South of the old quarter in Hanoi, in Trieu Viet Vuong St, there must be coffee sluicing through the plumbing mains. This street is coffee shop central, with hardly another business breaking the pattern on either side of the strip. The footpaths have disappeared under a chaotic throng of motorscooters, plastic furniture, wayward banyan trees and squatting caffeine addicts.
Naming my poison is no problem. Scrounging a patch of pavement to wedge our plastic stools into, however, is a dilemma at Cafe Tho, a 23-year veteran of Trieu Viet Vuong's cafe scene and favourite of the god's 20-something mates, with whom I'm having my daily hit. It's French era atmosphere to the hilt with shuttered windows that haven't been dusted since they left. In fact there seems to be a caffeine and nicotine residue on every exposed surface, inside and out. Rustic is definitely the prevailing adjective for this one.
In between sips, the shoeshine boy takes me for a tourist, wanting the shirt off my back for his toil. Another drama plays out when Cafe Tho's resident fortune teller gives a theatrical wave, only to knock the waitress and half a black caffeine hit all over her clairvoyant self. A catty spat ensued about who was to blame. While the locals have an uncanny knack for ignoring such an episode, I find myself both not knowing where to look and perversely hoping that something solid gets thrown.
It doesn't. Instead it's all smouldering glares.
Then my black drug kicks in.
Three cafe nau da (with condensed milk and ice), one cafe den da (black with sugar and ice) - 28,000VND (USD$1.74, AUD$1.85)
117 Trieu Viet Vuong