60 Square, Hanoi - review by Rusty Compass
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60 Square, Hanoi

| 26 Jun 2019
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60 Square, Hanoi
60 Tho Quan, Dong Da, Hanoi

26 Jun 2019

Hanoi’s 60 Square is an enclave of heritage buildings hosting cafes, boutiques and a developing art scene. It’s a little away from the centre of the city in a hectic urban area in Dong Da District. If you love dilapidated architecture, and gritty cafes, this place is well worth a look. You’ll need to make your way down some tight chaotic residential lanes to get here - an experience in itself. This is not a haven of fine cuisine or coffee - but there are cool spaces and boutiques and friendly young locals too. Live music on Friday night at Quan Cam is a highlight.

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Blossoming community spaces have not been one of the accomplishments of Vietnam’s 20 years of rapid development. But young locals keep trying to create them - before developers destroy them.

60 Square in Hanoi is the latest collection of heritage buildings to be colonised by local cafe owners, designers and young creatives. But like its predecessors, it probably won’t have a very long life. It’s slated for demolition soon. So head out for a look.

I tried two cafes. One, Kofi Cafe, is owned by a young architect and collector of old cameras, Cao Hieu. Another, Quan Cam, is owned by a young couple, An and Minh. They’re both interesting spots. Quan Cam features live music on Fridays. Minh is one of the singers. Quan Cam is also plastic free.

Mr Hieu, owner of Kofi Cafe, 60 Square, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Mr Hieu, owner of Kofi Cafe, 60 Square, Hanoi
Minh sings and co-owns Quan Cam, 60 Square, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Minh sings and co-owns Quan Cam, 60 Square, Hanoi
Plastic free Quan Cam, 60 Square, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Plastic free Quan Cam, 60 Square, Hanoi
60 Square, Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer 60 Square, Hanoi


Getting to 60 Square (60 is the address on Tho Quan, Dong Da) requires a bit of effort. The lanes that lead to it are narrow and packed. It’ll give you a view of the density of urban Hanoi that you might otherwise miss.

Kham Thien, the main road in, was levelled during the infamous US Christmas bombing of Hanoi in 1972. Hundreds of civilians died. There is a small monument along the road.

Don’t expect great coffee or food at Hanoi 60. It’s more about atmosphere, heritage and hanging out. The toilets aren’t a highlight either. There are some cute boutiques, occasional musical performances at Quan Cam (most Fridays), as well as occasional flea markets and exhibitions. Quan Cam was also a good place to get some work done during the day. There was no air-conditioning in the cafes we visited - which might be a problem for some in mid-summer.

I haven’t been able to find out much about the history of the buildings. I was told they were owned by a wealthy Chinese family and would seem to date from the early twentieth century - perhaps the 1930s. All the business owners said their time was running out and that they may last another year or two before the demolition crews move in.


Community spaces in Hanoi - a short history

Spaces like Hanoi 60 Square can really add to the fabric of a city. They capture the unique creative energy of a generation that seems to be searching for more than the rush to affluence that has characterised the first decades of the opening up of Vietnam’s economy. They also demonstrate the connection the young generation has with heritage architecture.

In 2013 there was Zone 9 in Hanoi. Then came 3A Station in Saigon. They were vibrant heritage spaces that caught the attention of young local creatives and entrepreneurs. Zone 9 was especially precious. In a matter of months it became a hotbed of galleries, restaurants and bars that would be the envy of most cities. In Hanoi it was shut down. 3A Station in Saigon was less ambitious in scale. It also closed years ago. 60 Square's lifespan is also likely to be brief.

The deciders in both Hanoi and Saigon have proven reluctant to prioritise public spaces, community spaces and green spaces over an inexorable rush to build as much high-rise as possible. The argument is shifting though.

An increasing number of local people of all ages realise that the rush to pour concrete everywhere may be doing deeper economic and cultural damage than can be realised from the immediate financial gains of any single project. Liveability concerns are also casting a shadow over Vietnam’s economic development juggernaut.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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