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Chinatown Hotel Apologizes for 'Opium Den-Themed' Lounge Following Backlash

 Hotel 50 Bowery, a 229-room boutique hotel, is now open in Chinatown.
Hotel 50 Bowery, a 229-room boutique hotel, is now open in Chinatown.
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Hotel 50 Bowery

CHINATOWN — The company behind a Chinatown-themed hotel is apologizing for its "opium den-themed" lounge, after backlash from neighborhood residents and activists — claiming the phrase was never supposed to be in a release for the project despite appearing in press literature for close to a year.

Hotel 50 Bowery, a 229-room boutique hotel from Joie de Vivre touting Asian-inspired art and cuisine, opened its doors on May 16 and began advertising its many attractions, including an opium den-themed lounge called The Green Lady, according to a press release.

"The hotel recognizes the sensitivity around the phrase, has removed the descriptor from all communications, and apologizes for using it," Hotel 50 Bowery spokeswoman Hannah Gilfenbain wrote in an email on Tuesday.

Joie de Vivre had been circulating word of the themed parlor as early as September 2016, according to The Lo-Down.

The theme prompted a swift backlash from Chinatown locals, who have accused the hotel of promoting negative stereotypes while claiming to honor the neighborhood's rich cultural legacy with its themed hotel.

"It’s ironic that a hotel honoring the neighborhood would allow a business to highlight a negative stereotype within," wrote Karlin Chan, neighborhood activist and senior director of the New York Chinese Freemasons Athletic Club, in an opinion piece for Bowery Boogie.

"In the end, is this insensitivity or racism? Is this another nail in the coffin for our hometown Chinatown?"

Another longtime local said she feared the theme belied a disturbing trend to create a "playground for thrill-seekers" by exploiting harmful stereotypes about an immigrant community.

"Basically, we don’t want to see Chinatown turn into an Eastworld version of 'Westworld,' where these old archetypes and stereotypes are resuscitated for a particular audience," said Suelain Moy, whose family has roots in Chinatown going back five generations.

"As someone who lives here and as someone with neighbors and family in the community with real roots, I hate to see the neighborhood turn into this stereotype or even this maladjusted archetype of what Chinatown is," she added.

Hotel representatives claim the lounge's presence in the press release was a mistake — but scrambled to come up with an explanation of how it ended up there or what it was supposed to say.

First, after DNAinfo New York published an article on the hotel Friday morning, Gilfenbain wrote, "The Green Lady is not meant to be described as 'opium den-themed,'" and claimed the interior design company behind the space had billed it as an homage to the theater culture surrounding Chinatown’s old Sun Sing Theatre.”

Pressed to explain why the hotel was circulating the description of the lounge for close to a year, Gilfenbain waited until Tuesday to explain that the descriptor had been used in earlier planning stages to describe the bar's decor but should have been expunged from the press release. She added that the bar was actually a nod to 1930s Shanghai, an ocean away from the Sun Sing Theater.

"Communications should have been updated sooner to reflect the 30s era Shanghai China theme that has been decided on for the space," Gilfenbain wrote.

"The Green Lady represents contrast – soft bold fabrics meet gritty, distressed existing finishes. This is symbolic of the evolution of the neighborhood, paying homage to both the nostalgia of the past as well as the electric energy of the future. Upon opening, The Green Lady will welcome patrons with expertly-crafted cocktails, live entertainment and music."