Hop Sing Laundromat: About Last Night…

Remember how it all began?

So yes, it really happened. Around 8 o’clock last night, Lêe opened the gate that guards the door that leads to the lobby that opens onto the dining room at Hop Sing Laundromat and started allowing actual human beings (as opposed to cajoling members of the press, though there were a fair number of us in the crowd as well) into the bar.

It was gorgeous. It was bigger than it had ever seemed before (an effect of all the detritus of a long construction being removed, no doubt). It was lit with a hundred candles, the flames reflecting off of antique mirrors and lovingly polished and reconstructed fixtures and filled with the sounds of muted voices and music. The tables filled slowly as Lêe paced the entries–two and three and four of his friends, enemies and stalkers being let in at a time–but by the time he was done, the room was buzzing with conversation and quiet music.

And then the drinks began arriving…

I know that there are a certain number of you out there who will not believe anything good we say about this place–those who have been complaining since day 1 that Hop Sing was all hype, that Lêe had the whole lot of us food writers in his pocket from the start, that the whole thing was a pipe-dream, doomed to fail since the day it was born. You know who you are. More to the point, we know who you are. And I’m not going to win any of you over by saying that Hop Sing Laundromat has the magic–that it is one of those rooms that makes you feel special just by being in it.

I’m not going to convince you by saying that this is one of the most beautiful and unique bars around–that Lêe’s obsessive attention to every little detail pays off in the way the light seems to cradle each table, catching here and there in a gleaming shaker or the curve of an antique chair back. Or how the acoustics make pleasant conversation possible without yelling even when the music is playing and every other customer in the place is also talking. Or laughing. Or shouting for someone at the other end of the bar. His designs (custom garnish trays, custom shakers, wells and racks made for speed) pay off in terms of service, too. He had three bartenders working to a mostly-full house and making everything–everything–to order, and yet no one seemed to have to wait for a drink. Or a second or a third.

If you’re already predisposed to hatin’, I’m not going to change your mind by telling you what balls it took for Lee to look at a room full of food writers, booze writers, cocktail freaks and weirdoes–some of whom were no doubt there just to root for Hop Sing’s failure–and to choose as the very first drink…a screwdriver.

Yeah, vodka and orange juice, nothing more. Still frothy from the squeezer and the shaker. I’m not going to win anyone over by saying it was the best screwdriver I’ve ever had. Or that the single best cocktail of the night–which was also the single best cocktail I’ve had in months, maybe longer–was another two-stepper of faintly ridiculous conception: fresh grape juice and dark rum, nothing more. Art and I sat at the table for ten minutes trying to prize it apart, thinking that we tasted honey, that it was made with iced tea, that it had to be some kind of whiskey drink made of magical whiskey with no burn, that left no lingering taste of smoke on the tongue.

But no. Just freshly-squeezed grape juice and dark El Dorado rum aged 15 years.

There was a gin drink that was a failure. Then Lêe appeared (in a finely cut suit and his glasses made out of forks) to say that it was a deliberate failure–that we should now taste this version which was made with a different gin and didn’t taste nearly so much like a foot.

Anejo tequila. Strawberries. Bourbon. We drank and drank. Hop Sing’s bartenders served and served. It was just as good, just as dramatic, just as unique and maddeningly right as we’d all been promised it would be, and there was a sense (at least at our table) that the waiting, the delays, the strangeness–it’d all been worth it. Lee had promised only that he was going to make a great cocktail bar for the city of Philadelphia. And that was just what he’s done. Nothing more, but also nothing less.

And one of these days, the place is going to actually open to the public.

But something tells me that nothing we say is ever going to convince some of you of that, either.

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  • Beakaboo

    Nice article, a great recap of a wonderful evening in stunning surroundings. Too bad Lee told me I’m officially the first to be expelled indefinitely from Hop Sing, I’ll have to get to the bottom of this, surely my glowing review was not the cause.

  • FattyFatMan

    Sounds great!

    Very excited to check this place out!

  • rory

    we’ll see how it actually is when it’s got paying customers ordering lots of different drinks at a time.

    Also, considering that every drink you listed:
    A. had two components (albeit high end ones)
    B. was shaken, not stirred

    I’m not convinced that three bartenders could pull off a full night. It takes *a lot* less time to properly shake a drink than to properly stir one. It also is easier when you’re making 50 of the same drink instead of catering to lots of different requests. And when those orders are spaced out.

    as for the gin drink: well, at least you aren’t the moron @ grubstreet who screwed up how to use bitters in a drink. but no shit gins matter–gins have one of the widest range of flavor profiles of any base liquor. I could pull the same trick on you at my home bar using miller’s vs. using bluecoat and making a simple gin and tonic with a wedge of lime.

    the place might be wonderful, it might not. but you’re getting played like a fiddle either way. i hope it’s wonderful.

  • Homer

    It was a wonderful night at Hop Sing. Still raving about it.

  • Sean

    Rory, I was sitting at the bar last night and at least two of the drinks were stirred, and not shaken. And they didn’t do a shoddy job of it either, they stirred them for at the very least a minute. The bartenders were very skilled. Additionally, toward the end of the night people started staggering in, and the entire menu of drinks were prepared for them, so the bartenders were making 2-3 varieties of drinks at any given time. Yes, obviously still easier than when patrons are ordering off the cuff, but still not simple.

  • Horace Steenblatter

    I still don’t believe this place is real.

  • deadhorse

    Talk about beating a dead horse…..

  • Snuggler

    It was a beautiful evening. I hope we all get to have other memories of Hop Sing to go with the one from Wednesday.

  • is anyone else just sick of this?

    the fetish level of this article is mind blowing, and really captures the level of complete ridiculousness food “writing” has reached.

    Why must the everyday (whether drinks, doughnuts, tacos,etc) all now be so very….artisanal?

    Are we that boring of a people?

  • hmm

    has anyone here seen true blood? You know the episodes when Sookie Stackhouse enters into the realm of fairies, the gauzy and sparkly realm? where everyone is eating the same fruit that puts them in a trance and keeps them from seeing the fairies in their true light? that is what the descriptions of this night reminded me of…

  • rory

    @sean: a minute? fuck it. I’m going when they’re full and ordering a ramos gin fizz. :)

  • Fred

    It’s not that we don’t want to believe you, Jason, or that we want to hate. It’s your breathless sycophancy and your obsequious shilling in this and other puff pieces about this bar. Look down at your knees. I’m sure you can see impressions of Lincoln pennies on them.

  • Sherman

    I’m so confused.. I’ve been reading foobooz pretty regularly since last summer as I am new to philly and to the area. But i just plain don’t understand. Who is Lee? Why does he “have food writers in his pocket”? Why does Hop Sing have such hype? Every update we get on this place is like reading a excerpt from the second half of a story. The first foobooz mention of it I can find is a March 2011 “Opening Soon” post with a bad link to the Meal Ticket blog. What is this place and why do I care about it!?

  • Liza

    Sooo, as of March 10 (today), Hop Sing is still not open to the public yet?