on experimenting and gathering feedback to improve their curation.

The drink menu comprises several classic cocktails and craft beer, in addition to non-alcoholic options — whose creations borrowed inspirations from cinematic works and directors. On a particularly despondent day, you can try a glass of Comrades: Almost a Love Story (dir. Peter Chan) or a sip of As Tears Go By (dir. Wong Kar-wai).

My visits to Khôngtrung yielded a refreshing peach-flavored non-alcoholic beverage and an Early Summer, both with sourness as the predominant note just how I like it. During their downtime, the bartenders here like to play with ingredients to create new recipes. Those who feel peckish during their watching experience could try a few snacks on offer here too.

On a listless evening, if you’re in the mood for a vintage feature in a similarly rustic space, follow my lead and head to 26/16 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Đakao Ward of District 1. And remember, don’t bother looking around for a sign that says “Không trung Drink & Screen,” there isn’t any.

To sum up:

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

Khôngtrung drink & screen

26/16 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, phường Đakao, quận 1, TP. HCM


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