Chinatown’s “Bloody Angle” – A Trip Down Doyers Street

Pell Street is one of those iconic Chinatown blocks that filmmakers love to shoot on.

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Short and narrow, lined with brick apartment buildings, small storefronts, and an abundance of awnings and flags, the abrupt end at Mott Street gives it a sense of intimacy.

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While Pell Street is certainly one of Chinatown’s most iconic, one of my all time favorite streets in New York is found branching off of it midway down the block…

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Doyers Street, one of only a handful of curved streets in Manhattan:

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(click to see full-size pan)

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In fact, if you look at a map, Doyers Street has a number of angles to it, easily one of the most unusual in the city:

map

For a time, its sharp curve earned Doyle Street the nickname of “Bloody Angle,” as it was the site of numerous gang street battles and murders. An alleged network of tunnels connecting several buildings also made for easy getaways. you can see how sharp the curve is.

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The street, essentially an old cart path, is named for Hendrick Doyer, who ran a distillery here in the 1800′s. It’s very narrow, and feels removed from the intense hustle and bustle of the heart of Chinatown.

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This pan shows how the street curves south toward Bowery:

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(click to see the full-size pan)

This picture, courtesy of the Library of Congress, shows Doyers Street in 1909. In that year, according to the NY Times, “the most bloody tong war in Chinatown history begins when the Hip Sings kill an On Leong comedian for being disrespectful.”

The same view in 2010. On the left is the site of the former Chinese Opera House.

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At the beginning of Doyers Street is one of my favorite storefronts in Manhattan…

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…Ting’s Gift Shop, which has been in business since 1957. According to the NY Times, it was raided in 1958 as part of a Chinatown drug crackdown (10 pounds of heroin were found).

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Nowadays, Ting’s simply sells trinkets and touristy fare.

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Window display:

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Down at the south-western corner of the alley is a Chinatown landmark…

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…The Nam Wah Tea Parlor, in business since 1920 and the first to bring Dim Sum to New York. The restaurant has changed very little over the past 90 years, and is worth a stop by if you’re visiting:

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A downstairs Vietnamese restaurant with a great exterior:

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The site of the former Chinatown Opera House…

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Back in its glory days:

1900s - Chinatown; The Chinese Opera House, 5 Doyers Street

The streetlights of Doyers Street:

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Another:

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The Sanur Restaurant was closed today…

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I love the hand-written sign:

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At the very end of the street, where it connects with Bowery…

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…is a US Post Office building – without question one of the most hideous structures in Manhattan. It is built on the site of Hendrick Doyers’ distillery.

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Reasonably priced haircuts at this Chinatown establishment. A NY Times article in the window discusses Chinatown locals’ complaints on how Americans simply do not know how to cut Chinese hair.

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This Library of Congress photo, also taken in 1909, is marked as Doyers Street…

oldpic

…But I’m not 100% sure of the direction, as the street seems too straight. Best guess is that it’s pointing north – or, they’re completely wrong, and this was taken on Pell Street facing west (see the very first picture in this post). If it is indeed on Doyers facing north, this would be the modern-day comparison:

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While I’m in the neighborhood, Pell Street certainly has its share of interesting finds. I love the simple facade of the First Chinese Baptist Church:

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Nothing that special about this door…

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…But I love the faded “CANTON” sign, the off-kilter work lights…

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…and what I think used to be Chinese characters in the doorframe:

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Despite the tourism and encroaching gentrification, Chinatown remains one of the most isolated enclaves in New York City – it’s simply another world. Filming is allowed and often encouraged, but you really can’t get by without hiring a local or two to assist in business deals. One of the benefits to working with a resident is hearing stories about what goes on behind the tourist shops and trinket outlets – at times, some pretty unbelievable stuff.

And of course, whenever something goes wrong during shooting, you simply say: “Forget it, [name]. It’s Chinatown.”

-SCOUT

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40 comments

  1. I’m confused by that first pair of 1909/2010 photos: It looks like the 1909 Mandarin Tea Garden building is still there–the windows look the same–but it seems to have lost its top two floors. Is that possible?

  2. Totally -and if you look at the windows and storefront, they seem to match up. Maybe a fire took out the top levels? Really would like to know myself.

  3. This is pretty cool! I just subscribed so I can keep up with your NYC related photos.

  4. I’ve heard some crazy stuff about this place (via the book “New York Underground”)- apparently this is the site of the most amount of murders per square foot in America, as the angles of the street proved advantageous for early Chinese tongs.

    There’s also a series of underground passageways including the Doyers St. tunnel, supposedly remnants from a long-gone brewery.

  5. This is the most incredibly detail-oriented blog. I truly enjoy your photos and history reporting…it’s enlightening. Thanks for doing what you do!

  6. Oh, makes me miss NYC even more. Love that street! A friend of mine who grew up in Chinatown used to walk me through and tell me where the tunnels were, which gangs used which places, and what went on where. I saw the shops, she saw the life behind them.

  7. That Vietnamese place doesn’t only have a great exterior, but absolutely fantastic pork chop soup.

  8. It seems there may in fact have been a fire-related incident at the Mandarin Tea Garden building way back when. a search on the google news archive left this old NY Times article about a fire at 15 Doyer St. (the Nah Wah building is listen as 13 Doyer, according to Google.). Fire/fire damage seems the likely reason for the absence of those top two floors.

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9B04E0DD1F39E033A25752C1A9679C94659ED7CF

  9. My apologies (Sorry for the double post as well):

    A) I meant “listed” in my previous comment, not “listen”.

    B) I just realized that article was written in 1894, before the 1909 photo in the blog post. I did, however, find this:

    http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00C13F63954107A93C5A81783D85F4D8385F9

    It says the first paragraph of the article isn’t available, but a snippet of it can be seen under the link in the Google News search result:

    “Aug 17, 1939 – Seven persons were killed and many others injured in a four-alarm fire which occurred early in the morning of June 21, 1939, in these buildings. The District Attorney’s office is continuing the investigation of the fire. After the fire the inspectors of the Department of Housing and … ”

    It seems the floors were REMOVED due to a different fire than the one i had posted about above!

  10. oh oh oh i love this post. i know this area well and always love to walk down it in summer. wonderful, thank you!
    signed devoted reader/fan

  11. Wow. Where is the haircut place, Scout?

  12. As someone who also works in film in NYC I can attest for how often that part of china town is used for a location. I know I filmed there for both the movie Glitter and It Runs in the Family. I have also done a commercial on that block. Its a really great part of town and one I often take people from out of town too.

  13. GREAT post! Chinatown has always been one of the more interesting NYC locations. It’s almost a secret society that only reveals a fragment of itself to tourists. The historical elements of Chinatown remain more intact than pretty much any other ethnic community in NYC.

  14. This is so cool, Scout. But you’re giving away one of my hiding places!

    Like Dawn, this is one of my favorite streets to stroll in the summer. I worked just a few blocks away for several years. It does take you back in time.

    Jenny – Don’t worry. Just go there. You can’t miss the hair salon and the signs in the window.

    Great research, Nick. Thanks

  15. The tunnels, well, at least one of them, are indeed there. My husband and I found one of them and walked it. It starts (or ends) on Doyers and ends (or starts) at the Bowery. You can TOTALLY imagine how quickly the gangs could move through the area and shock whoever they were after by just sort of popping up. There’s nothing there now but Chinese herbalists, dentists, lawyers, etc. but you can just imagine how naughty they must’ve been to hang out in.

  16. I actually get my haircut on one of the barber shops on pell street; been going there since I was 5. This spot is also used in ABC7′s awful commercial here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUtuCNxjnYo

  17. great & wonderful post! as someone who grew up in chinatown (& has recently returned) the whole area is special to me. my mom is big into the amateur chinese opera scene and knowing that there used to be an opera house on doyers is a hoot.

    (one thing tho – i don’t believe there are any chinese characters in the doorframe in the last photo. my guess is those are plaster blobs leftover from a vertical banner that might have been affixed there)

  18. Love the site!, though you might want to know about Apotheke on Doyers,now in the old opera house/ Golden Flower restaurant. http://www.apothekebar.com/index2abar.html

  19. I’m not going to get anything done tonight, now that I’ve discovered these posts. This one was great! I love those streets as well, but now I know much more about it. Thank you!

  20. I loved this post! This is also one of my favorite streets to walk through. Incidentally, in the cement in front of the post office, someone wrote in “Flying Dragons” and it’s dated sometime in the 1980s, I think. The Flying Dragons was a gang that had a bit of power back then. A remnant of a bygone world :)

  21. The first time I went to Chinatown NY I had prepared myself of the likely possibility of a typical Chinatown community anywhere in the world. Indeed, I was not disappointed. Crowded, smelly, dirty streets were an expectation. Nevertheless, the community will always have a good buzz and shopping bargains which are hard to ignore.

  22. You can see more pictures of this street in the early 1900′s at Shorpy. I loved seeing so many pictures of what it looks like now! Thanks.

    http://www.shorpy.com/search/node/Doyers+Street

  23. My aunt and uncle (Ed and May Choy) were the owners of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown. My father Frank Lew along with his sister May was born and raised in New York City. Your blog brought back a lot of memories as both my father and aunt are now deceased. I loved looking at all your old photos, it was like reliving New York City the way they must have. Thanks so much!

  24. I work near this street and enjoyed discovering even more of its history from your post. Thanks for covering it!

    But the Chinese Theater was located at 5 and 7 Doyers (in the picture of the Theater you provided you can see the 5 and 7 on the sign).

    And the same building still stands. If you look at the green building now at this location that shows in some of your other pics – and compare it to the picture you provided of the theater – you can see it is one and the same. Even the 4 large windows that show of the second floor of the old picture are technically still there – although they have been “filled in” at the top in present day.

    Very cool website. Thanks! Keep up the great work!

  25. oh man, sanur is my favorite restaurant in new york. the food is dirt cheap yet absolutely incredible. it’s the best malaysian food i’ve found in new york, and my family’s been searching for a long time. i also used to get my haircut at that barbershop! jeeze, i remember a time when the price was a couple of bucks. seven dollars now is crazy for that place.

  26. Nom Wah Tea Parlor had a grand reopening a matter of months ago, and we were very fortunate to attend the renovated restaurant. We were treated with the utmost hospitality: http://newyorkdailyphoto.blogspot.com/2011/05/war-against-disservice-part-2.html
    Their scallion pancake is awesome. :)

  27. Here’s a video Fan Modine shot on Doyers Street in August ’11:

    http://youtu.be/KS-UQLhAH-Y

  28. This website is simply wonderful. You have a good eye.

  29. Richard Braunstein, MD

    In the early 1950′s during med school at NYU we used to frequent Wah Kee Restaurant on Doyers St. Down the steps, and if the dining room were full, we would be ushered into the pantry where there were a few tables. The chef would be right there using a clever to chop the live Maine lobster to prepare the best Lobster Cantonese in Chinatown. Of course the conversation among the staff could reach levels that suggested imminent conflict yet was only conversation. Thanks for bringing back these fond memories.

  30. 9 doyers street, site of the former wo kee restaurant was also the site of something else worth noting. if you go to google images, and type in the search box,rascals groovin music,you will see the band strolling down doyers street,right in front of wo kee, back in 1967…..they were groovin….im just wondering if it was a sunday afternoon?…..http://www.ebay.com/itm/m-SHEET-MUSIC-THE-YOUNG-RASCALS-GROOVIN-1967-/400508600935?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item5d402c4267&ssPageName=RSS:B:STORE:US:101

    • Wo Kee was a regular stop for my family in the early 60′s.
      I remember a dinner wit6h several dishes would be about 10 bucks. First ate lo mein and pressed duck – wor shu opp. Many cheap dates in the late 60′s.
      I also narrowly missed being shot during a Flying Dragon gang hit at 4 am…I think the place was open 24 hours.

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