27 May 2012

The Story of the China Bowl


Virgil's, the huge Times Square BBQ joint, recently got a big new sign and bright red awnings to go with it, I noticed. They also exchanged the stationary bowl-shaped sign at the top of the restaurant for a rotating oval one. That last renovation was a shame, because the bowl-shaped sign was all that remained of the address' former tenant. It was bowl-shape, you see, because it used to say China Bowl. That was the name of the Chop Suey palace that occupied this spot on W. 44th Street for decades until 1993, when the owners of family-style joints Ollie's and Carmine's bought it and converted it to Virgil's.

The Theatre District used to have several large-scale Chinese restaurants, and the China Bowl was one of the most popular. It was owned by Ginchee Chin, who went to the bother in 1956 of bringing a Chinese dragon to W. 44th to celebrate the New Year. Here's a picture of it from Flickr. (I have to say I don't get Flickr. The site is supposed to be about photo-sharing, right. Yet, many of the people who post photos there won't share them with you, but lock them down.) Great signage and lots of it. Classic Times Square gritty neon style. Imagine standing in Times Square on a rainy night, peering down W. 44th and seeing that!

The interior is pictured below.




I only went once, in 1992. Red was the dominant color. It was as dark as night inside, and wildly atmospheric. The film "Glengarry Glen Ross" captured that midnight aura pretty well, and also preserved for memory China Bowl's lovely bar. The restaurant was also seen in "Godfather III." I sat in a booth. I don't remember the food, or if it was good. But the menu looked like this. (Thanks for nothing, Flickr.) And in 1967, the Times' Craig Clairborne found the chop suet and chow mein "quite palatable," the won ton soup "freshly made," and the shrimp and bean sprouts "tasty."

6 comments:

dmarks said...

Interesting blog; I will be coming back. The title drew me in. And no I am not a real New Yorker.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't heard the term "chop suey palace" but I do recall very large Chinese restaurants in midtown. There was a place on the second floor in a building on the south side of 34th St. It was directly across from Macy's. As I recall the name was Hankow's or Hankow Gardens. My mom took me there when I accompanied her shopping. We were very low budget and I'm sure we ate the chop suey. This would have been in the 1950's, but the place may have hung on well past that. Does anybody remember it, or know anything about it?

Bobby said...

I remember the place. Anyone know anything about the Hankow Gardens on W 34th, on the 2nd floor, across from Macy's?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Well, now I'm going to have to look into Hankow Gardens.

tbone said...

The chinese restaurant on the south side of 34th that was on the 2nd floor was in a building that was demolished when the building that Old Navy is in was built (10 or 15 years ago). They had classic chinese/american food and I remember going there as well. The food was quite good!

Unknown said...

My Dad's family worked here and had part ownership..we would go here as kids..it was very "old school" and had alot of pictures of the old movie and stage stars on the walls with autographs...