Some endings are happy, some are sad. Some come with a bang, while others with a whimper. In the case of the closure of Don’s Bistro in Hanoi, there is only one way to describe its sudden ending; dramatic.
While the dispute that caused the restobar’s demise had been going on for years, it came to a head in mid-December as the wining and dining Christmas season was in full swing. One of the partners behind this Canadian-themed, mid-to-top-end comfort food restaurant padlocked the doors. An argument over profit share between the investors had been bubbling behind the scenes. Now someone was taking action.
As the quarrel heated up it became public. Men driving xe thuong binh — the tuk-tuk-like motorised vehicles given to war heroes — blocked the door, turning customers away. Signs were erected telling the world about the dispute, and the authorities were called in. But, with so many opposing stories, there was little they could do. The argument then found its way onto Facebook, and the war of words continued for all to see.
With Christmas approaching and the dispute spiralling out of control, a decision was made. The lease was up in March, anyway. It was better to close up, move on and figure out what can or cannot be resolved.
Restaurants and bars are a dime a dozen in the West Lake area of Hanoi, opening and closing with the wind. But Don’s Bistro has a strong claim to be regarded differently.
When Donald Berger and his partners started constructing their tour de force in 2009, there wasn’t a road running the whole way around West Lake. It was still being built. Only a couple of other restaurants and bars graced the area and if you lived out in West Lake, and wanted to go out for the night, you went into town. These days you stay put.
Yet, Donald’s love affair with the area goes back much further.
When Donald first started plying his trade in West Lake, as a founding partner of Vine Restaurant and Bar, it was still a village. A few pho shops or late-night eateries served up food on Xuan Dieu, but beyond that, there was nothing. At night the street lights turned off early. By 9pm the whole area was bathed in darkness.
Yet, the exodus from downtown Hanoi had already started. NGO and UN workers were moving into serviced apartments on Xuan Dieu, expat families were renting out villas behind the Sheraton, and on To Ngoc Van the infamous Almaz Building had been repurposed and sliced up into apartments. Suddenly there was a clientele, but with nowhere to go.
Opening in 2003, Vine Restaurant and Wine Bar was an instant success, and Donald Berger was a big part of it. So, when he moved onto his next venture in 2009, he came with a reputation for all things good in life — quality dining, excellent wine, Cuban cigars and good conversation. It was this that he carried forward to his bistro and bar overlooking West Lake.
Lest We Forget
Time, they say, is a great healer. And over time, whatever endgame pressures Donald and his business partners are having to endure will somehow be resolved. But time also has the ability to bury recollections, to relegate the undocumented to the long-forgotten annals of time.
A decade ago, West Lake wasn’t the booming food and drink destination that it is today. Nor was it the wealthy suburb, or the fast-developing urban area just outside the Old Quarter that we now know.
The people behind Don’s Bistro were pioneers, and we have a lot to thank them for. Without them, West Lake might not have become the place it is today.