I’m a creature of habit. I like to have routines. In many cases this has manifested itself in the form of weekly recreational activities. One of these, when I lived in Hanoi, was… bowling day. Yup, bowling day. Me and some of my mates who didn’t have day jobs would get together on a particular day of the week, wednesday I think it was, whichever day had the day-drinking expat discount, and bowl.
At the end of one bowling afternoon, one of my buddies said that he had to leave to play darts. Darts. Darts? He had a darts league match and therefore had to head to some bar to play darts. Darts? I decided to follow along to see what this was about. As it happened the team they were supposed to play against didn’t show and they just ended up throwing around. And I did too. And it was fun. They invited me to become a sub for their team and a love affair had begun.
I played a few seasons for that team and played at the local pub many times a week. I continued to play when I got back to the states. I played in leagues and tournaments. I played as often as I could. I played steel-tip and soft-tip. I played for money and I played for beers.
Darts, a game you are supposed to play when drinking. Brilliant!
I returned to Asia to conduct my dissertation research for my PhD in anthropology. While there was no darts in Cambodia…
When I say there are no darts somewhere it does not mean that there are no dartboards. A dartboard, even with darts, is only so entertaining. When I say somewhere “has darts,” it means that not only are there actual darts and a dartboard hanging somewhere, but also there are players to play with.
…Anyway, while there were no darts in Cambodia (a couple boards hung unused), I could get my fix during trips to Ho Chi Minh City, where I could go to Ice Blue and find a game any day of the week. Or I could play in Bangkok, where, while games were not as easy to find as Saigon, there are hat draw tournaments on friday and saturday night.
This weekend I am back in Hanoi for the Indochina Cup AFL Tournament. I was in Hanoi a year-and-a-half ago, but this trip I decided to make a thorough effort to find where the darters are at in this town. They must still exist. They have to.
The search started with this, a 13 month old comment (at the time of writing) that says that darters are still gathering at JJ’s at the Hilton on wednesdays. This had been a secondary gathering point for darters in the past. I decided to check it out.
(Note: For some reason I decided to ignore more recent comments on that website talking about darts at a place called Spy Bar. I’ll check them out tonight and get back to ya).
So I headed to the Hilton, walked up the stair to JJ’s and wandered in. Two dart boards. Not quite where I remember them, but very adequate, and empty. A waiter approaches me and asks if I would like a beer.” Sure, how much?” “90,000VND (USD4.50).” How about no.” I ask them if folks still throw darts there. They tell me that people haven’t gathered to throw there for 6 months. Ya, no beer please.
What next? Let’s try Jaspa’s in Hanoi Tower. Jaspa’s used to be called Jaxx (sp?), and before that it was Fat Jaxx. Once a guy named Jacko took over the bar, and was kinda, well, fat, he he took Fat out of the name. My league team used to throw out of there. So I caught a xe om (motorcycle taxi) there and checked it out. The interior was under construction, and the waiter said that the dart boards had been taken down a long time ago anyway.
Ok. Now what? So I wander outside and catch another xe om. This one is different though. We start heading back towards the Old Quarter and he asks me if in the past I had gone to the Spotted Cow. The Spotted Cow was the name of the local pub I used to throw at in Hanoi that was now closed. He told me that he recognized me from back in the day. He also told me that one of the women who ran the bar (as girlfriend of the owner at that time) now had two places, Finnegan’s and Temple Club. I wasn’t sure if she’d be at the bar or if we would recognize each other after all these years, but I decided to wander over.
I had visited Finnegan’s a couple of years earlier and had discussed the fall of darts with a bartender there. At that location they had a couple of unused dartboards as well. Finnegan’s new location, closer to the backpackers, no longer even had unused boards. Squeezed into the second floor above “bia hoi corner,” there was too little room to breathe let alone throw darts. Thus, no boards. So I sat and had a couple. Eventually a familiar face approached and handed me a shot. We chatted about old and new times… and darts. Nope. None, she says.
That made me really sad. The vibrant Hanoi darts league and darts community is where I learned to play the game. Coming back to Hanoi is like coming back to an old childhood home in that respect. It’s the same house, with minor changes, but my family doesn’t live there any more. The memories, the connections I had to that space, creep in when I see it, but then I realize I are seeing a totally different house. It’s been stripped of a lot of its sense of place. Hanoi without darts is like that for me. It’s a new place. The owners have been nice enough to invite me in, but things aren’t right. My bedroom has been turned into a yoga room. In the backyard my basketball hoop has been replaced by one of those super futuristic barbecue set-ups. Really awesome, but different.
Postscript: I went over to Spy bar last night. They were renovating the second floor where they used to have a dartboard. The bartender told me that it wasn’t used much anyway. So, while it may be your best place to find a game, don’t get your hopes up.