As the city does it best to eradicate Chinatown and hand the property over to the luxury developers, much of it yet remains. Paying close attention on a slow walk through the neighborhood's sidestreets reveals an older, not-yet-vanished part of the city, a New York that still feels a lot like New York.
At the edge of the park, a man fixes wristwatches. Another mends shoes. It might be Mr. Zhong, who patches up to 50 pairs a day. From the shadows of a subterranean club comes the clicking cacophony of mah-jongg tiles. From a flower-heavy funeral car, the bereaved toss handfuls of Hell money to the street. A man walks by holding a pair of draped and twittering bird cages. Basement barber shops show off their poles.
Tiny, crooked Doyers Street is empty and otherworldly. It feels so real that it feels unreal, like a movie set. Known as the Bloody Angle for its violent history of gang warfare between 1870 and 1930, Doyers still has an entrance to a secret network of tunnels connecting it to Bowery. Tong soldiers used to attack in the dark then flee through the tunnels to safety.
In The Believer, Alec Wilkinson writes, "Near the Bloody Angle were gangster hangouts called the Doctor’s, the Plague, the Hell Hole, the Cripples’ Home, the Dump, the Inferno, the Cob Dock, the Workingman’s Friend, Mother Woods’, Chick Tricker’s Fleabag, and McGuirck’s Suicide Hall."
doyers street in 1909
The Nom Wah Tea Parlor, established in 1920, still stands on Doyers, displaying outside a table of zongzi, rice and meat wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with string. On the step, men sit and smoke, enjoying the peace.