Behind the Scenes With Chinatown's Long-Anticipated Hop Sing Laundromat

The new craft cocktail finally opens after months of teasing the press with tantalizing hints.

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Jun. 20, 2012

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Then there is Lêe’s most personal cocktail, “Le Vent Nous Portera,” which translates from the French as “The wind will take us.” It’s an homage to his father, who, during their final attempt at escaping from Vietnam, told a frightened 13-year-old Lêe, fearful that the modest engine would give out and that they’d drift aimlessly on the water, “Le vent nous portera.” Even at that young age, Lêe knew that, with no sail, his father couldn’t have been correct—he was just trying to soothe and protect his son. They would be at the mercy of the tides and of fate.

Eventually, they made it off the boat and into the relative safety of Indonesia. The wind, the universe, whatever you call it, had rescued the family.

Lêe hopes to bring his parents to the United States this coming autumn. They know nothing about Hop Sing Laundromat, and they won’t until they walk through the gate on Race Street.

“All my whole entire life, I’ve never lived up to [my parents’] expectations,” he says. “I never did. And the last time I worked in New York in this business, I almost killed myself. I got burned out ... So I quit. I said I can’t do this anymore. And I think my family were happy when they heard that. So that’s the reason why I’m hiding it from them, because I think they’re going to be fucking nervous about it. And rightly so—for any parent, you see your child get hurt once, and you say, ‘Why would you do that again?’

“I am a miserable son of a bitch,” he confesses. “I never am happy with what I do, because I don’t believe that what I do is all that fucking great. So I’m continually trying to find something wrong with it.”

I look around the room, at the beautifully curated books and signs and mirrors, the assortment of Americana and other memorabilia of this country’s past, the tables in their white tablecloths, the finely carved chairs, the custom ironwork, and ask Lêe if there was any aspect of the bar that he was pleased with. It looks, to me, like the embodiment of the American dream. He pauses, and finally says, “Nope. Not until my old man and my old lady get here. I think they get the final say of how this turned out.”

1029 Race St. hopsinglaundromat.com

Drinks: The classics done right–plus exciting, delicious signature cocktails.
Hours: Thurs.-Sat. 5pm-2am.
Price range: $10 (tax incl.) Cash only.
Atmosphere: An intimate beautifully curated space with privacy and sophistication.
Service: Professional, friendly and very well-accomplished.

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1. Anonymous said... on Jun 21, 2012 at 12:45PM

“Two questions:
If bitters are banded, why does the Manhattan have bitters?
If one of the worse things found by Lee about cocktail bars is the time to make a drink, how can you make a screwdriver with orange juice squeezed to order in any time considered quick?”

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2. David G said... on Jun 21, 2012 at 01:06PM

“Here's how you know you're doing it wrong: "As a rule, a cocktail will not make Lêe’s signature list if it’s not balanced enough to succeed with every major category of spirit."”

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3. Nina Hoffmann said... on Jun 21, 2012 at 02:58PM

“Hi Anon: Thanks for the question. This should be clarified. None of the drinks on the signature list has bitters. The classics, like the Manhattan, do.

Nina Hoffmann
Senior Editor
Philadelphia Weekly”

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4. Dean said... on Jun 25, 2012 at 02:59PM

“Foodie bloggers hate him? Sounds like the place for me!”

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5. Dr. Allan Branson said... on Nov 25, 2012 at 10:05AM

“Sounds great! God bless him for embracing this city, eschewing xenophobia as we attemp to move towards a post racial America...the Cartwrights would be proud. Let the drinks flow merrily! By the way I'm opening Buckwheat's Shoe Shine Emporium...just sayin”

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