We met up with a California transplant at one of her favorite neighborhood spots, Little Canal, to chat about life in Chinatown, NYC.
Name: Aislinn Murray
Occupation: Marketing Manager, L’Oréal
How long I’ve lived in the neighborhood: In and around Chinatown for a little over five years; in Two Bridges specifically for just over three months
Why I moved to Chinatown: I moved to New York from California right after college. I originally moved to this neighborhood because I knew I wanted to live downtown, and it was a bit more affordable than other areas. Most recently, I moved more into Chinatown proper, just because I feel like it’s one of those neighborhoods in New York that totally transports you. And that’s one of the things I love the most about living in New York — you can go a couple blocks or go to a different borough, and it just feels like you’re in a different world. And I think Chinatown is one of those neighborhoods that has really retained some of its spirit.
What I love most about living here: I love that I don’t have to go far to find a cool bar or restaurant, or a place to get Chinese buns in the morning. There is so much to do right here. Even today, I unexpectedly walked into a Chinese parade. I feel like it’s not so much a destination neighborhood like other neighborhoods in the city are. So you have your places that you go to, bars where you know the bartender, things you might not experience if you lived somewhere like the East Village or Lower East Side, where people are kind of cycling in and out of the restaurants and cafes from other parts of the city.
Favorite spots to eat in the neighborhood: All of my work friends always make fun of me because I go to the same bars and restaurants in the same three block radius all the time. My favorite spot to eat is just up the street — it’s a Greek restaurant called Kiki’s. I feel like it recently it got really trendy because now you have to wait sometimes for hours, but it’s so close to our place that my roommate and I can usually hop in, put our name down, and hang out down the street and come back later. It’s great because they have all of these yummy small Greek plates, you can easily eat there with a group, and it has a casual, fun vibe. I’m a vegetarian and my friends love ordering the octopus and moussaka and other dishes with meat in them — I still love it despite the fact that I can’t eat half of the things on the table!
For breakfast, I love Cheeky Sandwiches, which is just down the street from Kiki’s on Orchard. They make an amazing, simple egg and cheese on a biscuit with a great hot sauce on it. Also, you wouldn’t expect it, but here at Little Canal they make some killer pasta, so we come late at night for bowls of cacio e pepe. I recently also discovered this bakery around the corner from my apartment that is a great place to get sweet Chinese buns and stuff like that, it’s called Manna One Bakery. It has a purple awning and it’s on Catherine Street. So that’s a new find that I feel like is going to become a weekend morning staple for me.
Your go-to coffee shops and bars: I come [to Little Canal] a lot for coffee, and for wine! My roommate Hannah and I have a ritual where we’ll come here on a Sunday or Monday night, and we always get a bottle of their Grüner and it’s our weekday treat. It’s so funny — we’re like childhood friends, we basically do everything together.
Another coffee shop that I love which is more on the Lower East Side is called El Rey. I love going in the summer because they have a bar in the window and the windows are usually open, so you can sit there and read a magazine and have some coffee. And they actually make some really good breakfast food which is shocking because it’s such a small place. There’s a little table in the back of the cafe where the chef makes everything from like a salad-grain-bowl situation, to this sweet and simple toast that’s really good.
There area couple of bars that I love and frequent. One of them is Mr. Fong’s, which is across the street from my place. They have scorpion bowls that they light on fire. It has a little bit of a tiki vibe and offers cool takes on drinks. It’s kind of unassuming on the corner, so I don’t know how people really find out about it. I read an article once about how the owners are these four guys who just kind of created their following through their own connections and they never really had to do PR. I don’t know them, but I get the sense that a lot of people that come into the bar do. It’s a good time any night of the week.
I also really like Bar Belly, which was recently renovated, so it’s a bit different than what it once was. It’s a good place to get a glass of wine or a cocktail. I was actually there last night! And there’s a place called Forgetmenot** that is right up the street. It’s great because I think it’s owned by the same people that own **Kiki’s — so you can order some of their food to eat at the bar, like Greek dips with pita, which is amazing when you’re having a beer.
Talking transportation: I work at Hudson Yards on the west side of the city, which is pretty difficult to get to from a lot of parts of New York. However there are options — you have the F and B trains down here, and the D which is an express train.
More and more what I really love doing is using Citibike as much as I can, because there are a lot of docks around here. And we’re actually so close to the water that you can just pick up a bike and ride down to the water and come up the West Side Highway on the bike path. It’s such a great way to start your morning, especially when you’re going to be cooped up in an office building during the day. So I feel like even if you don’t have a ton of subway options there are ways to make it work. Living here has gotten me to experiment more with biking. I don’t think I could fit my own bike in my apartment, so it’s convenient to use a bike share.
What makes Chinatown unique: I feel like there’s more of a human element to Chinatown that you don’t get in some parts of New York. In a lot of Manhattan especially, people are operating in their own bubble, and it feels a little bit impersonal. But I feel like in this neighborhood, because it’s not so much a destination, it has a local kind of feel.
One anecdote that comes to mind is when Hannah, my roommate, and I had bought a houseplant, one of those fiddle leaf plants and we were carrying it home. It was the most ridiculous scene because Hannah was carrying this giant plant with a paper bag over it, and an elderly Chinese man walked past us and was just so amused by the fact that we were walking on the streets of Chinatown with this giant plant. And he was just laughing at us and pointing and making eye contact. And it was just one of those things where I feel like life kind of slows down a little bit here, because I wouldn’t have expected anyone to interact with us in that way or even notice in another part of the city. It’s funny, it just feels a little bit smaller.
Advice for others looking to move to the area: My advice would be to put in the effort to look around and don’t settle. There are gems in every neighborhood — we somehow found an apartment in Chinatown that’s brand new, renovated, in a great location, still has all of the charms of the neighborhood, and accessibility to wherever we need to go. But we had to look at a few places before we got there and we also had to be a little bit flexible. We originally wanted to move in August, but we wound up moving in July. So it’s just about keeping your eyes peeled for what’s available to gauge what your options might be.
Closing words: There’s so much to do in New York, and I think that there’s a lot that can be said about exploring different neighborhoods and discovering new places. But at the same time, there’s also a lot of value in finding your niche in your neighborhood and having your own spots where people know you. It’s a balance of both, and when you find the right neighborhood for you it can be a really great thing.