Do you want to stop drinking? But you don’t want to sacrifice your social life, right? Obviously, a good mocktail is the answer. So we toured the town to try ten mocktails to help you get through the month without an alcoholic beverage to hand for what we’re calling #SOTOBER.
With Saigon’s booming bar scene and friends who never seem too far away, especially if you inhabit the central districts, going out is so easy. Maybe too easy. There’s the bars that open till late. Plus the average price of drinks – even though premium pricing is creeping into bars across town – remains low for a big city. Try getting drunk in Singapore if you don’t believe us. And although there are outlying articles that claim a glass of wine is good for you, or a few beers isn’t bad, the wealth of evidence is that alcohol is bad for us. Really bad.
Movember – the month when guys don’t shave – is so macho and un-inclusive (although, of course, we strongly approve of the charitable side of it). So, we wanted to launch a campaign that welcomes everyone, hirsute or not, and with tangible health benefits. And with all those negative effects of drinking taken into account, this is our sober October campaign. We’re calling it #SOTOBER.
“Of course we make mocktails,” Corked Tales stylish founder, Mia Vo, confirms. The cooly kooky bar, hidden at the side of the CJ Building on Le Thanh Ton, is used to welcoming a diverse range of guests – after work drinkers, dating couples, lone salarymen looking for a great cocktail – and they include non-drinkers. “We have two mocktails,” she nods, “Our Frezze Beauty and our Witchin’ Juicy.”
We opt for the Frezze Beauty. Inside is cilantro, strawberry shrub, ginger syrup and soda. It’s perfectly sweet, fruity, slightly spicy and the cilantro adds a fresh, citrusy edge. No wonder this place draws such a varied crowd.
Try: The Frezze Beauty with cilantro, strawberry shrub, ginger syrup and soda.
Location: M Floor, CJ Building, 6 Le Thanh Ton, District 1
Smog is an eccentric cave of customized gizmos. Everytime we come back, there’s a new addition. A flickering TV here. A smoking machine there. After all, this is a pollution-themed bar. Even the snacks are smoked kunsei style. And, of course, the cocktails are amazing.
In fact, the bartenders are confident to rustle up any drink – besides the chalk-board of originals they make like their manga-inspired Akira’s Oil that’s something like a smoky Negroni (we did mention the pollution theme).
“We’re not drinking this October,” we explain to the creative boiler-suited crew of mixologists. “No problem,” they shoot back. In fact, they’re used to the varying requests of guests. Their menu has a whole section dedicated to drinks with lower alcohol than normal.
We tell them what we like – this time something fruity, fresh, and smoky (obviously) – and within a few minutes we have one of our favourite mocktails yet. “There you go,” their gregarious bartender Trung smiles, serving us a mocktail with orange, lavender syrup, and elderflower syrup that’s topped with a sprig of mint.
Try: Their custom concoction – Orange with Lavender and Elderflower Syrup.
Location: 1st Floor, 120-122 Le Loi, District 1
Layla – Eatery & Bar
“We do four mocktails,” Layla co-founder Jay Moir says proudly before listing them off, “There’s our Tropicana, Berry Banana, Lemon Lime Bitters….oh, and our oreo biscuit topped Cookie Monster.” Of course, Layla are better known for their fish-bowl Gin and Tonics and their Bellini Popsickles. But their mocktails are a revelation.
“I might join you in a dry October,” Jay Moir, the self-proclaimed alcohol pharmacist, says approvingly as he serves us up a Tropicana. Just then the person next to us sighs deeply with satisfaction and we notice they’re tucking into a fresh cucumber juice. Another non-alcoholic option at this ever-impressive bar.
Try: The punchy Tropicana with fresh mango puree, fresh passion fruit pulp, freshly pressed pineapple and orange juice.
Location: 2nd Floor, 63 Dong Du, District 1
The Racha Room
The Racha Room recently relaunched their already tasty food menu. But we’re not here to eat. And we’re not here to drink this month either. The Thai-inspired bar and restaurant is packed when we arrive. Luckily we land some seats at the L-shaped bar.
“Hand me a drink and watch me get fabulous” the menu suggests. But we’re fabulous anyway, so we scan down to the mocktail menu. There’s three – their Funny Side Up, a Virgin Bellini, and a Concubine’s Secret. We go for the last one. Inside is lemongrass, ginger, and a citrus infusion. And it’s topped with a lychee.
We leave sober. Which makes the steep staircase much easier to navigate on the way down.
Try: The Concubine’s Secret (that’s not a secret any more) with lemongrass, ginger, and a citrus infusion.
Location: 12-14 Mac Thi Buoi, District 1
2 Lam Son
In this fast-changing city, it’s reassuring to know some things don’t change. Like 2 Lam Son, still serving a dizzying range of Vietnam-inspired cocktails – with ingredients like betel leaf and rambutan and tamarind. Then there’s the selection of cocktails based on the recipes of touring mixologists. Some of the best in the world. The Clumsies Nikos Bakoulis from the 7th best bar on the planet left behind his Mon Amour. Simone Caporale, former international bartender of the year and the Willy Wonka of getting wasted, gifted 2 Lam Son his Cognac Blossom. So tempting.
Luckily the Virgin / Alcohol Free section of the menu is inviting too. There’s the sugar-caney Ipanema, a Banana Pina Colada, the fruity Tropical Sensation. And a Mango Mule. Talented bartender Tim Nguyen Thanh Phuc closes the menu. “Go for the Ipanema, you’ll love it,” he promises. He’s right.
Try: The Ipanema is gently sweet and thoroughly refreshing.
Location: 2 Lam Son Square, District 1
“I’m not sure about this,” The D’s co-owner Freek Jansen confesses. “We’re used to welcoming people who prefer an alcoholic beverage!” Despite the confession, The D does welcome everyone to their two-floor venue a stone’s throw from Nhau Nhau. Especially the intrepid. The bar is only a two-minute walk from Nguyen Hue. But it’s also located in the wilds of Saigon’s last wet market. Wisely, however, they kept the top floor open so you can see all the action in the market below.
“Anyway, here you go!” Freek says. “Our Kumquat Summer Cooler.” The mocktail contains cherry syrup, kumquat, grenadine, and it’s topped off with ginger. True to its name, it’s another refreshing concoction.
Try: The Kumquat Summer Cooler with cherry syrup, kumquat, grenadine and ginger.
Location: 113 Ton That Dam, District 1
“Basically, a good mocktail is the same as a cocktail…but with no alcohol,” Nhau Nhau’s proprietor Peter Cuong Franklin says less than proundly. Then he begins to make us a Shirley Temple giving the overworked Nhau Nhau bartender a well-deserved rest.
“There she is!” he announces, sliding the ruby red drink across the busy bar. “Inside is ginger ale, grenadine, and a maraschino cherry,” he elaborates. There’s the spice of the ginger that mixes with the sweet, tart tang of the grenadine. And at 95K it’s much cheaper than its alcoholic equivalents.
“Am I going to join the #SOTOBER campaign?” Peter, who is rarely without a glass of wine, asks. “Let me think about that..”
Try: The refreshing, ruby red Shirley Temple – ask the chef and founder, Peter, to make you one himself.
Location: 2nd Floor, 89 Ton That Dam, District 1
Bibulous checks lots of the requirements for a contemporary Saigon bar – exposed brickwork, Instagrammable neon, bar seating with characterful bartenders who like to entertain. The location is interesting too. Bibulous is right beside Turtle Lake (that never had real turtles). This strange roundabout with its interesting backstory is at the meeting point of Phạm Ngọc Thạch and Võ Văn Tần streets and springs to life every evening as an open-air street food market packed with students from the nearby universities.
But back to the bar. Bibulous focuses more on food than most of our other bars here. However, their cocktails are on point too. “But really, we’re all about creating a chill vibe,” owner, Vicky, says. It’s perfect because we’re feeling chill after all these mocktails too. So we order a Simple Life, one of their four mocktails. Inside is peach tea, fresh rosemary, lime juice, sugar syrup, and homemade espuma.
Try: A simple, homely vibe, and a peachy Simple Life mocktail.
Location: 40A Tran Cao Van, District 1
Like Smog, Apt852 (+852 is the country code for Hong Kong) really nailed their concept. The secret’s in the details. The old-fashioned Hong Kong letter boxes. The vintage neon signs. The old TV sets and Bruce Lee movie posters. Then there’s the drinks of course – like their tom-yum tasting Under The Bridge Spicy Crab cocktail served out of an old Cantonese tea cup. The fact that the owners are truly from Hong Kong explains a lot. And interestingly they’re across the street from another of our favourite Hong Kongers, DoBee Lam and his ComXiu restaurant.
Anyway, we’re focused on their non-alcoholic beverages – and avoiding eye contact with their cheeky Chinoiserie-inspired cocktail menu and drinks like their Me Love You Oolong Time.
Luckily, Apt852 do something truly unique on our mocktail tour – bubble tea cocktails with or without alcohol. Fill out the design-your-own menu. Choose your tapioca, type of tea, flavour, and base. Avoid checking the final alcohol box this once. And there you have it. Vietnam’s favourite drink in one of our favourite bars. No reason at all to envy your friends getting drunk on Under The Bridge Spicy Crabs.
Try: Vietnam’s favourite beverage, bubble tea, but this time it’s served in a bar.
Location: 4th Floor, 31 Le Thi Rieng, District 1
Tipsy Cow is a newcomer. It’s away from the usual District 1 bar strips like Pasteur Street and Dong Du and Dong Khoi. But that only adds to its neighbourhood hangout feel. Besides packed evenings like the ones when it hosts InQ’s Singer-Songwriter nights, Tipsy Cow is a great place to catch up with friends, or have a secluded date. Fun. Informal. Fuss free.
This visit, we refuse co-owner Joseph Le’s kind offer of a free shot and peruse the mocktail menu. He looks disappointed. “Hungry? We will feed you. Thirsty? We will get you drunk. Lonely? We will … get you drunk too,” Joseph says, cheering up again. “But this month we’re not drinking,” we explain. “Then you can watch us get tipsy!” he laughs, “And try this,” he adds, sliding a tall blue drink to us.
Try: The Ocean. It comes with lychee juice, simple syrup, berry flavour-syrup. And usually rum, but it’s great without.
Location: 10B Suong Nguyet Anh, District 1