Chinatown, covering two square miles in lower Manhattan, has possibly the largest concentration of Chinese residents in the Western hemisphere. There are other, smaller Chinatowns in Brooklyn and Queens, but the one in Manhattan is the first and largest. Despite being a tourist trap, Chinatown still possesses its own vibrant culture, with an estimated 70,000-150,000 people living and working here, largely speaking Chinese.
I briefly visited Chinatown on the first day of the Lunar New Year. This 15-day celebration is the longest and most important festival on the Chinese calendar. Lion dancers performed in front of the businesses to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Several troupes prowled the streets to the sound of drums, gongs, and symbols. Crowds of tourists and locals followed, snapping photos and occasionally setting off firecrackers and sending a rain of rainbow-colored confetti in the air.
The dancers come from martial arts schools who train hard to master their skill.
Unfortunately, some of the lion heads were covered with plastic to protect them from the drizzling rain. I imagine the elaborate costumes are very expensive.
Businesses large and small got the lion-dance treatment.
Happy to see the Chinese New Year photos for New York! I'm trying to remember where else I saw wrapped up costume items because it was out of the question for the costumes to get wet -- I hope it comes back to me. But I also wish that people who are going to celebrate outdoors would always envisage all-weather costumes!
The ground was sprinkled with evidence of the festivities.
I glanced at the very inviting fruit stands, but didn’t linger.
I turned onto Doyers Street, one of the few curved streets in gridded Manhattan. This short, narrow alley was nicknamed “the Bloody Angle” in the early 1900s due to the violence that erupted between the infamous tong gangs.
The street is named for an 18th century Dutchman named Hendrik Doyer, who owned a distillery where the hideous post office on the right now stands.
Continuing around a bend, I ran into a small crowd gathered to watch around another lion dance troupe performing in front of a restaurant.
Here’s a video:
It just so happened that this restaurant with the faded red awning was the one I wanted to stop at. The Nom Wah Tea Parlor, open since 1920, is reputedly the first dim sum place in the city. I stepped in and found it to be predictably pleasant, with red-checked table cloths and signed photos of celebrities on the wall. I sat at the countertop, where I was surprised to see that the tall, young guy behind the counter appeared to be the proprietor. I later learned that he is the nephew of the original owner and he left his banking job to take over for his aged uncle. Despite some slight renovations, he kept the homey place pretty much the way it always had been.
I sat at the countertop and enjoyed a snack, along with a generous pot of tea that only cost $1 with a dim sum purchase.
After my break, I continued down the street. Here is the building that formerly housed the Chinese Opera House.
A 1909 photo of it in its heyday.
Next door, underneath an unassuming restaurant, is an unmarked speakeasy-style bar called Apotheke. Incongruously, it offers upscale ambience and fancy cocktails. Here’s a photo from the net. What do you think: obnoxious hipster encroachment or a place where you’d like to grab a drink?
New bar notwithstanding, Doyers Street still retains the cultural identity of its past, only fortunately without the violence.
Notice the Chinese-style streetlights?
This photo was taken in 1909. Looking at the Mandarin Tea Garden, you can see that the modern-day building is the same, only two floors shorter. Perhaps it was ravaged by a fire.
One more look at the sharply curved street.
That concludes this visit to Chinatown, but I’ll be back again.
Just LOVE this, NYCGirl! It would even be great without reading your excellent text, because of the killer pictures. Your colors really pop despite the gray wet day. So many good photos in this thread -- the line of dancers in their hoodies, the bright banners against the monochromatic backdrop of buildings, the soft colors of the last look at the curved street, the tea & dim sum with the ancient stove in the background perfectly conveying the steamy coziness of the place on a cold wet day -- oh shoot, they're ALL good!
Integrating the old pictures enhanced the interest of an already fascinating thread. You've probably started a trend!
Do you know if people from other Asian cultures around NY come to share in Chinatown's New Year?
Bixa, I really appreciate your comments, especially since the battery of my camera died on me before I got to the alley, so I had to resort to taking photos with my phone. I was so disappointed because I wanted to use the zoom on certain things, like the streetlights. Oh, well.
As for other Asian cultures, other Asian countries like Japan, Vietnam, and Korea, also celebrate the new year using the lunar calendar, but I don't know how different or similar the traditions are.
NYCGirl, thanks for this wonderful photo and descriptive visit to NYC Chinatown. Although we haven't been there in years, we have fond memories.
Nom Wah was/is like a relic of the early 20th Century, stranded in time, dimly lit and somehow dusty looking.
It was far back in the Last Century, when I was a child, that my Aunt Norma took me to the Nom Wah Tea Parlor for my introduction to dim sum. Years later, not too long after we were married, in the '70s, Sra. Cuevas and I went back on our own, a very cold winter day, and tried to figure out the menu/offerings. We chose one dish, among others, that I in my then ignorance thought was stewed black mushrooms. As it turned out, it was Sliced Something Extremely Chewy With Small Whiskers. To this day, we don't know what it was that we tried to eat.
Not entirely sated, we then went to Ping Bakery or something, a much busier restaurant at the hour we arrived, where we feasted on a wider variety of exotica.
I guess it is moving forward into the present, as I just Googled it and found its website:nomwah.com/
Last Edit: Jan 27, 2012 11:01:32 GMT by Don Cuevas
Lola, that sure sounds like a fun area to stay in. It wasn't too crowded for you?
Thanks for sharing the article. That Monday night party sounds like something I'd like, if I could get someone to go with me. It's funny, though, that the NYT writer acts as if he's got the lowdown on a best-kept secret, but anything in the NYT isn't.
I noticed in my photos there's a big, gaping hole in the place where the yellow marque-like sign for the Vietnamese restaurant should be. I wonder what happened.
Don Cuevas, thanks for sharing. You and your wife were really brave to try a mysterious whiskered dish!
I'm sure the place has changed a lot since you've been. The owner is a young Chinese-American who speaks accent-less English and could no doubt explain everything on the menu. And I'd be very surprised if a guy his age wasn't media-savvy.
Post by mickthecactus on Jan 27, 2012 14:18:22 GMT
That's a great report nycgirl and it looks not unlike Chinatown in London with the narrow streets. I guess a curved street in Manhattan must be very unusual.
Reference to Don Cuevas I was taken to London Chinatown some years ago by a client for an authentic New Year meal. It was horrendous, Chicken beaks, deep fried chicken feet, in fact every bit of the bloody chicken! Never again...........
Calvin Trillin wrote that the phrase he wanted to learn in Chinese was: "I'll have some of what the people at the next table are having."
I love downtown Manhattan. Living in an "inner ring" suburb where you can sit on your front porch at midday and wait 15 min before anyone walks by, we enjoyed the crowds. Our hotel room was nice and quiet, even facing Canal.
Yes, funny to think of writing an article that makes podgy old people from the Midwest want to rush over the the happening Artistic Types party. Pretty soon, you do need a doorman to enforce hipness entrance standards.
I know the Nom Wah tea room,the stove in the background of the pic is very similar to mine here at home!!
Pity about the rain and the donning of plastic bags over the brilliant costumes. Here in NOLA during Mardi Gras, the die hard costumers are at the ready and would never dream of putting a plastic bag over their extravagant costumes.
I really enjoyed the tour of NYC's Chinatown and your photos taken during the Chinese New Year festivities. Sorry if someone already asked this question, but where did you find the old photos? Did you find them online or are they photos of photos that you found in a book, etc.? I really liked seeing the comparison between the photo from 1909 and your photo. I recently saw a book about Paris that did exactly the same thing - there were old photographs of famous monuments, streets, etc alongside current day photos.
And as for dim sum - I love it. Rubbery chicken feet and all! It's one of my favorite Sunday meals.
Thanks! I saw the photos on a terrific blog by a NY film scout, and then I did a google search for them. I'm actually a little sheepish about mentioning it because his photo essay is much, much better.
Love dim sum. Can't get enough. Bet you know some good places for it in Paris, huh?
Here a little video of the owner discussing his revamped Nom Wah Tea Parlor.
Thanks for the link for the blog and the YouTube video, although I should have eaten breakfast before watching it. Those sesame seed balls are favorites of mine. I would love to try the ones at Nom Wah.
Unfortunately, I haven't found a good dim sum place in Paris. I'm sure that there are some, but I haven't found one yet.
Never eaten Dim Sum in Paris, but if I were to hunt for a place, or several places, I would start at a moderately expensive restaurant called Dragons Elysees, Rue de Berri (off Champs Elysees). It is a large Chinese place with a wonderful glass floor hovering above a koi pond. I have had two meals there and can't fault the food or service. I am almost sure they have Dim Sum!
Next I would phone a wonderful Chinese restaurant on Ille de la Jatte ( stayed in hotel there 2010) The food was superb and I think the best Chinese ever eaten in Paris. Chez Yau 217 Boulevard Bineau, 92200 Neuilly-sur-Seine, France +33 1 46 24 02 38 () ý
Then there is a couple of possibilities near Kerouac in Rue de Torcy. I'm thinking Tin Tin or La Locomotive. There is a fairly large place near to them but we walked out due to lack of service.
Then I'm sure Belleville has some possibilities also. Thinking maybe Cok Ming or Le Pacific both recommended by Kerouac in 2005 on another board. I realise not every Chinese restaurant serves Dim Sum but found this whilst surfing: tinyurl.com/7lwgtjx
Thanks for posting the clip, that was funny! Yeah, for weeks sports fans were going out of their minds here because Time Warner Cable wasn't playing the NY Knicks games. Just when the Knicks became worth watching, this happens! Of course, as the skit implies, this isn't the worst problem in the world, but still irritating.
I saw on the news that Nom Wah hosted Knicks viewing parties with free dim sum during the Time Warner mess. Very nice thing to do for the Chinatown community.