The third Friday of every month at 5:30pm, my friends and I get together for Viet Happy Hour, which brings together young Vietnamese Americans who are involved in community, leadership and social justice. We meet up at various bars around Seattle to catch up and gossip. For June we decided to check out the 9lb Hammer—a totally awesome dive bar in Georgetown that features pinball machines, a shuffleboard table, $2 tallies and free peanuts. It was amazing! Except I was the only Viet person there.
For the first half hour I busied myself with the Dirty Harry pinball machine. This distraction proved effective until I ran out of quarters and thought this was the worst Viet Happy Hour ever. Almost on cue, Clint Eastwood taunted “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Answer: No. I made my way over to the bar and began texting my friends, which makes loneliness hurt a little less.
Eventually my buddy Randon, a native Hawaiian, showed up which presented a dilemma. Do I break the cardinal rule of Viet Happy Hour and hang out with Randon or stand tall by continuing to sit here alone? As always, the answer is compromise. I temporarily deputized Randon as my Viet wingman. I raised my hand toward the sky and drew a “V” across his chest. In return, he swore an oath to uphold one thousand years of Vietnamese history, culture and friendship, and to buy me a drink.
Around 6:30 my friend Quynh arrived. “Where is everyone?” she asked.
“We’re it…” I answered nervously. I was pretty sure hanging out with just me isn’t what Quynh was expecting. Plus, she was probably wondering who the big Hawaiian guy sitting behind her was. “That’s Randon,” I told her. “Don’t worry, he’s one of us now.” I confessed that I may have miscalculated on Georgetown. Perhaps Vietnamese people do not feel comfortable in dive bars or places where hipsters congregate. “I am going to write a letter to Georgetown demanding they cater to our Vietnamese community better,” I told Quynh.
Dear Georgetown. Please make your neighborhood more Viet-friendly—serve Heineken. And would it kill you to have some bánh mì sandwiches instead of nachos?
As it turns out, Georgetown would answer by the end of the night.
Randon, Quynh and I decided to leave the bar and find some food. We walked outside and unexpectedly stumbled upon Honk Fest—a festival celebrating street band culture. People were dressed in bright green booty shorts, top hats with tutus, and feather boas. It was the most eclectic mix of street performers I have ever seen.
We made our way through the crowd and toward a line of food trucks. The first one served bánh mì sandwiches. “Whoa!” Quynh and I were super excited and were about to get in line until we got distracted by something even more bizarre. On our left we saw a woman walking down the street wearing a nón lá—the iconic Vietnamese cone hat. She wasn’t Vietnamese which made her stand out to us. I didn’t think the scene could get any weirder.
Another woman walked by wearing a green beret with a red star—a symbol associated with Communist Vietnam. It was like we entered the Twilight Zone. Georgetown was suddenly exploding Vietnamese. Within a matter of minutes, it added bánh mì sandwiches, cone hats, and Communism—a magical trinity.
Dear Georgetown. Thank you! PS you forgot the Heinken.
By this time Quynh had gone home while Randon and I made our way up to Capitol Hill where we met up with Michelle, another friend from Viet Happy Hour. We ended up at the Sun Liquor Distillery, which is famous for their delicious in-house cocktails. Oddly enough the menu listed a drink called “The Communist.” The name was so outlandish and ridiculous (and at the same awkwardly inappropriate) that we literally laughed out loud. “We need to drink this,” we both agreed. The Communist was a perfect blend of gin, lemon and orange, topped with a brandied cherry. Michelle and I had a lively conversation and shared stories about growing up Vietnamese in America. “Another Communist!” we told the bartender. “This is soooooo good.”
“I hate Communists,” I texted Michelle. I woke up with an annoying headache, but I didn’t care (I cared a lot).
I spent the day thinking about how quickly things can change at any given moment. I went from being the only person at Viet Happy Hour, to connecting with awesome friends from Georgetown to Capitol Hill, and then seeing pieces of my culture and heritage everywhere I looked. At the same time, I also saw how symbols that deeply divide my community, like a red star or communism, can be used so trivially by other people. It was one of the most surreal Friday nights I’ve ever had.
Best. Viet. Happy. Hour. Ever.