13 layers on the exposed brick wall

Here is an update on Hop Sing Laundromat, the Bonanza-reference-named cocktail bar whose owner Lêe goes only by his first name. A web of secrets continues to shroud what’s going on at 1029 Race St., but we are slowly unwinding the riddle.

In April, we brought you some early info. A few days ago, we learned some new décor details from the man himself as Lêe welcomed us in to view his gradually progressing vision. Interior renovations are complete aside from cleaning and decorating. He recently received a small collection of chairs from a theater in Italy, where patrons will sit while they wait for their complimentary shoeshine.

Lêe envisions Hop Sing as a low-key establishment with a clientele to match its air of mystique and style. Consider its penny floor made with over $500 worth of pennies, each penny set and glued one by one, heads down. Or the hundreds of old, rustic books Lêe purchased from antique stores around the country, that will line the top of Hop Sing’s walls like crown moulding. And yes, the books are real. Ask Lêe. Maybe he’ll talk D.H. Lawrence with you.

$500 worth of pennies. In case of emergency.

“Do you think I’m crazy?” Lêe says as we talk. “No one’s ever opened a bar like this in this part of town. I could have opened in Rittenhouse if I wanted to, but I wanted to open here.” He did remark that he’s disappointed about how the press has gotten wind of his project. He had hoped to have even more mystery surrounding the place.

In a perfect world, Lêe would have opened his doors one day without announcement. Picture walking through Chinatown, and as if out of nowhere, noticing a faded door and a shell of a sign that looks like one you’d see in a Disneyland ghost-town. Filled with curiosity, you’d enter this place and, much to your surprise, find men in sharp suits, impeccably dressed women, a cool piano player and 1,000 bottles to titillate your palate and send off the night among the city lights. The man certainly has a vision.

As it came to pass, the press did find him. The word is out and the buzz is good. As much mystery as there continues to be about the place, there is a man who cares just as much about how his place is built, designed, and run. And why are all those pennies face down? “So no one can step on the face of one of the greatest American presidents of this nation of opportunity,” says Lêe. “Maybe I’m crazy, but that kind of bothers me.”

Signs point to late July or early August for the opening date for Hop Sing. We’re holding off on shoeshines til then.

–Lou Mancinelli