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18 October 2012

The New Chinatown Restaurant and Polynesian Lounge Versus David the Android

Rudolfo Carrillo

By Rudolfo Carrillo

It sure as hell was never up there with the stars, in a Lee Ho Fook sorta way, but in case you wanna know, the joint that housed the once-legendary New Chinatown Restaurant and Polynesian Lounge, and was later briefly reincarnated as Mr. K's before spending an infinity of several months in the regalia of the half-priced sushi roll place called Fujiyama, has been razed, so that only hunks of concrete and twisted corten i-beams that have been released forever from their structural duties remain.

I am pretty sure they dug up the parking lot, the two anemic cottonwood trees astride it, as well. I hope someone remembered to take the koi from the pond in front, before the ginormous backhoes took things over.

I know that sounds kinda grim, but I gotta tell you, I was just waiting for all the stuff I just told you about to come prancing outta the potential and into the actual. There had been a fire in the roof above the lounge a few months back, you see, and I figured that pretty much sealed things up. Like maybe the ghost of Freddie Kekaulike Baker had to fly away from there one night because of boredom and too many teevee monitors loaded with football and loneliness. He could've got caught in the rafters with his angelic rocket thrusters still pouring out cool jazz standards and fiery ionic exhaust. You never know.

In the last decade of the twentieth century and continuing for a few years post-millennially, Baker and his idiosyncratic combo burned it up on the weekends in the Polynesian Lounge. The band played in the southeast corner of the bar. A crafty facsimile of a Hawaiian war canoe hung from the ceiling, nearby. All the tables had blue hurricane lamps and were ceremoniously lit at sunset and before Freddie's set, by an authentically costumed crew of paid alcoholic beverage presenters. I remember the place was usually packed at least one night of the week, but when I asked Freddie to play something by Steely Dan, he trickled out some quiet and out-of-key version of Rikki Don't Lose That Number, then pointed to me in the audience and laughed heartily afterwards.

And if you wanna talk about decent Chinese, then wasn't the New Chinatown just the perfect location to have that discussion? In its heyday, it had three dining rooms in addition to the Polynesian Lounge. One was decorated in the fashion of old Imperial China and formal, too. Then, another room had a giant and hand-painted wooden dragon climbing and twisting around on the ceiling. Last of all, there was the modern, no-nonsense area, where mostly folks ate their lunch and left small tips. Did I tell you they had a mechanical panda bear out front by the pond, and it was always smiling, waving, and thereby inviting new guests through the door. The fish were pretty suave, too, especially when there was someone to care for them. Lots of shiny quarters in that little lake.

The thing was, and in defiance of all the wonders mentioned above, the New Chinatown Restaurant and Polynesian Lounge were always in a sketchy part of town. It used to be worse and I oughtn't mention the time my girlfriend's parents took me there for dinner one night in nineteen-hundred-and-eighty-nine and were going on and on about how wonderful it all was when we ran across a fresh turd in the parking lot. Everyone went in and ate like kings and queens anyhow, but things were different for all of us, somehow, after that.

The city did a damn good job of cleaning up the urban mess on Central between Washington and San Mateo, but I think it is still as forlorn as it ever was. Endemic poverty mixed in with a dose of economic stagnation and chronic joblessness are helluva depressing things to look at whilst zooming through mi vecino. If this were a political site, I might be inclined to inch you all towards a solution or discuss what sort of creative class-generated business would emerge to thrive on that small lot of land in the middle of Albuquerque.

But it ain't. These posts I write are just mostly my memories and visions and whatnot. So. as I stood there this evening, looking over the chainlink fence running around the crushed remains of the New Chinatown Restaurant and Polynesian Lounge, I thought of something David the Android said in the movie Prometheus. He said, "Sometimes, to create, one must first destroy".

Damn robot was probably right, but I'll still miss their sweet and sour chicken.

Rudolfo Carrillo / a fifth-wave feminist from the fourth estate | a burqueña | a ladyboss | a writer + editor

I am a fifth-wave feminist and a reluctant member⸺hey, Groucho knew whereof he quipped⸺of both the fourth estate and the gig economy. I am an Albuquerque-based freelance writer, editor and social media marketing and branding+PR consultant. I remain an observant ’90s riot grrrl and a devout practitioner of halfhearted yoga posturing and zen and the art of the sentence diagram.


  1. RonDaBomb11:22 PM

    I always dug that they served red chile enchiladas on the Chinese luncheon buffet...

    1. That was pretty cool! For eating out, I always liked the combination of Chinese and Mexican. Two great tastes that go great together, as someone once said. Do you remember the China Garden, next to the Guild Cinema and where il Vicino is now? I think they had Mexican and Chinese on the menu too.

  2. I'm so glad I had the pleasure of visiting the Polynesian lounge to see Freddie and his lovely hula dancer gal. When I saw it was torn down one morning on my way to work I was heart broken. I wondered if they salvaged any of the lovely decor inside, it was truly a spectacular building. Oh and I had forgotten about that panda. Also for a strange and short period of time some folks were hosting some dance party nights there. That was interesting to see a bunch of "raver" types getting down with laser lights in the main dining room. Another relic lost to the dust in Burque.


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