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Opium Dens Are a Terrible Theme for Bars

The anti-immigrant history behind these spaces should make you reconsider casting the stereotypical drug den as the inspiration for a lounge.
Widely circulated as a photo of an opium den, the photographer has never made clear if it really is.
Widely circulated as a photo of an opium den, the photographer has never made clear if it really is.Library of Congress/Public Domain

The brand-new, luxurious Hotel 50 Bowery sits at the heart of New York City’s Chinatown, its 22 stories of gleaming glass towering over the buildings nearby. With Asian restaurants inside, and decorated with a gallery of artifacts from the Museum of Chinese in America and vintage photographs of Chinatown, the hotel is supposed to honor the legacy of the historic immigrant enclave that’s helped defined the city.

But the hotel company Joie de Vivre unwittingly drew ire from Chinatown activists last week when a press release described one of its highly anticipated hotel bar lounges, The Green Lady, as “opium den-themed.” Writing on the blog Bowery Boogie, the local lawyer and activist Karlin Chan called out the company for what he says is an insult to the neighborhood’s residents: