Without a doubt, Hop Sing Laundromat is the most highly-anticipated and closely-watched bar opening in Philly, ever. Details of the secretive project have slowly trickled out from a man, known only as Lêe, who is as enigmatic as the project itself. Since returning from his cocktail bar research trip that covered 33,000 miles and 48 states, he's worked behind a locked door at 1029 Race Street.
For the first time since appearing in Philly more than a year ago, Lêe opens up to Eater about the project in detail, why it's taking so long, and why he's kept such a tight lid on the whole process. His answers surprised us, to say the least.
Why have you been so cryptic about details surrounding Hop Sing Laundromat? Are you just messing with the media?
Not at all. I've kept quiet about this project to everyone. Even my family hasn't the slightest idea what I've been up to for the past year. Believe it or not, Hop Sing Laundromat is quite personal to me. It's more than just a bar. I like to think it's a love letter and apology letter to my parents. It's a thank you note to my partners. Last but not least, it's a greeting card to the city of Philadelphia.
How is Hop Sing Laundromat an apology to your folks?
My folks have always worried about me, what I'm doing with my life, and if I will be OK. They are both getting on in years and this completed project could put their mind at ease about my future. This apology has been a long time coming for the pains we've all caused our parents over the years, and their happiness will be one of the best possible end results that I could ever hope for by building Hop Sing Laundromat.
You've been at this for over a year now. Why is it taking so long?
I understand there are people out there getting impatient, as I have taken my time in designing the space. But none of us here have a degree in design, so it is only natural it's taking longer than normal. I am sure you've heard the story that we've moved the bar from one side of the room to the other in the middle of the night because we thought the employees should have a better view of the room. To some people that might be overkill, but our employees are going to have to be here day in, day out so it should be built for them.
When's the opening date?
Well, it's coming very soon. We have a few charity events to do first, but once they're done we will be open to the public.
Do you think the mysteriousness of the project helps with the hype?
We didn't do anything to "hype" the project, after all it is just a simple bar located on a busy street, and not some Rittenhouse basement discotheque. Realistically, Hop Sing Laundromat can't live up to the expectations that have been set by all the buzz we've been getting, along with the goals we've set for ourselves. So, if I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't let any reporter go near the joint until it is done. But, I do understand you have a job to do. I just wished Hop Sing Laundromat wasn't the subject of your reporting.
What if the success of the bar doesn't live up to your expectations? Will you change gears at Hop Sing Laundromat?
If Hop Sing Laundromat lives up to the expectation of our guests and the media, then it is just pure luck. And, if this whole thing goes south, then I and I alone will be the biggest idiot in town for trying, and rightly so. Of course, it goes without saying that we are hoping for the best, but fully prepared for the worst case scenario.
More than anyone else, I understand Hop Sing Laundromat and every other cocktail bar does have a shelf life which will eventually expire. So, if you are asking if I am planning to turn to something else because Hop Sing Laundromat has ran its course, then the answer is no. But, we will have to evolve. My biggest fear, actually, is dying before I get to open Hop Sing Laundromat. Honestly. But, since we're so close, it's not a rational fear.
Every last detail in the bar has been custom made or designed. Why go to all that trouble?
Because the comfort of our guests is a extremely important to us, and we'll go to great lengths to make it so for them. There is no "one size fits all" in the designing process in my humble opinion. Details matter.
Details like thousands of pennies superglued to the floor, nickels on the bar, and all of them are facing the same direction. Some would say you have OCD. What would you say?
The pennies thing has been done, but not correctly in my opinion, as they're usually all mixed up and facing different directions. If someone came along and did it after us, we would be asking ourselves why we didn't think of it first. I don't want to ask myself that question late. You aren't the first person to mention I might be OCD.
We hope our guests can see and appreciate the fact that this isn't some copy of a New York concept. This bar was conceived and built here in Philadelphia, and not by consultants like other cocktail bars in town.
We hear you won't allow guests to take pictures inside of Hop Sing Laundromat. Is that true?
Along with service, our guest privacy is utterly important to us. Your time spent here should remain private and not end up on a website. There are no recording devices of any kind allowed in the main room, and that includes cellphone cameras. I can't speak for anyone else but I find the idea of someone yapping on the phone in a bar annoying.
It's a good policy that more bars should enforce. What made you take such a hardline stance?
No one has the right to know what our guests do or did with their time at our bar. To point your phone camera at someone not in their best light is demeaning at best. Privacy is a privilege and not a right in 2012, which is really strange. I believe in those values. I understand there are people who need to be updated instantly on what's going on in their world at all times, but they won't be doing it at Hop Sing Laundromat.
What do you hope to ultimately achieve with Hop Sing Laundromat and all the time and money you've spent developing the concept? Best bar in the U.S.? Most beautiful bar in the US? Most exclusive?
We aren't going for any of those three. We don't think it's the most beautiful craft cocktail bar in the country, but we are quite happy with what we've done so far. It's the only one of its kind; a true Philly original. So, the best we can hope for is our local guests will enjoy the fruits of our labor. Ultimately the population will decide what we are.
You've got 1,200 different bottles of liquor on the wall. Do you think you'll really need all of them?
What I've learned on my research trip, driving 33,000 miles in 70 days through 48 states, is that every cocktail bar thinks their version of a classic cocktail is the best version ever made. They all stock their establishments with a limited selection of spirits to make their own versions of these cocktails. That's a mistake.
We just can't assume people will be satisfied with our choice of gins, so why not carry as many brands as possible? Our guest's version of any cocktail is and always will be the best version of them all. The perfect drink.
What were the most inspiring things you saw or experienced during your research?
The Battle of Greasy Grass.
Do you have any other projects on the horizon?
Yes, we do have other projects in the pipeline, as we started out with three concepts and Hop Sing Laundromat just happened to be the first, even though we didn't plan it that way. Also, it was going be called Hop Sing "Laundry," but decided against it out of respect for Thomas Keller. Hopefully that will make it easier for us to score a reservation at The French Laundry in the future.
· Hop Sing Laundromat [Official]