8. 50 Bowery
Photos courtesy Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants
Depending on the decade, or century, pedestrians walking by 50 Bowery in Chinatown may have passed a tavern, a beer garden, a theatre, a Popeye’s or a Duane Reade. The address originally belonged to the Bull’s Head Tavern, a popular watering hole for merchants, butchers and cattle brokers in the mid-1700s. The Bull’s Head Tavern became infamous when George Washington led troops there to celebrate the withdrawal of English colonials from New York in 1783. After many reincarnations 50 Bowery is now a 22-story hotel built by the Chu family, a prominent real-estate force with roots in Chinatown that date back to 1949 when Joseph Chu settled in the area. Since 50 Bowery sits on a spectacular fossil record of Chinatown, construction at the site was controversial, but the Chu family are fascinated with the history of Chinatown and are longtime supporters of The Museum of Chinese in America, MOCA. Alex Chu told Voices of New York, “We want to give back to the neighborhood. And 50 Bowery is a platform for us to do so.”
Before the construction of Hotel 50 Bowery took place, an excavation of the site was conducted and archaeological documentation done by Chrysalis Archaeological Consultants uncovered a plethora of historical artifacts. Many glass bottles that used to hold a myriad of substances were found at the site including bottles from a German mineral water company, Brooklyn-based North American Brewing Company and a kefir-like milk drink called Zoolak. The team also dug up plates and colorful tiles from the historic Atlantic Garden beer garden. The Chrysalis team were inspired by their finds to concoct their own bitters based on historic recipes. In addition to the treasures found in the ground, there was an 1826 time capsule sealed on-site during the construction of the theater but was never found.
At the behest of MOCA, the Chus put together a time capsule that was placed at the foundation of their hotel. The capsule contains some items from the excavation such as an empty bottle of Dr. J. Hostetter’s bitters and contemporary pieces of life in Chinatown such as copies of Sing Tao Daily, The New York Times and Time magazine, menus of Chinese restaurants, and some Golden Venture and 9/11-related collections from MOCA.
MOCA will permanently occupy a 1,500-square-foot exhibition space on the second floor of the hotel where visitors can view items from the excavation of 50 Bowery for free. The aptly named “Heart of Chinatown” exhibit connects visitors to the culture and the history of the surrounding community.