Orient Express

Once sleepy, now hot, L.A.’s Chinatown strives for a balance between newfound prosperity and artistic soul. Alexandria Abramian-Mott reports on a neighborhood influx.

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Gallerygoers inevitably end up at the Mountain Bar, one of the area's more dramatic crossroads. Owned by Steven Hanson of China Art Objects Galleries, artist Jorge Pardo, and Mark McManus, the bar was once one of Chinatown's oldest eateries; now it is its hottest nightspot. The fact that Brad Pitt showed up for its opening was enough to earn some dire "there goes the neighborhood" predictions, but McManus insists they're far from focused on the Hollywood scene. "We're a bridge between the art and Chinese communities," he says.

Not that every encounter between old and new goes smoothly. In front of the Seven Star Cavern wishing well, another of Chinatown's unlikely landmarks of high kitsch, Richard Liu is not exactly pleased. The problem isn't the stalactite statuary. It's the shiny new carnival-style car rides for kids parked in front that bug him. "There's no architectural sensitivity," he complains. "Bringing Chinatown back will take more than a few more businesses. It's going to take strong-willed people." As if to support the effort of maintaining an appropriate equilibrium, the wishing well's closest coin target reads: "Good luck."


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