24 Hours in NYC's Chinatown
Once home to Canal Street designer knock-offs and grimy noodle bars, New York’s Chinatown is offering a new-found sense of cool.
On a pretty average Saturday morning, New York City’s Chinatown is just how you might envision it — the streets loud with activity. Vendors are already busy with customers, diners rush to one of the handful of open eateries to order a bowl of breakfast noodles, and tourist groups are being pulled here and there by flag-carrying guides. These are scenes that might lead you to believe that this Chinatown is just like any other, except that this Lower Manhattan area is changing. And quickly.
If the fact that designer Raf Simons chose a Chinatown courtyard to unveil his spring ’18 menswear collection doesn’t speak of the cool that’s starting to cloak this slice of Manhattan, then take a look at the recently opened Hotel 50 Bowery, a first New York outpost for boutique hospitality brand Joie de Vivre and a property that’s come to represent the district’s transformation.
At 21 storeys tall, with 229 rooms and suites, the glossy, all-glass high-rise is a major architectural departure from the area’s 19th-century houses of worship, brick apartment buildings and colourful storefronts. In fact, you can’t miss the place.
Rooms deliver subtle nods to heritage — often through the work of colourful local Asian artists. Request a room on the ninth floor or above, where unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline come served via floor-to-ceiling windows, with a side dish of natural light. Additional conveniences in the rooms include versatile desks, mini refrigerators and honour bars that offer guests, according to the menu, a selection of “healthy and sinful treats”.
EAT & DRINK
The 50 Bowery site doesn’t just ameliorate the area’s hotel offerings. In-house bar and lounge The Crown is a newly minted number that also proves one of the very few rooftop spots found in Chinatown, while downstairs, the ground-floor restaurant Rice & Gold elevates Asian-American cuisine with a broad and unique menu from well-known chef Dale Talde.
Nearby, on Doyers Street, you’ll discover the moody Chinese Tuxedo — by Australian restaurateur Eddy Buckingham and his business partner, Jeff Lam. Housed in an old opera house, it makes sense that this two-floor restaurant delivers a heightened visual experience, with leather booths paired with mid-century chairs set against bare cement walls and towering plants. The modern menu is overseen by Paul Donnelly, an alum of Sydney’s Ms. G’s — think signature creations such as squid ink noodles tossed with Asian basil garlic and chilli, finished with a bit of soy, butter and steamed mussels. Further, Donnelly’s fried eggplant is a standout, even in Chinatown, where the curious fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) is ubiquitous — Tuxedo’s take is crisp and spiked with chilli bean and peanut caramel.
Along the same block lies Apotheke, a fab cocktail bar that’s staffed by lab coat-wearing mixologists, and Nom Wah Parlor, which is one of Chinatown’s beloved dim sum spots (alongside the likes of neighbourhood stalwarts, Jing Fong and Golden Unicorn).
Further afield, on the edge of SoHo, Nickel & Diner adds more diversity to Chinatown’s culinary landscape. The food here is more Western (chestnut pasta, glazed pork chops and silky seafood bouillabaisse), but at the bar, Marc Soto (ex award-winning BlackTail) flavours libations with ingredients found in nearby shops — such as the licorice-y sweetness of star anise that deepens Old Folks, a take on an Old Fashioned. Or, start with Bloom, an updated French 75 with chrysanthemum-infused syrup and raspberry puree.
On the corner of Bayard and Baxter lies Gerardo Gonzalez’s laidback-cool Mexican restaurant Lalito, which looks like a spruced- up luncheonette with its yellow leather banquette and metal-frame chairs. Chow down on olive oil cakes and roasted yam for brunch, or, for dinner, enjoy perfectly grilled prawns and salad drizzled with a vinaigrette made from mole sauce.
Keen to keep it low-key? Hop Kee on Mott Street is a chef’s favourite, late-night, cash-only basement affair serving up traditional Cantonese (try the pan-fried flounder). Time to wash all the fun and food down with a late, late-night tipple? Mr Fong’s is the current magnet for models, rockers, fashion PRs and men sporting moustaches.
Photo by Sofia Tome
Jewellery stores still dominate down this way. Easily a favourite is New Top on Centre Street, which is a ‘we-make-it-all’ kind of outfit — and has gained cult status among hipsters keen on custom-made name plates in gold, hoop earrings, and other novelty pieces.
Words by Chadner Navarro
Hotel 50 Bowery – www.jdvhotels.com
The Crown – www.thecrownnyc.com
Rice & Gold – www.riceandgoldnyc.com
Chinese Tuxedo – www.chinesetuxedo.com
Apotheke – www.apothekenyc.com
Nom Wah Parlor – www.nomwah.com
Nickel & Diner – www.nickelanddiner.com
Lalito – www.lalitonyc.com
Hop Kee – www.hopkeenyc.com
Mr Fong’s – www.mrfongs.com
Photo by Sofia Tome
Make New York City your next holiday destination and discover the city's Chinatown district. Book holiday packages and flights to New York from any major city through our website or by calling 13 67 89 (in Australia).