If you’re planning to attend the Chinese New Year Parade, you might be looking for something to do before NYC’s most colorful procession. That’s why we’ve rounded up some awesome New York attractions in surrounding neighborhoods like Little Italy as well as some noteworthy spots in Chinatown for you to check out. After the festivities die down, we included one of the best karaoke bars in Chinatown, one of the best Chinatown restaurants and places to go shopping.
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Crack cake. That’s what the renowned sponge cake should be called at this 30-year-old Chinatown coffee counter, so criminally good, you’ll think it’s laced with something illegal. It doesn’t look like much—a squishy, boat-shaped white-sugar cake, pulled from the oven, wrapped in paper and hidden in Tupperware behind the counter. But its unassuming appearance belies an angel-food-like interior, ethereally light and mildly sweet. Even better? The shop has launched a green-tea variety, smaller than the original but steeped with earthy tea flavor, mellowing out to a vanilla finish.
MOCA occupies an airy former machine shop designed by prominent Chinese-American architect Maya Lin. In an interior loosely inspired by a traditional Chinese house, with rooms radiating off a central courtyard and areas defined by screens, MOCA’s core exhibit traces the development of Chinese communities on these shores from the 17th century to the present through objects, images and video. Mixed-media displays cover the development of industries such as laundries and restaurants in New York, Chinese stereotypes in pop culture, and the suspicion and humiliation Chinese-Americans endured during World War II and the McCarthy era.
With an impressive facade that combines Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque elements, the first grand synagogue on the Lower East Side is now surrounded by dumpling shops and Chinese herb stores, but rewind about a century and you’d find delis and mikvot (ritual bathhouses). For its first 50 years, the 1887 synagogue had a congregation of thousands and doubled as a mutual-aid society for new arrivals in need of financial assistance, health care and employment. But as Jews left the area and the congregation dwindled, the building fell into disrepair. A recently completed 20-year, $18.5 million face-lift has restored the splendor of the soaring main sanctuary, which features hand-stenciled walls and gorgeous stained-glass: an original rose window and a new design by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans. Downstairs, touch-screen displays highlight the synagogue’s architecture, aspects of worship and local history.
This Chinatown megastore is a must-visit for Asian cuisine fanatics: Its oversized aisles are filled to bursting with the staples of Chinese cooking, from fresh noodles to dumpling wrappers to fermented black beans and much, much more. High turnover means that fruits and vegetables are fresh, and a sushi stall near checkout stocks surprisingly tasty to-go boxes of fresh rolls.
Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Vauvau
The first thing you see at Oriental Garden are the crabs waving their claws in a front-window tank. That’s a good sign, for this Chinatown stalwart—done up in the requisite dining-hall décor and bright lighting—specializes in fresh, Cantonese-style seafood, embracing a lengthy menu of dishes like steamed whole fish, glazed prawns with broccoli and clams galore. The dim sum offerings are also copious. Prices are a tad higher than the neighborhood’s surrounding options—a bowl of shark’s fin soup is yours for $68. But such exorbitance is balanced by the $7.99 prix-fixe lunch, served weekdays.
It's easy to find Tony Moly's Will Wonka–esque makeup line in New York—you can get its fruit-shaped lip balms at Urban Outfitters and Sephora—but first-timers should flock to the Chinatown shop to test out the brand's full range of beauty loot in cute-as-hell packaging. Grab the best-sellers: Panda's Dream brightening cream ($14) to achieve that dewy look and Tony Moly mask sheets ($3), which lock in moisture during your next Netflix binge.
Owner Lorna Lai knows her teas the way a sommelier knows terroir. Curious sippers peruse the well-stocked shelves of the Hong Kong native’s nook, which boasts more than a thousand jarred loose-leaf varieties from around the world, available by the ounce, Lai’s house-made herbal blends are standouts, in exotic flavors like holy basil and bilberry.
Set below fast-casual Cali joint Genuine Superette, this kitsch-fueled, bodega-inspired bar from drinks wizard Eben Freeman (Costata) brings a cheeky revamp of straitlaced cocktailing with offerings built with oft-ignored spirits like Pinnacle and flavored Jim Beam. A stairwell lined with old newspapers and tobacco ads leads revelers to the 34-seat main room, illuminated by a neon sign and backlit displays of bottles, sold by the ounce through a self-serve program. At the bar, a drinks list centers on a selection of eye-catching Cha-Chunkers, which are bulldog-style cocktails with miniature liquor bottles inverted into canned sodas, like a mojito with a bottle of Cruzan white rum dunked into Sprite.
This lounge is not only great for singers that prefer to belt in private—it’s also the best spot to entertain a big-ass group of people. This box-style bar boasts eight suites that come in all different sizes (the largest room can accommodate up to 35 partyers), and comes equipped with 42-inch or 58-inch LCD monitors, L.E.D. lighting control and a disco ball, in case you’re feeling the boogie fever. A touch screen offers 120,000 songs, available in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
Looking for a dim sum restaurant?
Tantra Lounge in Astoria has an eclectic aesthetic. The decor seems largely inspired by the Middle East, with lanterns lighting up cozy nooks draped in brightly hued silks, although a few statues of traditional Hindu gods pop up here and there. The music selection is just as varied and vibrant. On any given night, you might hear salsa, R&B, top 40 hits and reggae. Order a drink at the bar, or purchase VIP bottle service so your crew can claim one of the intimate tables as your own. Either way, you can still take a few puffs of the flavored hookah. And since they offer special birthday packages and occasional themed events, Tantra Lounge has you covered when it comes to special events, too.
Venue says: “Dance the night away with us in the this hip lounge!”