Today’s wake for a beloved New York institution is being held in honor of Mei Lai Wah Coffee House in Chinatown. It seems the Times’s Eric Asimov, who usually writes about wine, doesn’t subsist on vino alone; he needs his coffee and steamed pork buns as well. And ever since Mei Lai Wah closed last week after a long, losing struggle with the Health Department, Asimov has been in mourning:
Mei Lai Wah was indeed singular because of its unusual character. It was grungy, but it had personality. I can think of other bakeries and tea houses in Chinatown, but they all seem bright, barren and sterile by comparison. Perhaps sterility is what the Health Department is after... I don’t know exactly what the issue was, and I’m not sure I want to look under the surface. I just know that I never had a bad or disappointing meal there and will miss the reassurance offered by its existence.
As one commenter on Eater put it: “This is DOH McCarthyism!” And Asimov goes on to pose an intriguing question: Shouldn’t there be different standards for a winery an old local coffeeshop that’s been doing things a certain way for years and years? “If we attack rather than protect such local treasures as Mei Lai Wah, who knows what might happen next?” What’s Asimov getting at – that New York is devolving into a generic jumble of chain retail outlets and exclusive condos?