China Chalet, the FiDi Chinese restaurant on Broadway, near Exchange Place, that was once a go-to spot for office workers, and in recent years became a hangout destination for New York University students, appears to have permanently closed.
Fifty years ago, commercial parts of Manhattan were paved with such ambitious Chinese restaurants that served as centers for business meetings and banquets. Usually tucked away on the second floor, many of these were often sumptuously carpeted, with swagged curtains at the windows, and waiters formally clad in vests and ties. These places offered a luxurious feel and a full bar, which increased their attractiveness for businesspeople who frequented the darkened premises in the waning era of the three-martini lunch. In modern times, the venues that remain had often become timeworn and ragged.
Located way downtown at 47 Broadway since 1975, China Chalet was one of those places, and probably the only one of its sort still fully functioning in the Wall Street neighborhood. Now it too will become a memory.
The restaurant did not return calls or a request for comment, but there are dozens of tweets and Instagram posts lamenting its passing. Some tweets note that it had become something of an underground NYU party spot in the last decade; Thrillist reported it had attracted an artsy crowd as recently as 2017; while others noted it was LGBTQ friendly. Celebrities who reportedly attended parties there included Kanye West, Justin Bieber, the Olsen twins, and Jay-Z.
Indeed, the full liquor license, rentable banquet room at reasonable rates, and familiar Cantonese menu made it a great place for a date or to meet friends, lots of friends, even as it became less attractive to those who might have wanted a touch more modernity in their luncheon venue. It’s not yet clear if the restaurant shuttered as a result of the financial downturn caused by COVID-19.
My last visit was in late October, 2019. I was delighted to have stumbled upon such a place on Lower Broadway south of Wall Street, where franchise fast casual restaurants are rapidly becoming the rule. I trudged up the stairway under a red neon sign that promised Dim Sum and Authentic Banquet, as the smell of garlic and ginger invaded my nostrils. The room was half-filled with a crowd I judged mainly to be office workers, who were enjoying the classic Chinese-American lunch special of a main dish with pork fried rice and egg roll, served with packets of soy and duck sauces, and a fortune cookie for dessert.
There was no hint that China Chalet had not long ago been a venue for glamorous parties. Still, I enjoyed my General Tso’s Chicken immensely. It too was a vestige of a bygone era.