Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Doyers Street - Walking Tour Down the Cradle of Chinatown in Manhattan, NYC New York

Doyers Street in New York City's Manhattan Chinatown has a truly fascinating history.

Together with Bowery and Pell Streets at both ends, Doyers is part of the neighbourhood that forms the cradle of Chinese history in New York City.

The first Chinese immigrants arriving in New York City in the mid 1800s, settled on Doyers Street.

The short 60 metre long, bendy backstreet lined with nondescript buildings and a crazy mishmash of restaurants, barber shops, hairdressers, cut price boutiques, foot massage parlours, florists, print shops and even a lawyer's office belie it's amazingly storied past.

Most of the original shops and establishments are no longer on Doyers Street, swept away by the torrent of time, fire and changing fortunes.

Let's take a walk down Doyers Street and through time. This short windy backstreet has a long history with more surprising twists and turns than a Hong Kong TVB drama.

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We start at Chatham Square, entering Doyers Street at the junction with Bowery Street.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

The entrance of Doyers Street in the 1930s, when the Elevated trains ran through Chatham Square along Bowery Street. Elevated railway lines were the precursors of NYC's subways. Elevated trains ran through the City during it's heydays but were demolished in the 1950s. They were too noisy and took up too much space in the congested city.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

A H. Zhang Milk Depot once stood at the entrance of Doyer's Street.

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Today, 1 Doyers Street is occupied by Tasty Hand-pulled Noodles. A small Chinese eatery serving delicious freshly handmade noodles, a dish from China's Lanzhou City brought to the Big Apple by Fuzhou immigrants in the 1990s.

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This is one of the best hand-pulled noodle shops in the City.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

Chinese Tuxedo Restaurant, an opulent fine dining establishment was at 2 Doyers Street.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

Resplendent, ornately decorated Chinese Tuxedo did a roaring business catering to the traffic using the Elevated rail station, a stone's throw away at Chatham Square.

I couldn't find any record of what led to Chinese Tuxedo's disappearance.

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Today, the site of Chinese Tuxedo is taken over by a Chase Bank branch. The simple old pillars are still there.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

Wing Sing Restaurant at 3 Doyers Street served popular Western meals made by Chinese chefs. Further up is Mandarin Tea Garden at 11-13 Doyers Street.

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11-13 Doyers is now First Hair Care Spa on the upper floor and Nom Wah Tea Parlour at the street level.

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Today, 3 Doyers Street is occupied by Taiwan Pork Chop House.

Across the street from Taiwan Pork Chop House is the US Post Office.


Doyers Street is named after Hendrik Doyer, a Dutch immigrant who ran a distillery here in the late 1700s.

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The site of Hendrik Doyer's distillery is now the Chinatown station of US Post Office.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

5 to 7 Doyers was the home of The Chinese Opera House where traditional Chinese opera performances were held.

The real drama inside the theatre was the deadly triad or "tong" 黨 battles that took place off stage. In 1905, Hip Sing Tong gangsters shot dead three On Leong Tong rivals while they enjoyed an opera. In 1909, two other On Leong Tong gangsters were shot here by See Sing Tong members.

The Chinese Opera House closed in 1910 and the original building was destroyed by fire that year.

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Today, 5 to 7 Doyers is occupied by a liquor shop, budget boutique, lawyer's office and a Chinese physician's office.

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Next door, is Apotheke Academy at 9 Doyers.

Don't be deceived by the nondescript, inconspicuous front door. It is supposed to be this way.

Apotheke Academy is a "speakeasy". A speakeasy is an unique American institution that grew out of the American Prohibition era of 1919 to 1933 when the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages were outlawed. A speakeasy was an illegal, often swanky drinking joint which was kept hidden from the authorities by using innocuous businesses such as Chinese hand laundries as camouflage and by using secret passwords. With the end of the Prohibition, most speakeasy joints folded. However, exclusive, luxurious watering holes like Apotheke still use the speakeasy theme for it's charm, mystic and curious history.

Stepping into the glitz and polish of Apotheke Academy from the dingy Doyers Street is like landing on another planet. That sharp contrast is part of the charm of the experience.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

In it's past life, 9 Doyers was a Chinese and Japanese silk shop.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

There was a Chinese convenience store called Wing Kee at 16A Doyers.

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Today, Yi Fa Hair Salon occupies 16A Doyers.

The triads or "tongs" 黨 also battled in the streets, often ambushing each other at the sharp bend on Doyers Street making it a killing field.

During it's dark days, Doyers Street held the dubious record of having the most number of murders of all streets in the whole of USA. An unenvied record it held to this day.

Underneath the streets, the basements were connected by a maze of tunnels. Triad gangsters used the tunnels as escape routes.

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Today, the once notorious "Bloody Angle" is reincarnated innocuously as "Barber Alley".

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The tunnels under Doyers Street where "hatchet boys" (fu tao doy 斧頭子 in Toishanese dialect) once made their dash for life after their bloody assignments are today occupied by barber and hair dressing shops, florists and restaurants. The hatchet was the murder weapon of choice of the Chinese triads in old Chinatown.

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In these onetime burrows where hatchet men once disappeared like ninja assassins, there is even a restaurant serving Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia food known as Sanur.

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One of the many tunnels exit along Bowery Street in today's Wing Fat Mansion.



Follow me, let's see what's inside the tunnel today ;-D

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

Nom Wah Tea Parlour founded in 1920 is the only establishment that witnessed Doyers Street's bloody past that is still around and thriving today. 

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13-15 Doyers Street today.

Nom Wah Tea Parlour is New York City's first dim sum joint and is a tourist destination. The grand old lady charges a premium but Nom Wah's dim sum is among the better quality ones in New York City.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

At the other end of Doyers Street is the junction with Pell Street. This is how the junction looked in the early 1900s.

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From the Collections of the Museum of the City of New York

The Pell and Doyers junction in 1936. At that time, there was a Ming Toy Company at 18 Doyers.

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The Pell and Doyers Street junction today.

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Ting's Gift Shop, 18 Doyers had been here since 1957. In it's past lives, 18 Doyers was Ming Toy Company and before that it was a gambling den operated by the On Leong Tong.

Doyers Street's past is romanticised and still lives on in the memories of NYC's oldest residents as well as in many movies and TV shows.



Take a walk with me down Doyers Street.

For me, it's good bye to Doyers Street for now. I shall be back.

To read about the history of Manhattan's Chinatown, you can refer to books such as Manhattan's Chinatown by Daniel Ostrow and Mary Sham.


Map: http://bit.ly/Doyers

Vintage photos credit: With thanks to Museum of the City of New York.

Date visited: Nov 2014 to Jan 2015

Return to Johor Kaki homepage.

3 comments:

  1. I loved taking this virtual tour down Doyers Street! You may be interested to read my story about Morgan Phillips, an old circus man who lived at 11 Doyers Street in the 1880s. Then it housed the Mandarin Garden on the ground floor; today it is the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. The two top floors of the original building were destroyed in a fire that killed 7 people at 11-17 Doyers Street in 1939. http://hatchingcatnyc.com/2015/12/21/hobo-horse-nyc-cherry-street/

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've searched for years for information about a restaurant I remember being taken to by my father back in the mid-late 1950's. It was, I think, called Wah Kee. I've found online references to it and also under the spelling Wo Kee. Here's a link to a business listing for it.http://www.nycompaniesindex.com/wah-kee-restaurant-inc-21f7/

    It had an upstairs and downstairs set-up. Today the address (16 Doyers) seems to be a hair salon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I too am curious about Wah Kee, where some of my earliest dining experiences took place @1970. Looking on google maps, 16 Doyers doesn't match at all with what I remember the downward steps of Wah Kee having looked like...but I was 5 years old then. My dad is in his 80s and had been to Wah Kee often over the course of 25 years; he says that Wo Kee was a different restaurant altogether.

    ReplyDelete

I firmly believe that taste is subjective and so, warmly welcome differing viewpoints :-D But, I disapprove negative comments that are anonymous or hide behind fake identities. I feel that that is the same as speaking ill of others behind their backs. I look forward to all your comments :-D Thank you. (Date: 18 Dec 2015)

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