Behind the Bar Stick People

This Vietnamese Cocktail Bar Comes from Seattle’s First Family of Phở

At Phởcific Standard Time, Yenvy Pham and Quynh-Vy translate Southeast Asian ingredients into boldly flavored cocktails.

Row of tofu Martinis at Phocific Standard Time on bar mat, being garnished with ginger and eye dropper of syrup

Courtesy Phocific Standard Time

Yenvy Pham knows her way around an industrial soup kettle. The three locations of Phở Bắc Súp Shop, which she runs with her sister Quynh-Vy, collectively sell around 180 gallons of phở every day, seven days a week. Keeping up with demand means a 24-hour process of simmering bones, layering in spices, skimming fat, and expediting bowls filled with noodles, broth, and beef.

“I was born in the phở business,” says Yenvy, Phở Bắc's chef-owner, a jack of all trades who also acts as coffee roaster and cocktail maker. “At one point, we lived above a phở restaurant.”

The Phams hail from Seattle soup royalty. Their parents, Theresa Cat Vu and Augustine Nien Pham, opened the city’s first phở establishment in 1982, and in the intervening years, Yenvy says, phở became essential to Seattle’s food fabric, a symbol of Vietnamese entrepreneurship and integration into American life.

More than four decades later, the younger generation of Phams distilled that identity into a shot. The “Khoa Was Here” includes two ounces of phở fat-washed Jameson Irish Whiskey, followed by a chaser of warm phở broth. It’s old and new, traditional and dynamic, memorable and deeply personal—and available to guests perched on one of the 25 seats at Phởcific Standard Time (a.k.a. PST), the Phams’ Vietnamese cocktail bar set above Phở Bắc in downtown Seattle.

Yenvy Pham hugging Quynh-Vy Pham, both smiling, in white-walled room with plants
Quynh-Vy Pham (left) and Yenvy Pham (right), owners of Phocific Standard Time.

Courtesy Phocific Standard Time

Yenvy calls PST a pipe dream come true. Back in 2018 the Pham siblings, including brother Khoa, launched their first cocktail program at Phở Bắc Súp Shop. Early drinks were all over the place, like the neon blue Adios Vietnamita, a combination tequila, rum, lychee, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeños, blue curacao, and sweet and sour mix.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” says Yenvy.

Creating a New Kind of Cocktail Bar

Pho they knew. But it would take years of research, reading, asking questions, and fearlessly experimenting before the siblings felt like they could fully translate their command of Vietnamese dishes into cocktails at PST.

The Pham sisters, both of whom hold business degrees, self-identify as entrepreneurs. Yenvy focuses on menu development and operations at their three Phở Bắc locations, chicken-and-rice-focused The Boat, Vietnamese coffee shop Hello Em, and PST. Quynh-Vy handles the finances. “We both still work service and manage each location. It’s all-encompassing. We kind of put our hands everywhere,” says Yenvy. “We’re also cheap, so we like to do everything ourselves.”

PST, she says, was one of their hardest projects. The Phams planned to open the bar in May 2020, but, instead, found themselves laying off workers, closing two Phở Bắcs, and fighting to keep their businesses open during the pandemic. Then, in spring 2021, Khoa died unexpectedly of a heart attack at just 35 years old.

Interior bar of Phocific Standard Time, with array of mixing glasses, paddle fan, plants and ingredients
Interior of Phocific Standard Time.

Courtesy Phocific Standard Time

A craft Vietnamese cocktail bar had been Khoa’s vision, as was the phở shot. He loved Jameson and formulated the shot’s earliest iteration: Irish whiskey seasoned with anise-clove syrup, served with abundant phở broth chaser. “We were all in our early 30s. We were party animals,” says Yenvy. “The pho shot is [a window] into how we are as a family, as siblings—and why we’re in this industry in the first place.”

Yenvy and Quynh-Vy opened PST in fall 2021 with the help of outside bar professionals, who shaped the first menu. But their consultants’ approach did not meld with the Phams’ vision of hospitality or building flavor. Yenvy felt herself dreading bar shifts, and, within months, the sisters reclaimed the cocktail program, pouring their mastery of Vietnamese cooking into their own culinary cocktail style. “Now when I go to PST, it’s my bar for my people,” says Yenvy.

“We have no rules we’re following at all. And we might discover something interesting through that process.”
—Yenvy Pham

Drinks at PST can take months to move from conception to the glass. This January, Yenvy, Quynh-Vy, and head bartender Bishal Pyakurel started experimenting with durian, the notoriously pungent Southeast Asian fruit. By early February, they landed on a durian sous vide infusion of the Thai spiced rum Mekhong. As of May, Yenvy says, the cocktail is almost ready. It needs a touch more body, and she’s thinking about incorporating avocado pit into the recipe.

“We have no rules we’re following at all,” she says, laughing. “And we might discover something interesting through that process.”

The Quynh Bee cocktail with spiced lemon garnish in coupe glass, on background showing printed tropical tree illustrations
PST's Quynh Bee, a play on a Bee’s Knees with jasmine tea-citrus-honey syrup and lemon juice.

Courtesy Phocific Standard Time

The Intersection of Cocktail Innovation and Culinary Tradition

The team at PST has leveraged this anything-goes approach to build a menu of inventive drinks. For the Firefly, rau ram, a boldly flavored Vietnamese cilantro, manages to “pop like a Jolly Rancher,” says Yenvy. The bar team achieves this flavor by blending the ingredient into a Baiju cordial, which they then combine with Singani 63 brandy, lime, cucumber bitters, and lava salt. For a Martini riff, they temper bittermelon’s intense personality by cooking it sous vide for a full day in floral Vietnamese Sông Cái gin.

Sông Cái’s aromatics—including cinnamon leaf and bark, white liquorice root, and dried mangosteen—also shine in their Quỳnh Bee, a play on a Bee’s Knees with jasmine tea-citrus-honey syrup and lemon juice. More juniper-forward, London dry-style gins, says Yenvy, don’t always work well when sidled up to bold Southeast Asian ingredients. So, they don’t use them.

It turns out the Phams do have a few rules. “If it’s not fun or true to our standards or reflect who we are, we’re not going to do it,” says Yenvy.

That perspective gets swirled in a blender to deliver PST’s tofu Martini, a drink based on tào phớ, a ginger syrup-laced Vietnamese tofu pudding. The bar team washes gin in tofu, clarifies it, and soups it up with sesame oil-washed rice wine, ginger cordial syrup, and a hint of MSG. To play on the ever-popular Espresso Martini, PST uses Vietnamese coffee roasted at sister coffee shop, Hello Em, which also goes into their take on the cà phê trứng, or egg cream coffee, complete with Brennivin aquavit and Chartreuse-spiked egg cream.

With a thriving, multi-dimensional business ecosystem, the Phams can sample from their own work. PST guests slurp down bowls of phở while drinking cocktails, and Yenvy wants to bring PST’s drinks to The Boat, their one-dish-wonder fried chicken outpost in the Little Saigon neighborhood. She also hopes their evocative, one-of-a-kind cocktails might inspire other entrepreneurs to look inward and adopt a more grounded approach to their work.

“It takes humility, plus amazing skills,” says Yenvy. “And it all goes back to your identity and how comfortable you are in your own skin.”