Hotel 50 Bowery is an Insult to Chinatown with its Insensitive ‘Opium Den’ Themed Club [OP-ED]

Posted on: May 22nd, 2017 at 9:33 am by

The following opinion piece was written by Chinatown activist Karlin Chan.

Many Chinatown residents are disgusted that 50 Bowery’s Joie De Vivre glass hotel towers over the turn-of-the-century neighborhood, arguing how out of character it is compared to the surrounding area, while others show concern it may further fuel gentrification and displacement. Yet, the announcement of the hotel’s Green Lady lounge, based on an opium den theme, has spurred anger among many former and current residents.

When it comes to opium and opium dens, it invokes memories of a time in China when imperialistic powers carved out spheres of influence to govern and trade as they pleased. British traders who lacked gold and silver to pay for products refined poppies into opium to pay for goods, and worked alongside corrupt Ching dynasty officials to weaken the central government and its people by addicting a nation to exploit. Admittedly, there were a handful of opium dens that operated in New York City Chinatown from the late 1800s until the turn of the century, but some were actually “fakes” owned by Caucasians who promoted a dark and sinister image of the “Yellow Devil” Chinese following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and at the height of “Yellow Journalism.” I suspect many of the photos in historical archives could’ve been staged and not actual photos taken in a Chinese opium den. Simply put – why would an illegal business grant access to a non-Chinese photographer?

Opium den stereotype, “Once Upon a Time in America”

So when it comes to Joie De Vivre’s intent to highlight Chinatown’s past and culture, is the fabled “Opium Den” really an appropriate theme for a lounge in their hotel? I say HELL NO. It’s ironic that a hotel honoring the neighborhood would allow a business to highlight a negative stereotype within. In the end, is this insensitivity or racism? Is this another nail in the coffin for our hometown Chinatown?

Don’t get me wrong; I recognize the need to upgrade and modernize the Chinatown dining scene to draw new customers and win back the old to keep this a functioning Chinatown for the future. That makes sense. However, evoking stereotypes like this for the bottom line is BULLSHIT.

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