Chinatown is changing.
Its narrow, densely packed streets still are teeming with a unique blend of storefronts filled with exotic produce, herbs and other goods, and it continues to be a vibrant immigrant community - but also present is a new generation of Chinese-Americans and other young hipsters who are shaping what the neighborhood will look like in the future.
Due to its proximity to fashionable areas like SoHo, the Lower East Side, and the Financial District, this traditionally Chinese community is gaining traction as a trendy destination for young professionals and students.
Chinatown, in other words, is becoming more than a magnet for adventurous foodies and tourists.
“It’s very important to have this younger generation come back from the suburbs and move to the community,” said Gigi Li, 35, who chaired the local Community Board 3 from 2012 until July this year.
Li grew up in Long Island but 10 years ago moved into what was formerly her aunt and uncle’s apartment in Chinatown.
“I always knew that if I had the opportunity to live here, I would,” she said.
Wilson Tang, 37, took over as owner of the 96-year-old Nom Wah Tea Parlor at 13 Doyers St. in 2010, which was previously owned by his uncle. He made changes that he said are drawing a much younger clientele, including switching to dim sum from a decades-long tradition of having no menu.
“People are looking for something different in Chinatown now,” he said. “Although I have a foot in both worlds — my father’s generation and the old Chinatown, and my younger generation — I embrace the change. Chinatown needs to evolve to survive.”
It is also an increasingly attractive location for those who want to live in Manhattan but are priced out of other neighborhoods.
“You used to see young people coming into Chinatown to eat and then drink, but they left afterwards,” said Helen Zhang, 27, a publicist who moved into a studio on Pell Street two years ago. “Now those crowds have more people who actually live here. You can tell more people from outside the neighborhood are moving into the neighborhood.”
For those looking to live in Chinatown, much of the available housing stock consists of pre-war walkups concentrated around Mott, Bayard, Pell and Baxter streets.
However, it does also have a handful of newer developments.
At Hester Gardens, a seven-story, 71-unit condo at 158 Hester St. that was completed in 2004, the average sales price is $1,467,027, according to the real estate listings website StreetEasy.
The average sale price at 123 Baxter St., a 23-unit condo built in 2003, is $2,349,886 on the site.
Other structures have been renovated and repurposed, like the Jewish Daily Forward Building at 175 E. Broadway, which was built in 1912 to for the newspaper and was renovated into 30 luxury condos in 2006.
The 11 luxury condos at 136 Baxter St. are in a former machinery warehouse built in 1915.
According to StreetEasy, the median sales price in Chinatown in 2015 was $700,000, up from $574,500 in 2014. The median sales price in all of Manhattan was $910,000 last year, the site found.
However, Chinatown’s rental market is more active than its sales market, as StreetEasy logged just 22 sales listed in the area in 2015, while there were 731 units available for rent.
The median rent in Chinatown last year was $2,600, compared to $3,125 in Manhattan as a whole.
A slew of new, stylish bars and restaurants are capitalizing on Chinatown’s rising popularity.
Apotheke opened in 2008 at 9 Doyers St., a windy, cobblestone side-street, and features apothecary-style cocktails. More recently, Kiki’s opened at 130 Division St. in 2015 and specializes in Greek food.
“The neighborhood is definitely being discovered,” observed Natalia Padilla, a real estate sales broker with Citi Habitats. “People are always looking for the next‘it’ neighborhood and I think Chinatown is just that place.”
Chinatown is bound to the north by Hester Street to the west of Essex Street and East Broadway to the east of it and to the south by South Street and the FDR Drive. Its eastern boundary is Montgomery Street, and its western border runs jagged, south to north, from Pearl Street to Worth Street, up Baxter Street, down White Street and up Lafayette Street to Hester.
227 Canal St.
A contender in the poke (Hawaiian raw fish salad) craze, with options incuding tuna, fluke and Scottish salmon.
76 Mott St.
The New York outpost of a popular Tokyo ramen restaurant.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor
13 Doyers St.
Second-generation owner Wilson Tang overhauled this 96-year-old Chinatown institution into a trendy, tasty dim sum spot.
9 Doyers St.
Apothecary-style cocktails are the specialty in this hidden lounge.
169 E. Broadway
Formally the Bloody Bucket, this neighborhood mainstay has been serving eclectic crowds since 1916.
40 Market St.
An unlikely location for one of New York's most popular hangouts for the fashion industry.
646-964-4540(Credit: Linda Rosier)
Ping's Dried Beef
58 Mulberry St.
In a neighborhood where you can find many places to satisfy your dried meat cravings, this is a local favorite.
50 Mott St.
The U.S. location of a Beijing company, offering more than 200 styles of chopsticks.
Lin Sister Herb Shop
Cure what ails you at this traditional Chinese medicine shop.
Bayard to Worth streets between Baxter and Mulberry streets
A vital spot for Chinatown residents that is filled daily with musicians playing traditional Chinese music, seniors playing poker, and visitors who want to see a slice of Chinatown life.
Mahayana Buddhist Temple
133 Canal St.
This place of worship housing a 16-foot statue of Buddha, the largest in New York City.
Museum of Chinese in America
215 Centre St.
A must-see for visitors looking to learn about the history of Chinese immigrants in the United States.
6, J, Z to Canal Street
F to East Broadway
M22, M15, M103(Credit: Linda Rosier)
The 2007 HBO series Flight of the Conchords, featuring New Zealand comedy-rockers Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, was filmed throughout Chinatown. Bret and Jemaine's apartment exterior was at 28 Henry St., the New Zealand consulate exterior sits at 232 E. Broadway, and Dave's Pawn Shop was around the corner at 10 Montgomery St. Meanwhile, Bradley Cooper's character's apartment in the 2011 film "Limitless" was at 19 Henry St.(Credit: HBO / Craig Blankenhorn)
Median sales price: $700,000
Number of units on market: 22
Median rental price: $2,600
Number of rentals on market: 731
(Source: StreetEasy)(Credit: Linda Rosier)
An 850-foot-tall luxury apartment tower currently under construction on the southern edge of Chinatown is causing concern among longtime residents of the neighborhood.
One Manhattan Square, a planned 72-story, 815-unit skyscraper, is going up on the former site of a Pathmark supermarket, which closed in late 2012. Extell Development purchased the land in 2013 for $175 million, and construction on the building reached 14-stories as of press time.
But some locals say they are fearful that the project will spark a wave of new developments in the area, and that real estate prices in older buildings will rise as a result. Meanwhile, the construction is causing noise disruptions in an otherwise quiet neighborhood, others attest.
"My walls shake," said Myrna Natal, 50, a 13-year resident of the Rutgers Houses, which are located across the street from the construction site. "It's all day, even on the weekends. I have to go outside, but then I hear it even louder."
The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and LES, a coalition of community groups, is one of many voices speaking out against the project.
"Extell builds skyscrapers and luxury developments for the world's richest people," said David Tieu, 29, a coalition member. "Not only did this project [replace] the only supermarket that served the people in the public housing in the neighborhood, it's going to displace a lot of people due to the skyrocketing real estate values that will follow."
Extell could not be reached for comment.(Credit: Linda Rosier)
Christina Seid, 36, co-owns the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, which was started by her father Philip Seid in 1977. The small shop at 65 Bayard St. draws lines that stretch down the block and has become a must-stop for foodies seeking exotic flavors like durian, a pungent fruit from Southeast Asia, and wasabi. It is a mainstay in a neighborhood that has recently seen an influx of new ice cream purveyors. Christina Seid, who lives Queens, also runs the community blog "Christina of Chinatown."
What is your most popular flavor?
Lychee is the most popular by far. We started with flavors that fit a Chinese palate, like red bean. It's funny, for years it seemed so many people didn't know what a lychee was. Now it's our best seller.
Growing up, did you know you'd take over the business?
No. Back then people didn't think having a business like ours was cool. This was before food television. Now everybody wants to own a restaurant.
Do you worry about all the new ice cream shops?
I think competition and variety is good for Chinatown. We lived through the '80s when the gangs were here, so a little competition doesn't bother us. There's enough business to go around.
How do you feel about your shop's success?
I feel really proud. ... If you look, my dad laid the tiles we're standing on almost 40 years ago. It's great he can enjoy this success after working so hard for so many years.(Credit: Patrick McGovern)