By now, you have seen enough jokes on social media to know that China Chalet has closed down for good. The sentiment seems to be “sounds about right.”
Because the fact that China Chalet existed for as long as it did, into a 2020 New York, is insane.
China Chalet was a banquet hall style Chinese restaurant near Wall Street. It opened in 1975. What happened between then and the 2000s is anyone’s guess.
In the years that surrounded the QS office reaching drinking age until now, China Chalet played host to countless after-hour events. The place was a fixture for parties in the LGBTQ community. Brands would book it out for fashion week. It-girls threw their birthdays there. Celeb sightings and shit.
At some point, the skaters who would always be drunk on the sidelines of those events caught wind of utilizing the space for their own purposes. E.J. premiered the DANY video there in 2016; Vans covered an open bar for up to $7,000 and it was gone in less than fifteen minutes. Photos of skateboards lined up at entry with coat-check numbers became a frequent visual gag on social media. Some genius once checked a single sheet of griptape.
Photo by Emilio Cuilan
Why this randomass place though?
The deal went something like this: $1500 to rent it out. No security deposit. They take the entire bar profit. If you want to make money, you can charge cover at the door. Oh, and you have to bring your own sound equipment. Somewhere on the internet, it said capacity was 800.
Then, you can do whatever. You could smoke inside. This place demolished the record for the most humans ever fit into a single bathroom stall. People moshed until the dance-floor started to feel like it was flexing into a concave. If the line to get in was too long, some resourceful types figured out a secret entry on Trinity, which lead right up to a door your friend would be waiting to open.
All of this happened a block from the epicenter of global finance. By the time they were piling into work the following Monday and we still smelled like the cigarettes from Saturday (it usually took two showers to fully cleanse), China Chalet was back to serving dim sum.
The reactions to its closure ran the full spectrum: everything from “they were the best of times, they were the worst of times” to “thank God.” But the fact remains that these free-for-all spaces, especially ones as longstanding as this one, are scarce in New York, let alone lower Manhattan. Clubs inside fancy hotels and bars fashioned to look like dives selling $8 Tecates became “normal” over the past ten years.
For skateboarders to otherwise throw a video premiere in 2020 New York, it means they have to court some big company to front money for a deposit, provided they can even find a theater that’ll host a skate event. We’re the people who got banned from Sunshine — the place that looked the other way on the clouds of weed smoke and the swarm of spilled beers on the floor after every video — because people did graf inside of the theater during a screening.
At China Chalet, it was $1500, thank you very much, have fun, and try not to light anything on fire.
Photo by Emilio Cuilan
Once upon a time, we’d be walking into here thinking “what is this place?” only to see the older skaters we otherwise knew from skate spots giving us a look: “Oh, you guys just found out about partying huh.” Eventually, we’d see younger kids we only knew from skate spots wander in here with that same look.
Sometimes, China Chalet felt like a caricature of itself — if you follow a couple downtown art and fashion people plus a few brooding skater types, it could feel like if the Instagram explore page was a physical place. Others times, it had a magic to it. You never knew what to expect, and everyone’s guilty of chasing the unexpected on a meandering night, only to wind up drunk at a Chinese restaurant, inhaling a canister of cigarette smoke while chatting up some cutie.
I was once walking up Broadway from a weekday morning meeting at Bowling Green, and passed China Chalet. I did a double-take, and walked in out of pure curiosity, expecting that waft of cigs. But it wasn’t there. Instead, there was sunlight coming through the windows and lilies everywhere. They placed them in every corner, so they could absorb whatever airborne debauchery from the weekend remained.
May your ventilation system find peace in a mountain of lilies, China Chalet.