Steve and I got married at Four Seas years ago and we’re very sad to hear they announced their closure at the end of the Summer. Four Seas Restaurant, well known by celebrities, politicians, local families and tourists, has been around since the 1930’s serving up authentic Chinese food. Their closure and the false alarm announcement of Empress of China also closing were the catalyst for organizing a Chinatown Pub Crawl. Steve and I had so much fun when we bar hopped through Chinatown a few months back, we got everyone excited about joining us on a second crawl.
The plan was to drink at each place for an hour and then bounce to the next bar, hopping along Grant Avenue until we ended at Mr. Bing’s. As it turned out, Four Seas was the perfect place to kick off our Chinatown Pub Crawl because not only do they have a fully stocked bar, they have good food to line our stomachs for a night’s worth of drinking. I called ahead to order dim sum for our group and once we arrived, the food started rolling out. Some of us were on a carb free diet and we were able to enjoy some dim sum treats including shrimp stuffed bell peppers and shrimp stuffed eggplant. For eight people drinking two rounds of wine, Maker’s and Coke, Ketel Soda and beers, the total was only $87.
We paid the tab and off to the Empress of China we went, where we missed Happy Hour so the drinks were a bit more than expected. $6 for a Tsing Tao and $10+ for cocktails. On random afternoons, I like to go to the Empress of China for their half off drinks and appetizers but apparently, the deal ended at 6pm. The bartender that usually worked there wasn’t working that night. He sometimes let the specials run till 7pm but that might be because we start drinking there earlier. That night, we got there after 6pm, the perfect time to see the sun set over the city skyline. As we got situated at the small tables by the fish tank, my colleague, Milton, and I started to roll up the blinds and everyone let out an “awe” sound as the room lit up with sunlight. All eyes scanned the view of tall buildings on the left and Coit Tower and Telegraph Hill in the distance on the right. We looked directly out in front of us and the Taiwan and China flags fluttered in the wind on top of the many buildings below. It is quite a beautiful sight to see from up there.
My friend, Jimmy Chan, and I inquired about the history of the restaurant with the waitress and asked about the looming closure. We learned Empress of China opened in the 60’s and was no longer closing. They were able to renegotiate their lease. After talking to the waitress, Angela, for a bit, I told her my paternal grandfather, uncle and dad all worked at that restaurant at one point in their lives. And she said that made sense because the kitchen staff was still all Louies to this day. Sadly, I had to call my dad later that night to confirm my grandfather’s nickname though. One of the waiters said he knew my grandfather and they called him “principal” but I was a bit puzzled as I only knew him to be a teacher in China. On the call to my dad, I was told my grandfather was once a school principal. I had no idea!
From Empress of China, we dropped into Buddha Lounge on the corner of Grant and Washington. I love this place! It was small and endearing with a juke box near the entrance and black stools lining the bar on the right. The bartender was probably the owner as he’s been there on all my visits. As we entered the bar, the faces all turned and smiled at us. You can’t help but notice that the bar caters to all and doesn’t discriminate. The friendly smiles belonged to a group of young Chinese professionals, a few hipsters and some older Chinese gentlemen. We took out our leftovers from Four Seas and went to town right on the bar and the bartender gave no shits. He even tried to get in on the food while serving us our drinks. At this point, we had fifteen of us.
Since it was the perfect definition of a divey bar, we should have stayed at Buddha Lounge longer than we had but we decided to head over to Li Po Lounge. Li Po is in the middle of Chinatown so you’ve probably seen their sandwich board adverting the home of Chinese Mai Tai and wondered, “What makes it Chinese?” Well, they add “Chinese Liqueur” to the mixture of dark and light rums and pineapple juice. It’s not bad but I don’t typically order sweet cocktails so I didn’t have much to compare to. While I spun around on the stool, sipping on the Mai Tai through the fluorescent pink straw, I saw it was a fairly roomy bar. Chinese trinkets lined the wall behind the bar and they even had a shrine for a deity. As ornate as it was, the decor made the place cozy and comfortable. I didn’t care so much for one of the bartenders but that’s a whole other story.
We skipped going to Red’s Place this time and headed straight to Mr. Bing’s. Mr. Bing’s is awesome! It’s at the corner of Columbus and Pacific so the bar is shaped like a triangle. The bartenders were friendly and cute. All the guys in our group were pleased to hang around that bar and I didn’t mind either. By the time we made it to Mr. Bing’s, we were pretty tipsy and the drinks kept flowing because more people showed up and started buying. By 11:30pm, most of our group had gone home and those still left standing decided to head into North Beach. Mr. Bing’s was the end of our very fun Chinatown Pub Crawl.