One-week-old Chinatown hotel 50 Bowery is in damage-control mode after a Chinatown activist wrote an op-ed for Bowery Boogie, calling one its bars — marketed as opium den-themed — an “insult to Chinatown.”
The bar in question, Green Lady, will open this summer as a speakeasy-style live music lounge underneath restaurant Rice & Gold. In recent press releases surrounding the opening, the bar was described as an “opium den-themed parlor lounge.”
In response, Chinatown activist Karlin Chan called the characterization insensitive and inappropriate, writing in part:
When it comes to Joie De Vivre’s intent to highlight Chinatown’s past and culture, is the fabled “Opium Den” really an appropriate theme for a lounge in their hotel? I say HELL NO. It’s ironic that a hotel honoring the neighborhood would allow a business to highlight a negative stereotype within. In the end, is this insensitivity or racism? Is this another nail in the coffin for our hometown Chinatown?
Don’t get me wrong; I recognize the need to upgrade and modernize the Chinatown dining scene to draw new customers and win back the old to keep this a functioning Chinatown for the future. That makes sense. However, evoking stereotypes like this for the bottom line is BULLSHIT.
In response to the story, which was picked up by the New York Post, the Joie de Vivre hotel’s public relations company Wagstaff Worldwide issued a statement taking the blame for the wording:
The use of the phrase was originally used to describe the portions of décor found at The Green Lady, the hotel’s cellar-level lounge. We’ve since moved away from that language, and communications should have been updated sooner to reflect the 30s era Shanghai China theme that has been decided on for the space. The Green Lady represents contrast – soft bold fabrics meet gritty, distressed existing finishes. This is symbolic of the evolution of the neighborhood, paying homage to both the nostalgia of the past as well as the electric energy of the future. Upon opening, The Green Lady will welcome patrons with expertly-crafted cocktails, live entertainment and music. The hotel recognizes the sensitivity around the phrase, has removed the descriptor from all communications, and apologizes for using it.
Chef Dale Talde (Talde, Atlantic Social) is behind all of the hotel’s food and beverage, and he calls the use of the phrase “opium den” as a “real fuck up” on the part of Wagstaff. “That never was the intent. The PR team for the hotel and the design team for the hotel are the ones who did this. They’re the ones who fucked up,” Talde tells Eater. “We never even mentioned opium den once in design meetings.”
Talde says there will be some dim sum-style food, but that the main focus will be on drinking and music, akin to his speakeasy Miss Wong’s in Jersey City (underneath Talde).
The hotel was a sensitive debut for the neighborhood to begin with, with immediate criticism — again, from Bowery Boogie and the Post— surrounding the sleek glass design of the 22-floor building. The land, owned by a Chinese family, has a very rich history, which the hotel has seemingly otherwise tried to honor with Chinese design elements, hiring neighborhood residents, and a Museum of Chinese in America exhibition on the second floor.
- Hotel 50 Bowery is an Insult to Chinatown with its Insensitive ‘Opium Den’ Themed Club [OP-ED] [Bowery Boogie]
- Chinatown-Themed Boutique Hotel Includes 'Opium Den' Lounge [DNAInfo]
- Dale Talde and Co. Are Planning a New Restaurant Empire in a Chinatown Hotel [ENY]
- New York City History, as Told by 50 Bowery [NYT]