Friday, 12 April 2013

A Chinatown Institution on Opening Day

Since the day, back in March 2010, when I posted a series of ripe, flavorful photos from a curious 1978 New York souvenir book, readers have never stopped writing to me about them, commenting on and asking questions about them. I have even been contacted by a couple television producers inquiring how to obtain rights to the photographs.

Recently, I paged through the volume again (which was published in London) and stopped at the photo above. I hadn't realized what I was looking at when I first set eyes on the picture. This is actually an image of a newly born Big Wong Restaurant. Today, the Cantonese Big Wong is a Mott Street mainstay and Chinatown institution. But here we see it as the new kid on the block, with plastic flags and red-white-and-blue banners and everything. The place doesn't even have a permanent sign yet.

The now-gone restaurant to the left of Big Wong, Mon Sing, was well-regarded in its day. It, too, served Cantonese food. It was owned by Robert Tsang. Noted composer and arranger Hershey Kay loved the place and used to hold dinner parties there. New York magazine described it as a "good, cheap lo mein parlor that also serves won ton soup and spare ribs."

Another odd historical fact: the building Mon Sing was in, 65 Mott Street, was the first building in New York specifically constructed as a tenement. It was erected in 1824. It is still a residential building.

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