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Ngõ Nooks: Quán Nhạc Cầm Nurtures the Soul Like a Love Song

Albeit ostensibly a coffee shop, Cầm’s specialty is actually old Vietnamese music.

In 2017, Minh and An opened Quán nhạc Cầm — literally Cầm music shop — in the tiny hallway of a colonial-era mansion. They started with only four tables and five million Vietnam dong. For Minh and An, the main goal of Cầm isn’t to sell drinks; it’s to have a place to sing the songs they love, particularly pre-1975 love songs.

“I used to sing in different places,” Minh tells me in Vietnamese. “And sometimes people would politely ask me to leave. So I thought I’d open my own place so nobody can kick me out.” The name Cầm is borrowed from the 1970s music couple Lê Uyên Phương, who had their own music shop in Da Lat called Lục Huyền Cầm.

Minh first came to love old songs — both listening to and singing them — after the first heartbreak in highschool. That love is now an inseparable part of Quán Cầm. “There is no joy like singing old songs in an old building,” Minh says. By looking through old maps, he has determined that the mansion that houses Cầm was built in the 1930s. “[The mansion] is almost a century old now. For me, to be able to work here, is happiness.”

Most of the items at Cầm are old, repurposed things. There’s a tree branch turned into an art piece, an old camera now serves as an astray, and most of the flower vases have once contained beverages. “It is like we are giving them a new life,” Minh says. From an old CD player, the songs of late artists like Trịnh Công Sơn and Phạm Duy keep on living, reaching the young crowd who make up most of Cầm’s regulars.

For the drinks, one can enjoy the standard offer of tea and coffee, most of which are priced between VND25,000–45,000. There is also a curious drink that I have never seen anywhere: Dalat red wine with xí muội, or salted dry apricot. The xí muội adds just a hint of sweetness and saltiness to the wine, which I decide after the third sip is a good thing. The drink is served chilled so maybe it is best enjoyed on a hot summer day?

After three years in operation, Cầm expanded from its small hallway to occupy half of the second floor. With three open sides, the bright, airy, and cozy interior full of snug corners is ideal for studying or enjoying an intimate conversation. Minh built most of the furniture at Cầm, while An adds a touch of softness through the flowers, the handwritten menus, and the embroidered art. 

On each table is a note that reads: “We hope you feel comfortable and peaceful at Cầm. ^^ Thank you <3.” Right next to the note is Cầm’s wifi password motbantinhca, which means “a love song” — an allusion to Minh and An’s relationship. “We love each other,” Minh says. “And we opened Cầm. The love song used to be ours, but then many other relationships began here, and more songs were sung. So the love song is not just the story of two people, it is the story of humanity.”

Quán Nhạc Cầm is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 10pm. Every Friday night, Cầm organizes live music events called Đêm Cầm Ca. You can find out more from their Facebook page.

To sum up:

Taste: 4/5

Price: 5/5

Atmosphere: 5/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Location: 5/5

Linh likes to test his wife’s patience by always needing to find the perfect seat in a restaurant.

Quán nhạc Cầm

60 Ngõ Thổ Quan, Khâm Thiên, Đống Đa

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