Chinatown Debates Gentrification, as Hipsters Descend

New York's Chinatown has been impenetrable to non-Chinese entrepreneurs for a century, but new glitzy bars and restaurants are beginning to push through. In a neighborhood that has suffered since 9/11, locals debate the merits of outsider investment.

September 18, 2008, 2:00 PM PDT

By Tim Halbur


White Star Bar, which specializes in absinthe, is located in the heart of New York's Chinatown. Owner Sasha Petraske responds to the cries of gentrification:

"'People conflate two totally separate issues. What they don't like are people who are inconsiderate and entitled. That's not the same thing as money. What ruins a neighborhood is running businesses irresponsibly,' says Petraske, indirectly referencing the drunken partyers who litter certain New York City sidewalks. As for the unglamorous corner that is home to his latest venture: 'This part of Manhattan is the only part left that can hold its own against Downtown Brooklyn,' he says with a laugh.

Beatrice Chen, the director of education at the Museum of Chinese in America, takes a pragmatic view of the changes. She doesn't fall on one side or the other of the gentrification issue, clarifying that though she doesn't want Chinatown to become the next Lower East Side, she doesn't want it to be stagnant, either. "Chinatown is still revitalizing after 9/11," she says. 'Forty restaurants closed after that month of blocking off Canal Street. That's a huge consideration' She also notes that outside entrepreneurs are hardly the only ones opening businesses there. Yello, a popular and relatively new Chinese-American-owned bar on Mulberry Street, is 'a sign of change in Chinatown' -the younger generation making its trendy mark-as is its neighbor, Mama Café, which is also owned by Chinese-Americans.

Thursday, September 18, 2008 in Time Out NY

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