Okay, first the big, important news for those of you who’ve been following this saga for the past year: Hop Sing Laundromat will be opening tonight. Honest. Not for a private party. Not for some kind of tasting party. But actually opening and actually serving drinks to the good people of Philadelphia. Show up, bring money, buy drinks, repeat–just like a real bar.
But there are, of course, some complications…
The first challenge? For the time being, Hop Sing is going to be cash-only. This is because Lêe is still trying to work the kinks out of a custom point-of-sale system that he’s getting from some company in New Jersey, and he’s decided that he’d rather go pesos-on-the-long-oak for a short time rather than installing some kind of half-assed system to cover the gap. When he has it working, the new POS will be pretty cool: Servers will carry wireless “hand-held devices” (according to Lêe, which means NOT iPads) which will be connected directly to the bar. You order a drink at your table, the server punches it in and the bartenders get to work on it without the server having to walk back to a service station and punch in a new order. This allows floor staff to service three tables without stopping, then go back and start picking up drinks immediately–all of which is part of Lêe’s promise to get drinks into people’s hands faster than any other bar in America.
Anyway, the upside of going cash-only? For the time being, everything coming from the well at Hop Sing will be $10. And as I think we’ve mentioned a few times, Hop Sing has one helluva well. We’re talking Patron tequila, barrel-aged El Dorado rum, some kind of magical Russian potato vodka–just seriously crazy-good stuff. Which means you’ll be getting custom cocktails (which, in many cases, have been amazing) made with high-end booze for a tenner. Plus, if you come looking for a shot, the bartenders are under orders to pour 2 ounces. Do the math, kids. It’s a good deal.
Second complication: There will be no set cocktail menu. The crew will be rotating through the list for the first few weeks. According to Lêe, tonight’s menu is just written out on a piece of paper. Oh, and that crew? A friggin’ All-Star team. Behind the bar tonight will be Toby Maloney of Chicago’s The Violet Hour (who has been helping Lêe get his staff ready for the past couple months), Robert Fuentevilla from Mayahuel in NYC (who is now Hop Sing’s head bartender–a nice steal, there), and Lêe himself.
Third complication: There will be no food. Yet. That promise about getting take-out delivered from all the best local joints in Chinatown? Not until July at the earliest. Apparently, it’s been tough enough just getting the drinks program in line. Food was just too much to worry about.
Speaking of which, why has Lêe finally decided to open the place now? Well apparently, he had a plan…
“I had this whole plan,” he explained. “You guys [in the press] would all be gone for the holiday. You’d come back, and we would just be open.”
Lêe was under the impression that all of us food writers–being the highly-paid pros that we are–would be splitting the city for Memorial Day. You know, headed to our summer homes or out to the Hamptons to see to our polo ponies. His fervent hope was that he would be able to open quietly, serve a few people, work out the kinks, etc. Unfortunately, things didn’t happen that way.
“Apparently, some people in the restaurant business don’t know how to keep a fucking secret,” Lêe said. And yeah, thank God for that.
Still, opening up tonight, right at the start of a big holiday weekend when thousands of Philly residents who aren’t food writers will actually be bailing for the mountains and the shore, was a good move. It will probably buy him some slight bit of mercy in terms of crowds when he opens the doors tonight.
Which reminds me: You probably want to know exactly when the doors will be thrown wide, don’t you? That’s another question mark. According to Eater (who got Lee on the blower late last night, shortly before I woke him up this morning), the place opens at 5pm. Lêe told me 6pm. I’m guessing that he tells the next fella who calls that it’ll be 7pm. You gotta make your own call on this one, but suffice it to say that the joint is probably going to be jumping no matter what time Lêe starts letting people in.
But one way to get to the front of the line? If you’ve been one of Hop Sing’s loyal Twitter followers (“stalkers” as Lêe semi-affectionately calls them) and you show up tonight, you get in first. Lêe told me that he’ll be polling the crowds, and that anyone who can prove their stalker bona fides will be ushered straight inside as a thank you for showing such patience in waiting for this day to finally come.
And now that it has come, does Lêe have any final thoughts? Of course he does:
“You know, I’ve done everything I can. As soon as we open, the customers get to determine what we are. At that point, it’s out of my hands, so who fucking knows…”
Hop Sing Laundromat Walkthrough [Foobooz TV]