Pell Street is one of those iconic Chinatown blocks that filmmakers love to shoot on.
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.
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…
Doyers Street, one of only a handful of curved streets in Manhattan:
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:
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.
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.
This pan shows how the street curves south toward Bowery:
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.
At the beginning of Doyers Street is one of my favorite storefronts in Manhattan…
…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).
Nowadays, Ting’s simply sells trinkets and touristy fare.
Down at the south-western corner of the alley is a Chinatown landmark…
…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:
A downstairs Vietnamese restaurant with a great exterior:
The site of the former Chinatown Opera House…
Back in its glory days:
The streetlights of Doyers Street:
The Sanur Restaurant was closed today…
I love the hand-written sign:
At the very end of the street, where it connects with Bowery…
…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.
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.
This Library of Congress photo, also taken in 1909, is marked as Doyers Street…
…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:
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:
Nothing that special about this door…
…But I love the faded “CANTON” sign, the off-kilter work lights…
…and what I think used to be Chinese characters in the doorframe:
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.”
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