Thursday, August 28, 2008

Doyers Street

"The end of Chinatown is at hand."

Those words could be said today, but they were written in a 1907 New York Times story. The movement to erase Chinatown goes back at least to the late 1800s, when a supporter of its eradication proclaimed, "In all New York City, there is not a more disreputable street than Pell Street nor a more forbidding cow-path than Doyers Street." Together, these lanes were "cesspools of immorality vile enough to bring a curse upon the entire community."



Despite the city's best efforts, Chinatown did not die and Doyers has since stayed in Chinese hands. Of course, with Chinatown unprotected from developers, this will likely change.

I recently stumbled upon the wonders of Doyers and wrote about them briefly here. But like Oscar the Cat, I sometimes have an unsettling knack for curling up next to the dying in their final hours. Of course, it's not hard to spot the dying in this city--just look for what's old, beloved, and surrounded by encroaching glass.


Gold Flower hides Apotheke

Whipping up buzz for its opium and absinthe cocktails, the arrival of trendy, upscale Apotheke signals the death of Doyers. One of these places always begets another, then a boutique, a demolition, a condo, a crowd of scenesters--and in no time we'll see Doyers as we know it vanish. New York Magazine agrees when they say that Doyers "will soon become the Freemans Alley of Chinatown."

Before that happens, I made this photographic slide show of a walk down Doyers.

The street was named for Hendrick Doyer, a Dutchman who ran a distillery in the early 1800s where the post office is today. Doyer's became Doyers, thanks to "a careless painter of street signs" who "omitted the apostrophe," according to Herbert Asbury in an excellent 1926 essay about Doyers' distant history.


chinese opera house: library of congress

Known as the Bloody Angle, Doyers was the site of many battles between the Chinese tong gangs in the late 1800s and early 20th century. They killed each other with hatchets while "Disciples of the Pear Garden" sang onstage at the Chinese opera house. Doyers was also a good place to be shanghaied by a crimp or kidnapped into sexual slavery. There were opium dens and fan tan parlors. There were trapdoors, secrets openings, underground tunnels, and the infamous Arcade, a passageway that ran in an L-shape from Doyers to Mott.

Today Doyers is peaceful, but it's no empty alley like Freeman's was. A steady flow of Chinese pedestrians move through it, going to the barber shop, the post office, or just taking a shortcut. There's a sense of comfort and familiarity here. It is a vibrant community. In another great essay worth reading, Bruce Edward Hall calls Doyers "the nerve center through which throbs all the essential life of New York City’s Chinatown."


Click here for more photos of Ting's

Aside from the many bustling barber shops and hair salons, this nerve center contains Ting's Gift Shop, here since 1957, the year New York's last opium den was shut down. Opium still survived in private parlors and Ting's was raided in 1958, yielding 10 pounds of heroin. Today, Ting's offers a milder fare of paper dragons, finger cuffs, wooden snakes, and bamboo cricket cages.


Click here for more photos of Nom Wah

I sat down for oolong tea and almond cookies at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Here since 1920, it's run by Wally Tang, who just missed his chance to appear in a Richard Gere movie.

The parlor has an otherwordly feeling about it, filled with haphazard red vinyl booths and tables, the tile floor littered with Chinese newspapers. A mouse skitters by. Chinese music plays from a radio. Flies lazily buzz in from the open doorway. Through the dusty, sun-drenched window, from the Hip Kee salon across Doyers, a lady barber steps out for a cigarette with her black hair rolled in blue foam curlers.

A young white man walks in to the tea parlor, bearded and headphoned, and asks, "What kind of coffee do you have here?" The proprietor explains they have only tea, and the young man walks away, perhaps wishing for a Starbucks. How long will he have to wish?


Apotheke's door

A few doors down, a pair of Chinese men sit outside the Gold Flower restaurant that has become Apotheke. They smoke cigarettes and watch the street. Do they know what lies in waiting behind that half-risen metal door? Do they know that it is a magnet attracting the gweilo--the ghost men, the foreign devils, the walking dead--to come stake a claim in their peaceful hideaway?

37 comments:

Alex in NYC said...

Another great post, JM

Anonymous said...

i live here and, until recently, passed the place frequently. i've already seen a guy standing in his doorway, watching people loudly hang out outside late (after a private party, i presume), complaining about the noise on his phone. to put a place of such over the top gaucheness in the middle of one of the poorest areas of the city, so that people from murray hill (and believe me, they'll be there since urbandaddy and thrillist have already given it nicknames) can slum it, dude, is exactly that, gauche.

although i do think chinatown can stave off places like this for a bit longer than others, the change is probably and sadly inevitable, whether this place ever came into existence or not. such is life, and though places like this piss a lot of people off, including me, somehow i think we'll all live.

for now, though, at least doyers is a really easy street to avoid, even if you live a block away.

Anonymous said...

Yay -- about time. "so that people from murray hill can slum it". Chinatown is already a slum. It's dirty, smelly, and whose inhabitants are rude and couldn't even speak proper English even when they've been here for a long time. Chinatown, me no longer love you long time.

Anonymous said...

9:08, you're so ignorant, it's not even funny. The previous poster did not say "so Chinatown can slum it", he said others would go there to slum - befcause, duh, it's a slum. Opening fancy bars in down-and-out neighborhoods does nothing for the population at large (including those residents who live there now, who by the way can speak any language they want since this is America); it just helps developers and trendoids milk every last dollar from this city, leaving it more culturally barren by the day.

Carol Gardens said...

I can't beliebe Ting's is still around. I recall going there in the early 80s to buy those finger cuffs. I needed them as props for a show, and all the other souvenir shops in Chinatown looked at me like I was insane because no one sold them anymore. But Ting's came through. They still sell all the cheap souvenirs from my childhood including the shells that you drop in water and paper flowers come out, back scratchers, etc. Definitely a time warp place.

Nick said...

What the hell is wrong with you yunnies? Why is it that anything that's different must be eradicated? It's as if they're the Daleks or the Borg of the city (a sci-fi analogy may be silly, but it seems the only appropriate thing now) and all the rest of us have to be either assimilated or exterminated.

The greed and gluttony of these people, from the developers to the people who patronize them, is just appalling.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the posters. Chinatown is filthy and the Chine can oftentimes be very rude. But you know what, fuck all the rich whities that wanna go party there. You will do what you do everywhere else in the city, make the locals uncomfortable while you wine, dine and vomit on the streets at 2AM. Go fuck yourself and leave the poor working-class people alone. Go party somewhere rich like on Ave D.
Remember to
ENJOY THE MOUSDROPPINGS!!!

Ty said...

I live in this area, and I'm happy that it doesn't look like the boring, generic suburb that the rest of manhattan has become in order to please and make comfortable for all the boring, copy paste, suburban douche bags that move here.

R. G. Sand said...

My heart is breaking. Shteeble Row and Doyers Street soon gone. I lived on East Broadway for three years and I used to shop in Chinatown all the time from the fifty-cent bars of soap wrapped in pretty paper to orchids at the florist shops. How many times did I frequent the restaurants on Doyers Street? Too many times to count. How many times did I walk by Shteeble Row to take the F train. Also too many times.

I moved out of Manhattan because of the expense and moved to Park Slope--another area full of yunnies and their spoiled off-spring. I finally moved out of the city for the peace and quiet of the seaside, but I still haven't escaped the yunnies, their children or the real estate developers.

Will the madness and greed stop? Will the yunnies, the profiteers, and the real estate developers go away and just leave our city alone?

ken mac said...

another wonderful and worrisome post from Jeremiah. And the comments say it all, the good, the bad, and the ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Cry and whine all you want -- it won't stop Chinatown form disappearing. You people are the ignorant ones. Sure, blame it on the yunnies, developers, whatever. The fact is, Chinatown is insular to the Asians. Most are illegal immigrants; they sell counterfeit items, work as waiters getting paid tons amounts of cash, and they don't even pay taxes. And those that are not illegal immigrants, they only horde their money so that they can send their kids to prestigious schools. The have not contributed anything to the economy nor they have contributed anything to NYC, but only to themselves. So please, cry, and cry again. The yunnies and the developers will be the one laughing in the end.

lvv said...

9:08 "Chinatown, me no longer love you long time."

Wow, that's really f*cking ignorant. What is wrong with you?

Potosi said...

Ah, Chinatown. One of remaining, great and gritty ethnic neighborhoods in Manhattan.

It was a great reading what you wrote about Doyers st today. Do you remember a street in Chinatown called "Happy Corner?" My mom used to bring me into the city when I was a kid to buy fireworks, and we went around Chinatown asking old-ladies sitting in folding chairs "Do you know where we can buy fireworks?" And they said go to the store, "Happy Corner." The store was indeed named that, but the street sign also said, "Happy Corner." The operation was great. It was a store that sold baseball caps and other tchotchkes, but if you went to the counter and asked for fireworks they, would refuse you, then you asked again and they looked around suspiciously and finally pulled out a huge magazine catalogue of fireworks. You picked out what you wanted and then they got on a walkie-talkie and a few minutes later someone came up from under the floor with fireworks wrapped up in brown paper. I've been living in the city since 2002 now and I usuallly end up wandering around Chinatown once a year trying to find it, but with no luck. Do you have any clue where it is/was? Anybody?

david said...

The 2 anonymous anti-chinatown posters have to be fake. If not, where the fuck do you people come from? It's bizarre to me that people like you would live in a major city to begin with. I have never met anyone in my life who would take such ridiculous,classist, ignorant stances. That anyone would actually even imply that it would be in anyone's interest to see an ethnic enclave eradicated is at worst bigoted and probably totally uncultured and at the very least a complete piece of garbage as a human being. Honestly I almost feel like blogs like this one,Curbed, Brownstoner,etc in a way are more part of the problem than part of the solution because it gives a voice to poisonous rhetoric like this.

Eve On Doyers Street said...

If this is an example of a yunnie gentrifying Chinatown, please, let 'em. I'd rather have this hottie than a smelly rude chinese nottie.

Anonymous said...

David, I guess you're just gonna have to go to Flushing for your "oriental" massage. Boo-hoo.

Anonymous said...

Chinese only like white people. they treat latinos and blacks (unless they are with a white person, especially a white blonde female person) criminals. so what goes around comes around, thank you buddha. yes, we can change.

Anonymous said...

yeah, it's a slum alright, but how are you rich a-holes gonna stay rich if you didn't come here for great food at cheap prices.
yeah, it's filthy alright, it all the rich a-holes who can't handle their liquor and vomit in the streets and pissing on the buildings late at night like don't know what a toilet is for.
if you don't like Chinatown....then stay away. life is too short, we don't need people to talk down to us, you are where you are because of your ancestors or because of your backstabbing ways......you just have to remember that as long as you are in the front, there are others behind you...what goes around comes around.

born and raised in Chinatown and F**king proud of it.

yunnie doodle dandy said...

Mwah hah hah hah hah. Can't wait for Chinatown to be re-zoned and gentrified. Your blog is like communist China: censoring the internet. And to the last Anonymous comment, of course you're proud to be born and raised in Chinatown, why wouldn't you be? You just hide behind your race and lick white people's asses. Hey, there's always Flushing. Then again you won't be able to read this, since Mr. Jeremiah Mao Tse Tong will not post this comment.

Anonymous said...

who is this yunnie doodle moron??

Anonymous said...

where's the Flying Dragons when we need them?
I'm surprised it's Doyers street.
I don't think the crowd will mix well with the club next to it.
thanks for this heads up JM. I'm going to ask some locals about this place.

Anonymous said...

I looked up 9 Doyers on the Dept of buildings site.
I don't see any work permits given for ANY work done. did they do all this work without a permit? you need a building permit to do most renovations.

Ty said...

Why would someone so racist and in need of gentrification be even reading this Web site? Why would he/she even live in New York City when they can have everything they need in Akron, OH? I wish cancer upon you.

Ty said...

Another thing - the counterfeit goods, the immigrants, and the many sub-culture worlds of New York City is what makes..well, MADE..it unique for so long. I will assume this poster is from New Jersey or Long Island, and thinks he is such a "city guy" by going to douchey clubs in the meatpacking with his popped collar.

unfun said...

Yunnie dandy and anon. August 29, 2008 4:40 PM are the same person. He or she (depends on the personality) is a paranoid schizophrenic chinese white wannabe.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not there's been white people living on Doyers street. I remember when the Post office was a parking lot and can see white people living in the green loft building.
I don't know if they're still there now, maybe it's eve on doyers street.
I heard lenoard lopate sp? lived in chinatown and sort of talks bad about it.

Wilfrid said...

People have been slumming in Chinatown since Chuck Connors led tours through opium dens one hundred years ago. When has an established Chinatown in a major city ever been wipred out instantly by a cocktail bar or two?

It will see us out; relax.

Kitty C said...

I've been going to Ting's since I was little. Every Sunday we'd go to church and then go for dim sum, with a stop at Ting's to get a little treat. My Dad had the same exact routine with his parents in the 1950s (I'm guessing that my straight-laced Italian grandpa didn't know about the opium in the back). I don't mind that the owners of Apotheke appreciate the coolness of Doyers enough to open a bar there, but I hope that they appreciate it enough to want to become part of the neighborhood instead of the harbinger of boutiques and condos. I will be heartbroken if I can't continue my family's Sunday tradition with my future kids.

Joergen Geerds said...

I updated my blogpost about Doyers Street:
newyorkpanorama.com/2008/01/28/chinatown-doyers-street/

SoHo Native said...

Sorry to say, but the gentrification of Doyers to a hip hang out for non-Chinese "hip" party-goers seems to have began before the opening of Apotheke. I got a text last summer telling me to come to 11 Doyers St for a party (bldg next to Apotheke). First, I had to Google map Doyers St. I knew it sounded familiar (I went to elementary school down the street at PS 124 on Division) but I had no recollection as to the location at the time. When the map on my phone showed me that this short S-shaped street in Chinatown, which I had walked down countless times in my youth, was in fact Doyers, I HAD to check it out! On the approach to 11 Doyers around 1am, it was as I expected...deserted, aside from the familiar site of a few stray downtown hipsters that my NYer friends run with, who were exiting Doyers onto Bowery. I had no idea what to expect in this non-descript 2-story building, and if there weren't a couple people exiting as I arrived, I probably would've been a bit nervous entering it but my curiosity was too strong on a night like this. I went up the filthy narrow staircase to the second floor which opened up into a huge dark room with thumping and disco lights flashing. Looking around, it was usual suspects of downtownites my age and younger, and their hipster friends from God knows where (and why). This place wasnt a bar or a residence as I expected it may be, but what looked like an ageing restaurant with tables running around a center dancefloor. There was no official bar, just a makeshift one in the back serving some kind of spiked juice scooped out of a huge plastic bin and beer from a keg. It was like a mix of a college style party and a 90s rave. There were no red plastic cups left when I arrived, so I grabbed what looked like the cleanest one I could find sitting on a table and got the last of the keg beer. As I drank it, I just stood in awe, wonder and shock that this place even existed. I felt almost special to be at a party on the most unusual street in Manhattan. It was a story to tell. There were no windows to look out to the outside world, the place reeked of cigarettes and weed, there were used cups everywhere, the floor was sticky from booze and everyone was just partying like it was any other place. my further research into the bldg shows that this space is, or was, used for some kind of private dance venue, but it looked as if the owners didnt care about the conditions in this party on this night, as if they were going to tear it down and recreate the space the next day. It was a filthy scene there, like a frat house party.

All these hipsters dancing around carefree didnt seem to grasp the unusualness of this kind of party on this kind of street in this kind of neighborhood. It was definitely something unreal to me. Sublime almost. Definitely a unique NYC experience that I will always remember. A party on Doyers Street, who wouldve thought?!

Anonymous said...

Kung Fu video shoot on Doyers St:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evnkWfiHNqY

The Onion Chopper said...

It's so sad to hear about Doyer's Vietnamese Restaurant closing, my best friend and I started eating there four years ago, and it became our secret go to, that no one knew about. The food was fast, and it was good. And as college students, the final bill made us happier. I also used to come get my haircuts all the way from New Jersey to Pell Street Salon, and it was always a welcome respite. Sad sad =( But thank you for sharing, great pictures and a wonderful article

laura said...

to anon: (aug.8 '08, 2:01pm). the waiters in chinatown are very poor. many of them live in dorms in queens, work 6 days a week, dont speak english, or even a mainstream chinese dialect. they are usually tricked into coming to new york & are literally in captivity once they arrive. the chinese businessmen who bring them over tell them they need to pay pack the $30,000 fee that it costs to relocate. ofcause that cant be paid back. their salaries are taken away & they have noting but the dorm & the food in the resturant. they are stuck. the other waiters live like 6 people in 2 rooms & work like hell untill they can move on to something better. like driving a cab, or opening a resturant w/partners. yes many chinese do sell the counterfeit goods, only the ones on top make the $. yes they also have gold businesses, some on the books, some under the table. & of cause there are the middle class working people & professionals. i know that culture very well, as ive done business w/them. as well as have many chinese friends. do not conclude or judge w/out the knowlege. these people are not trying to over throw the govt, they do not engage in violent crimes, (except rival gangs who fight each other), & most do assimilate later on. they are not trying to take over the american culture. they are not in your face like other "visitors"- & they dont have a huge population on welfare. lower manhattan was where america started. jewish italian irish black polish. oh yes how many hedge fund managers "pay taxes"?? give me a break.

esquared said...

just to piggyback on laura's comment,

see this documentary about the chinese slave labor in the u.s., specifically chinatown in nyc

http://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/snakeheads#description

Anonymous said...

before chinatown was chinatown it was something else

Anonymous said...

I remember walking down the steps in what is now and was Doyer Vietnamese Restaruant. I believe it was then known as Wo Hop. Can someone confirm this? Seems like everyone knows it was always on Mott Street. I knew Wo Hop was on Doyers while Wo Kee on Mott.

laura r. said...

chinatown is my favorite place in NY. please keep reporting. if manhattan chinatown is demolished, we will have to go to brooklyn. as of several yrs ago there were 200,000 illegals living in manhattans chinatown. include the legals, & thats many people in a small space. there are also 2 or 3 other boros w/asians. i dont think the developers can take over that soon. the culture is here to stay.