054 Cafe Hue: Community, Urban Art and Creativity
Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee in the world. Unlike many other countries, Vietnam’s relationship with the caffeinated beverage has produced a cafe culture that is poetic in simplicity. Even with the introduction of Starbucks to Vietnam, locals have mostly kept to their favored soft-drink spots over the modernity of multinational conglomerates. Coffee is the People’s drink and you’ll rarely find anyone that doesn’t have a cafe to recommend. Coffee shops come in every variation imaginable. Owners can be artistic in their interior design and particular about the atmospheres they create. One of my favorite cafes of recent times is 054 Cafe Hue.
054 Cafe sits just behind the backpacker’s area on Nguyen Cong Tru Street. Accessible from the many nearby restaurants and accommodations but doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. With it’s neon lighting and thumping bass lines, it can seem quite intimidating to walk in but upon meeting the friendly staff, those anxieties quickly pass.
Hip Hop Cafe Hue
Above the bar reads; ‘PEACE, LOVE, UNITY, RESPECT, KNOWLEDGE’, echoing hip-hop legends Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. Posters and photos cover the walls with ‘crews’ from Hue and across Vietnam. If you’re sick of hearing the same pop songs repeatedly, then you’ll sit in safety at 054 Cafe. The cafe plays a range of hip-hop, lounge, psychedelic soul and nu jazz through the day.
What makes 054 Cafe unique is that it relies on a group of people that share a passion for the old-school values of hip-hop. Viet, the owner of 054 Cafe, specializes in urban art and his graffiti spans across South-East Asia. His employees mostly consist of break dancers that bust-out moves between serving drinks. Local artists also frequent the coffee shop. Up-and-coming MC Kanu, who won over judges at a recent Saigon hip-hop battle, is usually sat around the pool table. Mr Boomba, who specializes in producing hip-hop beats with classical Vietnamese instruments, is often working away on his laptop. With cafe 054, you’re only a conversation away from a youth movement that’s building on it’s foundations.
Homies Where the Heart is
054 Cafe is part of the cooperative Area 054. Since their establishment a few years back, the cooperative have held music festivals, concerts and charity events in the city. They have been hosting their annual event Block Party since 2012. The festival includes rap battles, live DJing, x-games demos and graffiti workshops from Vietnam and abroad. Occasionally, 054 Cafe also plays venue to hip-hop artists around the country; Wowy from Saigon being the most recent performer. In 2014, Area 054 held a two-day charity event named Hip-Hope for a local child who was hospitalized through a traffic accident. The cooperative raised over $1,000 which they contributed to the child’s medical expenses.
His passion for his hometown not only translates verbally but in the ambiance of his cafe. Hue is Vietnam’s location for the international graffiti festival, Meeting of Styles and Viet is one of the organisers. ‘054 Cafe isn’t about profiting from a fashionable trend’, says Viet. ‘It’s all about connecting homies locally and internationally to share the positive values we’re committed to and the music we love.’
054 Cafe is primarily a coffee shop but doubles up as a bar in the evening. soft drinks, cocktails and domestic beers all available at great prices. The menu is in English and Vietnamese so there are no ambiguities when ordering. My personal recommendation goes to the cafe’s speciality, the Coffee Kick. A combination of coffee, baileys, cacao and malibu. A subtle energizer suitable at any hour.
If beer, coffee and carbonated drinks aren’t to your taste, the cafe also serves ‘sinh to’. the Vietnamese equivalent of a lassi or a fruit shake. Sinh to is available in a variety of exotic fruits for around a US dollar.
Why We Like It
Service in the South-East Asian tourist industry can be mechanical and contrived, 054 Cafe is unintruding and laid-back in serving it’s patrons. It is also one of Hue’s few establishments where the cultural appropriation (particularly of hip-hop) is organic and contextually relevant. In a country largely obsessed with the soppiest of pop, it’s great to find a place that kindly respects the ear-drums of music lovers.
- 054 Cafe on Tripadvisor page
- Area 054’s youtube channel
- Local producer Mr Boomba’s Soundcloud page.
- Meeting of Styles’ Homepage.