Tam’s Pub is not your typical restaurant or watering hole. Located on a residential side street near My Khe Beach in Da Nang, Vietnam, it’s easy to mistake the place for someone’s garage. Inside the wide, open storefront, a row of motorbikes are parked along one wall. A TV mounted high in a corner of the room is tuned to a sitcom. An orange-and-white cat stands near the eatery’s entrance, while a tawny-colored feline perches on one of the bike seats, lazily grooming.
Casually placed among the clutter are a few tables and chairs, as if in anticipation of friends dropping by for a cold beer or a bite to eat. And that’s exactly how Tam treats her customers; like old friends.
We arrived early on a week night and found the place empty except for Tam, who was busy working at one of the tables, a de facto desk piled high with papers. After we settled in and decided what to have for dinner, she left us contentedly sipping cans of Biere Larue while she disappeared into the back.
We had come to Tam’s Pub hoping for a satisfying meal, but we also received something unexpected. After serving our orders Tam pulled up a chair and joined us while we ate, sharing stories about her life during the American-Vietnam War and pointing out related photos as she spoke. Pictures and memorabilia, spanning more than half a century, adorn nearly every inch of wall space that isn’t occupied by the surf boards she rents out.
Tam was just twelve when the war began. We were mostly silent as she told us about that time in her life, captivated by her vivid reminisces. What surprised us most about Tam’s war stories was how often they focused on American acts of kindness. She told us of the sailor who appeared one day and offered her something to eat. Every day thereafter the man returned to the same place to bring Tam a sandwich.
She even remembers her time spent in an American military camp with some measure of fondness. At least the camp provided her a degree of security. And, Tam told us, “there was always enough to eat with the Americans,” something that wasn’t true for her after the Viet Cong moved into her town and appropriated most of the food for its soldiers.
But even in the camp, Tam wasn’t completely isolated from the war. She recalls one day in particular when the Viet Cong approached her with a make-shift bomb and a choice. She could detonate the device and kill the American servicemen whom she had befriended or she could forfeit her own life. Tam risked the VC’s wrath and had the bomb diffused.
Some of those soldiers who might have died in the explosion have since found their way to Tam’s Pub for long-awaited reunions. Their pictures hang on her walls, alongside older, faded photos from the war, and a framed surfboard invoice for Jimmy Buffet.
We never quite got around to hearing about Tam’s encounter with Buffet. I guess there were just too many items on the menu at Tam’s Pub, where great stories are a specialty along with one of the best burgers in all of Vietnam.
Tam’s Pub is located at 38 An Thuong 5, My An, Da Nang, Vietnam.