Chef-spotting has become the game in Philly these days. Watching addresses and opening dates, the movements of this chef and that one, guessing at, debating, criticizing and (occasionally) swooning over menus—this is what the food-obsessed do for fun. Like fantasy football coaches fanatically tracking the stats of their stars, Philly’s top grubniks can recite the signature dishes of their favorite chefs, where they worked their first jobs, and how many covers they can turn in a single night. And in the high fringe of the fixated, no name has left the waiting crowds more breathless than Hop Sing Laundromat.
For those in the know, Hop Sing is like the perfect drug: a mysterious bar/lounge/nightspot buried in Chinatown, with no sign and an equally mysterious owner—known only as Mr. Lêe—who has spent a year waiting, tinkering, sitting in an empty space at 1029 Race Street and essentially dreaming his perfect bar into existence. During this time he has played the food press like a fiddle, parceling out plans, schemes and stories like they’re candy and we’re the fattest kids on the block.
But what stories! For those who haven’t heard of Lêe, he’s a perfectionist, a customizer and a control freak, a man who is passionate about history and booze and design and travels the nation seeking its best bars, with the aim of bringing the greatest one ever to us—a place with complimentary shoe shines and a floor made of pennies, a secret door, custom ice, deliveries from all the best restaurants in Chinatown, and a bar with 1,000 bottles of liquor.
Hop Sing Laundromat (named for the cook on Bonanza who always dreamed of running away and opening his own laundry) might not have opened soon enough to be included in this month’s feature on drinking in Philly, but by the time you read this, it probably—almost definitely—will be open. And if you can find it, and if you can get in, you’ll find yourself drinking in a place built entirely to fit one man’s unique, uncompromising image of the greatest cocktail bar in the world.