The cold, concrete staircase wraps itself around a run-down colonial elevator. It sits unused and dusty; paint peeled by hot Saigon seasons and the passing of time. Blackened mould stains the once cream-white walls. An arrow scratched onto the second floor landing wall reads ‘Tattoo’, pointing towards a hallway strewn with rusty bed frames and construction debris. This space is neglected, a reminder of what Saigon once was, yet now no longer is.
The sounds of televisions and children are heard. This isn’t a derelict building, but a functioning residence in the heart of the city. You could spend a brief morning exploring this construction — photo ops are spilling through every sunlit window and doorway. You’d find it hard to believe that just around the corner are some very different kinds of space.
Past the cool kids buzzing on the 1st floor of the complex, between the 24-hour hipster hangout Banksy Studio and the homier Things Café, up a few more sets of stairs you’ll find Mockingbird Café. From the café’s large picture window the neoclassical pillars of the State Bank of Vietnam advance upon the horizon and consume your entire view, golden-tipped potted palm trees interrupting every other pillar like tapestry hanging on a stone wall. The interior complements the cultivation seen through the glass. Large black-and-white photo prints hang purposefully over distressed wooden tables. Sage and cyan vases act as a backdrop for an industrial metal desk lamp; a small placard in both Vietnamese and English insists you leave these items in their controlled space.
Quiet music inhabits the environment, rendering the space with comfort rather than an emotionless exacting order. A warm cup of their finely-prepared espresso or, for those feeling frisky, a Coca-Cola ice cream float makes this a perfect book nook (leave your shiny mobile device at home.) If you feel more romantic, a sundown mojito on the vine-wrapped balcony with that someone special is a must. At a very reasonable price, this oasis is your ticket to an ideal date or sleepy afternoon read.
Mockingbird Café is a hipster java joint mixed with an art installation. It’s a place to feel centred and inspired or contemplative and content. You enter through a strange setting — run through with disorganisation and neglect — and leave feeling orderly and at peace. If you are looking for your own personal slice of Ho Chi Minh City, you may just have found it. — Seamus Butler
Mockingbird Café is on the 4th Floor of 14 Ton That Dam, Q1. You can also find them on Facebook at facebook.com/mockingbirdcoffee