“Even just five years ago, many cocktail bars were still not listing mocktails or non-alcoholic drinks on their menu,” says Mario la Pietra. At the head of Neon Pigeon’s beverage programme, la Pietra has created a truly unique, fully-inclusive cocktail menu for the modern Japanese izakaya and cocktail bar.
Growing up in Italy, la Pietra decided to go to culinary school after being inspired by his father’s friend, a chef. Over the years, he became fascinated with mixology after learning to make drinks and witnessing bartenders at work in five-star hotels. “They were like artists. The smoothness with which they operated was mesmerising.” La Pietra then earned his stripes at top bars around the world—from the St. Regis Bar in Hong Kong to The Luggage Room in London—before arriving at Neon Pigeon in Singapore.
“Our zero-proof drinks go through the same creative and selective process as the rest of our cocktails”
Helmed by head chef Sean Mell (who has 11 years at Nobu under his belt), Neon Pigeon takes refined Japanese dishes and infuses them with playful twists inspired by Mell’s upbringing. Mell’s childhood proclivity for instant ramen, for example, shows up in the Shime Iwashi with Crispy Ramen and Miso Tofu—a playful and moreish plate that pays tribute to the quick-fix snack he used to tuck into as a child.
On the drinks front, la Pietra splits the list evenly among full proof drinks, half proof drinks and zero proof cocktails that vary only in the amount of alcohol they contain—but not in the amount of effort it takes to craft them. Having realised the value and growing interest in alcohol-free beverages while living in Australia, la Pietra was inspired to incorporate them into the menu at Neon Pigeon to ensure every guest finds something exciting to drink.
“Most of our first-timers are pleasantly surprised to find that we don’t hide our alcohol-free cocktails at the end of the drink menu,” says la Pietra. “Instead, we proudly list and mix them with the rest of our creations. Our zero-proof drinks aren’t an after-thought.” Here, he sheds more light on how Neon Pigeon is leading the way for a better, more inclusive drinking culture in Singapore.
In your view, how does Neon Pigeon stand out in the dining scene in Singapore?
Neon Pigeon is not your typical posh bar, nor is it a neighbourhood joint. We transcend the typical Izakaya experience. Guests can join us for a quiet dinner or a few cocktails, but when the sun goes down, they find themselves immersed in a lively party with loud music and our staff joyfully engaging with them. We want guests to feel a sense of belonging in every possible way, whether that’s through igniting nostalgia or giving them a space to truly be their untamed selves.
Why is it valuable to you to have a cocktail menu that offers not only full-proof but also half- and zero-proof cocktails?
That way, we can provide our guests with a wider range of beverage choices. They can choose not only based on a specific base spirit, flavour profile, or drink category, but also how they are feeling in that particular moment. Whether they prefer to start their night with a non-alcoholic option or jump straight into the party with a full-proof cocktail, we can cater to their preferences.
What separates a zero-proof cocktail from your standard mocktail?
If by “standard mocktail” you mean the fruit punch many places pass off as mocktails, then we’ve deliberately chosen not to feature the most common mix of fruit juices in our menus. Our zero-proof drinks go through the same creative and selective process as the rest of our cocktails. During the tasting sessions with our team and owners, the zero-proof options are the first to be evaluated, and they must truly stand out to earn a spot on our menu.
What does the craftsmanship process behind your zero-proof cocktails look like?
There’s no rocket science behind them; we simply aim to create a tasty beverage that, when possible, replicates the flavour profile of a classic alcoholic cocktail. We also try to incorporate a savoury element or an ingredient from our kitchen to add an extra layer of flavour or mouthfeel to the final drink.
Do you have any favourites?
One of our best-selling zero-proof drinks is No Kaze, which features Lyre’s London dry spirit—think of it as alcohol-free gin—mixed with London Essence Blood Orange and elderflower tonic water. We then add house-made Thai basil cordial and a saline solution based on dashi and seaweed. The drink is served in a large wine glass and garnished with Japanese cucumber, shisho, and a celery stick. Additionally, like all our zero-proof drinks, guests have the option to add a spirit if they’d like—allowing them to create a truly bespoke cocktail experience at Neon Pigeon.
What sort of response have you received from guests to the non-alcoholic offerings on your menu?
So far, all the responses we’ve received have been positive. Most of our first-timers are pleasantly surprised to find that we don’t hide our alcohol-free cocktails at the end of the drink menu; instead, we proudly list and mix them with the rest of our creations. Our zero-proof drinks aren’t an afterthought.
Learn more about Neon Pigeon’s unique cocktail menu at neonpigeon.sg.