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Hẻm Gems: In Tan Binh, VND4,000 Is All You Need for Good Bia Hơi

Bia hơi for the people.

I walk into Bia 4000 - Quan 437 expecting the absolute worst.

Here’s the thing. At a glance, Quan 437 doesn’t inspire confidence. The bar faces a busy avenue in Tan Binh, and from outside its low fence, the taphouse commonly known as Bia 4000 is a mess of commotion. This is an establishment where tables are flipped when customers leave, rather than wiped down. On two floors, waiters zig-zag through a chaotic spread of people. Impossible numbers of brimming mugs and food plates float from table to table. It is a locale with a lot going on.

It’s always hard to shake a first impression. That’s doubly true where food and drink are concerned, and judicious criticism is biologically useful.

But the many complaints about this brewery melt away under the warm light of a good time. For me, the thawing begins at first with the incredible deal alluded to in its name: beer for the paltry price of VND4,000, true to the place's namesake. It’s seven of us here for farewell drinks, and we comfortably order a round for a meager VND28,000. One becomes two not long after. It should be said, this is a place where that happens easily and often.

That’s because this is bia hơi: the light, foamy, soda-like beer that hails from Hanoi. And if you haven’t learned to love it, you should do so now. It is far from its home, but Bia 4000 actually brews a huge volume of the stuff daily, albeit well out of sight from prying eyes. Since the closing of Bia Hoi Thi Sach in District 1, Bia 4000 is one of the few holdouts in Ho Chi Minh City that still serves the brew.

At our table, we watch waiters, most of whom are young and quite friendly, as they tilt the golden stuff from mysterious decorated urns. Somewhere back there, this cheap ambrosia is being made on the daily. But ours is not to question why. On the restaurant’s main dining floor, its easy to lean over and make small-talk with nearby tables. And it gets even easier after round three or four.

If you’re skinned for money there is hardly a better place for wanton beer consumption. Anyone, from locals on a thirsty lunch break to expats digging the cheap housing in Tan Binh, will tell you that. That’s why it’s worth coming out here — just a stone's throw from Tan Son Nhat International Airport — to kick back with your equally broke friends. Believe it or not, four beers here will run you the price of one at any other street side bar in the city. Here, you are four times richer.

On any given night of the week, this place is abuzz. Really, how could it not be; in the biggest city in Vietnam, a country where beer consumption is rapidly rising, this is the cheapest place to do it. Two floors fill with people from around the city, clinking mugs and making merry around bia hơi, the great common denominator, leveling both rich and poor with an unavoidable hangover that is only a handful of hours away. Yes, caution, cheap beers will do that.

But locals come here around lunchtime, too, and will tell you they love this place because they don’t feel pressured to buy much food. Really, the food here is far from exceptional, and should probably be avoided.

The greatest flaw of this chaotic little locale is no secret — there just isn’t enough bia hơi to last the night. We arrive at around 8pm, and by 10 o’clock the well has run dry. Servers bounce around, bearing the bad news bluntly. I can say that, firsthand, some measure of pleading for a last round will work on them. If you’re lucky, one or two will tilt back those ornate beer-urns to eek out the very last drops for you.

In a flash, the bargain-price magic of this place evaporates into the night. Tables begin to be flipped around you, the empty mugs stolen away and food swept briskly to the side. You don’t have to go home, but when the taps run dry, you really can’t stay here.

Quan 437 is open from 10am to 10pm everyday. Check out the bar's Facebook page here.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 6/5

Atmosphere: 4/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 2/5

Luca can most often be found begging Saigoneer photographer Kevin for free beer on ladies' nights at Lush.

Bia hơi

437 Hoang Van Thu, Ward 4, Tan Binh District


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