Chinatown’s speakeasy-style Hop Sing Laundromat, owned by man of mystery Lê, is celebrating five years of accidentally being a speakeasy. “The things people say about us aren’t true,” says Lê of the cocktail destination, named one of the 30 greatest bars in the world by Condé Nast Traveler in 2015. “People think I have the gate locked to be a speakeasy, but it’s so I can screen people. I don’t want loudmouths or drunks. I don’t want to put my staff through the hassle of dealing with idiots,” he says. “I just want to serve reasonable humans.”
Never one to hold his tongue, Lê might not have wanted to go with “laundromat” in the name if he wasn’t aiming for a speakeasy vibe. But he’s not kidding around about screening people: The list of aspiring patrons banned from the bar is already 1,700 names long.
Lê styles himself, especially on social media, as a North Korean ex-pat, a fervent support of Dear Leader — and he isn’t inclined to break character. On Twitter, he describes Hop Sing Laundromat as “The World's Greatest North Korean Cocktail Bar according to all inferior Imperialist Americans.” In honor of the bar’s fifth anniversary, here are five things inferior Americans might not have known about Hop Sing Laundromat, according to the man himself:
1. Despite running a bar that serves some of the best liquor around, Lê barely drinks.
“I’ll order a drink at a bar so it doesn't look awkward, but most of the time I order a light beer and a bottle of water,” Lê says. “I'll barely touch the beer but I’ll always make sure I finish the water so I can tell the bartender I don't have any room left for the beer.”
2. He’s the only one with a key to the bar.
Every single day Hop Sing Laundromat is open, Tuesday to Saturday, he’s there to unlock the door in the afternoon and secure it late at night. “I thought I’d come in less after a few years,” he says, “but I’m still here every day.”
3. There’s no phone and no Internet.
“Simply because we can't afford it, and also we don't want to give the local Philadelphia propaganda press a chance to tap our phone,” Lê says.
4. When Lê first rented the space, it was cheaper than you might expect — because the Chinatown property is cursed.
“They tell me there’s a curse on the building,” Lê says of his neighbors. “Asian people are very suspicious, so no one wanted to rent it.” But the curse, he adds, “has no effect on us North Koreans.”
5. Lê is on his fifth Facebook profile. The first four were flagged.
Thanks to his antagonistic comments — often about potential patrons denied entry to the bar (who then complain on sites like Yelp) — Facebook shut down his first four pages. “Apparently freedom of speech is only reserved for inferior imperialist Americans,” he says, “and not for the second-highest ranking officer of North Korea.”
Happy birthday, Hop Sing.