It’s 2 a.m. on an otherwise deserted stretch of Division Street in Chinatown, but a group of aunties is picking apart a whole lobster on a lazy susan. The bright, 200-seat dining room is about a quarter full some four hours after many of the neighborhood’s businesses have closed, with most customers crowded around larger tables in the back, right by the enormous television screen with an aquatic scene that spans an entire wall of the restaurant. Nearby, actual fish and live king crabs, that weigh as much as ten pounds each, tap at the glass walls of their fish tanks.
In other words, it’s perfect here. And while Chinatown used to have lots of perfect restaurants open at this hour, Dim Sum Palace — at 27 Division Street, between Market and Catherine streets — is now one of the few open well past midnight, until 4 a.m.
“I live in Chinatown, and after 9 p.m. it can be really hard to find food within walking distance,” says Vic Lee of Welcome to Chinatown, a local non-profit that promotes small businesses in the neighborhood. During the pandemic, most of the restaurants in this part of Manhattan scaled back their hours due to a combination of ongoing issues: violence against Asian Americans, lower foot traffic from customers, and staffing shortages across the city.
Pre-pandemic, Wo Hop, a Cantonese restaurant in a basement on Mott Street, was open 24 hours. Great NY Noodletown, recently back open on Bowery, stayed open until at least 4 a.m.; both businesses, and countless others, now close their doors by 10 p.m. most days.
It’s part of what makes Dim Sum Palace, a chain restaurant with seven locations across Manhattan, somewhat extraordinary. The owner, Sam Yan, who also owns Dim Sum Sam in Flatiron, opened the Division Street restaurant after another location of Dim Sum Palace closed due to a fire last spring. He wanted to open a place where late-night workers, Chinatown residents, and even hipsters from nearby Dimes Square could eat hot dim sum like they used to.
It hasn’t been easy. Restaurants across the city are facing an unprecedented labor shortage, and dim sum parlors have been hard hit because it takes years of experience to master the craft and fewer younger chefs are entering the field. Yan employs some 20 workers at the Division Street location of Dim Sum Palace, and to stay open until 4 a.m., he pays his late-night employees twice their normal rate.
The restaurant is still finding its footing at night, Yan says. He seats customers until 3 a.m. each night, serving a full menu of some 50 types of dim sum, plus live seafood, large format dishes, beer, wine, and vibes supplied by four private karaoke rooms downstairs, the largest of which fits 22 people.
At around 2 a.m. on Saturday, around 40 people sat in its dining room. An hour later, only a few smaller tables remained. The fact is, most people don’t know that Dim Sum Palace stays open as late as it does, while others don’t expect to find a full-service restaurant open after midnight in this part of Manhattan.
“This is one of the only things open at this hour,” says Kathy Pei, a friend of Yan who had been camped out at the restaurant since about 7 p.m. to show support. She was working through her fourth plate of snails and hot peppers when I found her at 1 a.m. When I left the restaurant a half-hour before last call at the city’s bars, she was still there, eating.
Dim Sum Palace is open from 10 a.m. until 4 a.m. daily.