The heart of Chinatown, around Chatham Square at the confluence of the Bowery and East Broadway, has a town plan all its own, with small streets that seemingly lead nowhere. Today, they’re chockablock with restaurants, barbers and shops that draw New Yorkers and tourists alike. But these small, curvy streets have a lurid history: Doyers Street was once nicknamed “The Bloody Angle” for its association with gang violence, and Mosco Street was corner of the infamous Five Points slum of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Doyers Street: The Former ‘Bloody Angle’
In a city that’s mostly dominated by a strict checkerboard street grid, Doyers Street follows its own rules, wobbling on a curve between the Bowery and Pell Street. In fact, there are three separate bends on Doyers Street, with the famed Nom Wah Tea Parlor overlooking the most pronounced one. Doyers Street has its origins in the Dutch Colonial era, as it once served as the path to a distillery and tavern owned by an early settler named Doyer.
The late Henry Moscow, in “The Street Book,” and Sanna Feirstein, in “Naming New York,” seem to disagree on Doyer’s identity, with Moscow calling him “Anthony Doyer” and Feirstein calling him “Hendrick,” but each agree that he ran a tavern; Moscow provides an interesting tale about an Ah Quong, a resident at 3 Doyers St., digging in the basement for a $35 million fortune that Doyer had reportedly left there. He doesn’t mention if Ah Quong found anything.
In the late 19th century, Doyers Street was lined with taverns. Legendary Bowery figure Chuck Connors operated one; in another, there was a singing waiter named Izzy Baline, who went on to write indelible classics such as “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “God Bless America” as Irving Berlin.
After 1900, though, Doyers Street acquired the nickname “the Bloody Angle” as the gangs known as tongs appeared, controlling illegal gambling, opium distribution and political patronage, according to Luc Sante in his indispensable recounting of Bowery history, “Low Life.” Wars between the tongs raged on well into the 20th century.
Today, thankfully, Doyers Street is safer. The Nom Wah Tea Parlor is the doyenne of Doyers Street at No. 13, and has been serving mooncakes with tea, dim sum, dumplings, rice rolls, pork buns and egg rolls since 1920. Apotheke, at 9 Doyers St., is an intriguing cocktail lounge themed after the absinthe dens of 19th century Paris, which features live music and burlesque events with dancers on the bar. Chinatown’s main post office is also located at 6 Doyers St.
For many years there was a tunnel connecting Doyers Street with Chatham Square, through which gangs or their victims would attempt escapes from violent scenes on Doyers Street. Though part of it was eliminated in the mid-2010s, the Chatham Square side of the tunnel reportedly still exists. It doesn’t look much like a tunnel, however — more like a fluorescent warren of cramped offices.
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Pell Street: Intersection With History
The Pell family owned vast territories in what is now the northeastern Bronx but was part of Westechester in the colonial era. Thomas Pell’s mansion remains in Pelham Bay Park and is open to the public as a museum; numerous locales in New York named “Pelham” also bear his name. Thomas’ nephew, John Pell, owned the land through which this street was built in 1776. The Edward Mooney House, on the southwest corner of Pell and the Bowery, is the oldest building in Chinatown, and one of the few remaining 18th century buildings in Manhattan, having been completed in 1789.
Joe’s Shanghai, at 9 Pell St., is the most popular restaurant on the block, and its spicy, Szechuan-style sliced beef, jumbo prawns with lime sauce, braised duck, and braised pork shoulders have became NYC favorites. The restaurant was founded in Flushing in 1995 and has expanded to two other locations, including this one. Owner and chef Joe Si also opened Joe’s Ginger — which “combines the Western influences with traditional recipes” — at 25 Pell St. in 2004.
Mosco Street: On the Five Points
Mosco was once Park Street and before that, in the mid-1800s, it was Cross Street; either way, it cleaved through the heart of the Five Points, once one of Manhattan’s worst corners. Old Hell’s Kitchen or the Bowery had nothing on the Five Points’ street gangs, cold-water tenements, and thieves’ dens. Read Luc Sante’s “Low Life” or Tyler Anbinder’s “Five Points” to get the flavor of it. Much of the Five Points was razed to build courthouses and the new NYPD headquarters, as well as Columbus Park, and the slum was mostly eradicated by the mid-20th century. But little Mosco Street, essentially a large alley between Mulberry and Mott Streets, is still there as a reminder.
In 1982, this remaining stretch was named for community activist Frank Mosco, who was associated with the Church of the Transfiguration on Mott Street and involved himself with youth outreach and lower-income housing and the elderly; he also organized the Two Bridges Little League. However, in “Naming New York,” Sanna Fierstein reports that Frank Mosco may have had a dark side. In 1976, he was arrested on suspicion of extorting money from an undercover police officer posing as a street vendor. According to the The New York Times, the amount asked for was a paltry $50, and Mosco was subsequently acquitted.
The building at 28 Mulberry St., on the southeast corner, is currently the Wah Wing Sang Funeral Home, but the intricately carved eagle on the corner gives it away has having been something grander at one time. It is the former Banca Italiana, which opened in 1888; it gained the eagle in 1911, when Columbus Park opened across the street, as owner Antonio Cuneo considered it an important occasion deserving of the addition.
The Church of the Transfiguration, on Mott Street at Mosco, is the heart of Catholic Chinatown.
It is the oldest Catholic Church building in the city, but not the oldest Catholic parish church. It was built in 1801 as the Zion English Lutheran Church, and became a Catholic church in the 1850s; St. Peter’s, at Church and Barclay Streets, is the longest-standing Catholic church that’s always been Catholic.
Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning website Forgotten NY, and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, Forgotten Queens (Arcadia, 2013)
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