My love of exploring New York’s streets and museums gave me the idea for my company in 1993, when I realized that scavenger hunts would be a great way for other people to discover the quirky, funny or just plain cool places and sights I found. Watson Adventures has grown into a nationwide company that offers private hunts just about anywhere, while we stage hunts for the public on weekends in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles. But one of my favorite hunt locations remains in New York’s Chinatown and Little Italy, a lively jumble of cultures, with great restaurants and fascinating (but mostly hidden) history. Here’s a “micro-tour” of the area based on highlights from our hunts.
1. In 1972 mobster Joey Gallo was rubbed out at Umberto’s restaurant, which once stood on the corner at 129 Mulberry Street. He was shot inside, then staggered outside and died on Hester Street. (As they say, “He ordered clams and got slugs.”) At the corner, you can still make out the name “Umberto’s” in the pavement, even though the letters have since been filled in with cement.
2. You get a sense of the neighborhood’s rough-and-tumble past from the tenements along Bayard Street. For example, in 1872 The New York Times called 61 Bayard Street “a resort for the vilest type of low people.” Here, a thief shot and killed his lover, “a waitress in a low concert saloon,” because she went out with friends despite his objections. Today the street is lined with great places to eat, particularly at No. 65, the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory. Legend has it that ice cream was created in China during the Tang Dynasty, and the handmade flavors here are fit for an emperor, especially pumpkin pie, ginger, and Zen butter (peanut butter with toasted sesame seeds).
3. Doyers Street was known as the “Bloody Angle” because of the sharp turn in the road and the numerous shootings that happened there in the 1930s, courtesy of the area’s violent Tong gangs. A former opium den is now the scene of the trendy bar Apotheke. The drinks are prepared with produce from greenmarkets or from the bar’s own rooftop garden. Try such homespun “remedies” as Pigmy Gimlet and Cherry Licorice (for more on Apotheke, check out tdp’s blog).
Doyers is just off Pell Street, which is now known to the locals as “Hair Cutting Street.” Try to count the barber poles that still spin near the intersection of Pell and Doyers. (Warning: You might want to attempt this before cocktail hour.)
Catch all of the above and more on the Gangsters’ New York Scavenger Hunt, Saturday, March 24 at 2 p.m. For the complete NYC calendar of Watson Adventures Scavenger Hunts, visit WatsonAdventures.com. For more on Bret Watson, click here.