In the two months since its grand opening Mr. Fong’s—named in homage to the real estate agent who helped the owners find the space—has quickly become a Lower Manhattan hotspot. And it’s no wonder: managing partners Aisa Blue Shelley and Lucas Moran have tended bar at many of the city’s top spots, from Bungalow 8 to the Wythe Hotel’s rooftop bar. When they decided they wanted to open their own place, they went to Mr. Fong, a Chinatown fixture who has helped countless people find apartments. He not only got them the space, but also helped petition the community board to get them their liquor license.
Shelley and Moran brought in partners, Noah Shelley (Aisa Blue’s brother), Adam Moonves, Jordan Hadley, and Daniel Eric Gold to make their aspiration a reality. “We wanted to open a bar that straddles the line between a dive bar and a neighborhood spot and still be fun,” Aisa Blue told me on a recent visit.
That means no bouncer or velvet rope, and no pandering to the current trends. The bar’s design is simple but sophisticated: a green onyx countertop, red leather booths, potted palms, and paintings loaned from a friend who owns a gallery in Brooklyn. House cocktails are all stirred drinks that seem deceptively simple, but contain infusions using ingredients culled from the neighborhood’s markets. Case in point: the rum and pineapple drink made with Thai chili and cilantro-infused rum and housemade pineapple syrup. Here, the partners share a few of their favorite discoveries in their new neighborhood.
New Wong Restaurant, 103 East Broadway
The partners love this Chinese takeout spot painted bubblegum pink. They recommend the “Hong Kong style” lo mein with roasted pork. “The lo mein is exceptional!” Moran says. “It's not the normal overcooked greasy noodles you're used to. These are almost angle hair thin but are very toothsome, and seasoned perfectly.”
Dumplings, 25B Henry Street
This tiny, no frills storefront sits below an awning that just reads “Dumplings” and sells cheap, delicious Tianjin-style dumplings. Get the flavorful pork dumplings loaded with chives.
New York Supermarket, 75 East Broadway
This supermarket is located directly under the Manhattan Bridge. Ignore the stench of seafood and go straight for the huge selection of imported Asian snacks. “These are not your average wasabi peas (although they have those too),” Moran says. “There are squid flavored (and shaped) rice chips, dried crispy duck skin chips, super spicy peppercorn peanuts, dried fruit chips that put Terra Chips to absolute shame, sweet and spicy organic sunflower seeds. The list goes on from here.”
Sun Hing Lung, 58 Henry Street
This is one of the few places in Chinatown that serves rice rolls—a Cantonese dish common in Hong Kong—made to order. You can add any fillings you want, including shrimp, veggies, beef, and more. The partners recommend seasoning them liberally with the complimentary bottles of soy sauce and Sriracha they have in the shop.
Up Stairs Bar, 59 Canal Street
This divey spot is also known as Swat bar. “This is a funky place to get a drink in the neighborhood. They have karaoke and warm beer and it feels like you are transported Southeast Asia,” Aisa Blue explains.
Dimes, 49 Canal Street
Dimes is a standout non-Chinese restaurant in the heart of Chinatown that draws a hip crowd just like Mr. Fong’s. This tiny California-inspired spot serves up healthy items like fresh juices, nori wraps and a black rice bowl with kale, sweet potato, eggplant, bonito, chili, cucumber, grapefruit, and a ginger ponzu sauce.
Kiki's, 130 Division Street
Despite the name written in Chinese characters on the awning, Kiki’s is authentically Greek. Everything is great, from the grilled bread served with pools of fragrant olive oil to the braised octopus blackened on the grill. “I go here for a beer and the taramasalata. It's so good and rich but not offensively fishy,” says Moran. “A perfect light dinner, unless you make the mistake of ordering another beer and the spinach pie, which I always do!”