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It’s the Sunday following Independence Day and the streets are quiet. The cloud cover shifts, slowly illuminating the impressive shop front of Café 81. Its postcard-like appearance draws the first of many amateur photographers. What lies through its doorway is unclear, the dimmed seclusion creating a sense of mystery.

The word “trill” comes from American hip-hop vernacular, a combination of the words “true” and “real”. Trill Cafe, then, might be a bit deceptive. It’s not limited to being a café — there’s a pool, a gym, a dinner menu, an event space — in fact, I’m not sure what it is.

Hidden in an alley off the sleepless backpacker area, Ut Lanh stands out with its peaceful and vintage look. Even the signboard is reminiscent of an old advertisement in Saigon newspapers of the 1970s.

Take one step through the door at Typograf Café and Restaurant and you know you’re in for something different.

Photo by Julie Vola

Tucked away in Ba Dinh, this small, cosy coffee shop is something between a café and a science lab. Above the counter is a sign that lists seven different tools of the barista trade to choose from, and imported coffees from the likes of Burundi, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea — a rarity even in a city as obsessed with coffee as Hanoi.

Photo by Boris Lopatin

On the edge of the Old Quarter lies a small café that has the power the teleport your mind to Hogwarts. The walls are lined with fake Harry Potter newspapers and butter beer signs; flying brooms hang from the ceiling. You don’t have to be a Potterhead (as serious Harry Potter fans call themselves) to enjoy all the quirkiness and photo opportunities scattered throughout the café. If you’ve been searching for your magic wand, medallion or tie affiliating you to a certain Hogwarts School of Wizardly, Always café has several Harry Potter memorabilia up for sale.

Photo by Julie Vola

One step inside the Lissom Parlour, I am transported to a world of tranquillity, leaving behind the non-stop commotion of the coffee street of Nguyen Huu Huan. A closer look reveals not a typical coffee shop, but more like the living room I’d love to own, had I been endowed with such good taste.

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