Chinatown’s Hop Sing Laundromat has been named to Esquire’s list of best bars in America.
In the precede to the list of 27 establishments, columnist Jeff Gordinier writes: “The watering holes that we honor here, on our annual list, are the ones that we think do the best job of deepening a sense of community and making everyone feel at home . . . while also pouring exactly what you need.”
The “pouring exactly what you need” part: No one would quibble with the quality of HSL’s cocktails, which use only fresh juices and top-shelf alcohol.
But “making everyone feel at home”? Perhaps once you actually get inside. First off, HSL is open only Thursday to Saturday, not exactly the most convenient schedule. But let’s say you get there on an “on” day. You push the buzzer at its unmarked gate at 1029 Race St. and await a doorman, who might be Lê, the enigmatic owner of what he dubs “the world’s best North Korean cocktail bar.”
You’re advised of the house rules, which include no photos, no cell phones, flip-flops, sandals, or shorts. It’s cash only, too. You hand over your photo ID and sit in the anteroom, whose floor is covered in pennies, to hear a short speech outlining the rules of decorum in the ornate, dimly lit room. You’re not finished yet — while you’re being lectured, someone is scanning your ID to be sure you are not among the 4,000 or so people on the banned list.
A “banned list"?
Lê will ban you for a multitude of transgressions, including tipping meagerly, acting unruly, and taking photos (he’s even not too keen on those taking selfies in the restroom). It’s all in the name of respectability, but Lê seems to enjoy banning people and trolling Yelpers, as his Facebook feed suggests. (I’ll give him credit for banning four people from Florida, who admitted in the lobby that they had “lots” of alcohol before their arrival last weekend. Bars are not permitted to serve visibly intoxicated people, and by turning them away, Lê spared himself a potential headache.)
Gordinier thinks the rules at Hop Sing are beside the point.
“Yes, the strict door protocol at Hop Sing (after you ring a buzzer by an unmarked grate in Chinatown) seems designed to annoy,” he writes. “But we have been inside owner Lê’s hidden palace of bibulous delights, and we can assure you that it represents a gold standard of elegant sipping.”
Lê said Monday that “when [the list] hits 8,888 [names], I’m out. And you can quote me on it.”