FORGET IT JAKE, IT’S CHINATOWN!


Photo courtesy of A Vanishing World

Yee Mee Loo Bar and Restaurant in Chinatown, Wow! What a loss to Los Angeles when they tore that great dive bar down. The little bar was always jumping, the drinks served by the legendary Richard Mau were nonpareil, the crowd and the booze, the cigarette smoke, and music from the old fashioned jukebox  was reminiscent of a scene from a Raymond Chandler book, Humphrey Bogart, Claude Raines, Mary Astor, or Charlie Chan would be right at home there.
The place was a bookie joint and the regulars could always be depended on for a tip on a longshot at Santa Anita or Hollywood Park. And before drinking my first Mai Tai or Long Island Ice Tea I always laid a buck down on the counter so Richard would light a stick of incense and place it on the Buddha on the spectacular carved wooden altar on the wall, bowing and saying a prayer in Chinese.
The conversations overheard always seemed a bit shady and full of conspiracy, as dark as the joint, where somehow you were in a different time and the atmosphere was 1935 or 1945, Los Angeles.


Yee Mee Loo also had one of the greatest jukebox’s around, the music that came out of it was perfect for the setting somehow.


Billie Holiday – Any Old Time


I CAN’T GET STARTED – Bunny Berigan 1937


Jackie Wilson – Lonely Tear Drops

24 thoughts on “FORGET IT JAKE, IT’S CHINATOWN!

  1. Did they serve my favorite Ramos Gin Fizz Drink?
    It was “invented” Henry C. Ramos, in his bar at Meyer’s Restaurant.

    Be EXTREMELY careful when adding orange flower water to this drink! It can very easily overwhelm, making the drink taste like perfume. You want a light, flowery touch, so no more than 3 or 4 drops.

    2 ounces gin (Old Tom gin if you can get it)
    1/2 ounce lemon juice
    1/2 ounce lime juice
    1 ounce simple syrup
    3 small dashes orange flower water
    2 drops vanilla extract (very optional; there’s some controversy over whether this was ever really used, but it does add a nice touch)
    1 ounce cream
    1 egg white
    Soda water

    Shake all ingredients except the soda water WITHOUT ICE very vigorously for at least one minute, preferably longer — the longer the better. Then add ice and shake for 1-2 minutes, as long as you can manage, until extremely cold and frothy. Strain into a tall thin glass, or a very large old fashioned glass, and top with soda water. Stir gently.

  2. Yee Mee Loo’s!!!!!!!Mom took me there when I was just a punk kid in my thirties………………What a C O O L little joint. Cocktails New Years day 1983 after hitting three exactas at Santa Anita. What a weekend that was!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Jesus – who picks the security words? Mine was “azzholes”, Straight outta Tasertown.

    Your post was exquisite, DQ. Tell me was the Buddha offering in hopes of indeed, hitting those 3 exactas Danny hit in ’83? Gambling and all the shady doins back at Yee Mee Loo’s are a nice nostalgic trip back into a more innocently larcenous time. Thanks Bud!

  4. That place was the best! Donquixote is right on w/the description. Richard also made those fantastic blue drinks (Tidy Bowls) that were the best ! Richard tended at the Good Luck Bar for a time when it opened. I hear the actual wooden bar itself ended up at a club/bar in Glendale…..forgot the name.

  5. Yes, Richard IMHO was head and shoulders above any other bartender/mixologist in LA. Last time I saw him he was tending bar at the Grand Star in New Chinatown, it was sad to see him out of his element (Yee Mee Loo’s)and he wasn’t happy at the GS. I hope he got to a happy place because he sure provided lot’s of cheer and fun for many people for many years. Maybe he finally hit the big jackpot at the track?
    A couple of years after Yee Mee Loo’s closed I read that the magnificent wooden Buddah and altar was the centerpiece at an “upscale” eatery and bar in Glendale, I think it was called Cinnabar on Brand Blvd. I never checked it out though, some things have thier place and time and can’t be duplicated elsewhere.

  6. Thanks for the post, DQ. It’s nice to see stories about an LA that’s disappearing and giving away to this bizarre yuppie hell.

  7. This place was on Ord, near Phillipe’s, correct?
    I always wondered why they tore down this building, I thought it was beautiful in a vintage way. There was some kind of architectural feature on Ord I often admired when going by. I can’t even remember what it was now but I missed it when it was gone.
    Now the corner is home to a two-level stucco mini-mall that looks perpetually empty. It’s just plain ugly like most other beige stucco cheaply made buildings in Los Angeles. Whoever designs these buildings should be…sorry, I can’t say publicly. 😉

  8. Yee Mee Loo’s was at the corner of Ord St and N. Spring St. Art, and Chimatli is correct, if you turned the corner and went half a block south on Ord St you would be at Philippe’s, which I often did after a couple of drinks at YML’s. Also, right across the street from YML’s was the famous Chinese Seafood Restaurant “Mon Kee’s” which was one of the first Chinese Seafood restaurants in LA.
    Directly across the street from YML’s was the “Dragon Inn” which was maybe the best place in town to get the “Won Ton Soup” it was famous for.
    If you went a block west on N. Spring you would be at the old “Placita” and Olvera St.
    The YML restaurant was great too; it had a big window on N. Spring St so that you could look right into the kitchen and see the cooks wailing on their woks. The interior of the restaurant was just like it was in 1935, the walls were covered with photos of old movie stars, especially Asian ones, like the beautiful Ana Mae Wong and all those nameless but great Chinese actors who you would recognize immediately from old WW2 movies, where they were all featured as evil, sinister, Japanese military officers.
    On the Ord St side of the old brick building there was another entryway that was set back into the building, very odd looking but with a purpose. In the 1930’s my Uncle Pete, who was Lalo Guererro’s piano man for many years, used to take the streetcar a few nights a week from his 6th St home in BH’s to play piano in the gambling casino and bar in the basement under the YML restraunt, this incredibly as a fourteen and fifteen year old kid, Uncle Pete told me that the place was guarded by corrupt LAPD cops, who all turned a blind eye to the gambling, prostitution, and drug dealing that went on in Chinatown during the 1930’s and 40’s.

    When it was announced that a Hong Kong investor group had purchased the old building and was going to tear down that historic and great building that housed the YML I couldn’t believe it. When it closed and was torn down and replaced with that shit ass-looking thing that now stands at the corner of N. Spring and Ord I felt like vomiting. I can’t even stand to look at that fucking monument to symbolic, stucco, architectural, Hong Kong Capitalism, I usually avoid driving or walking there, it’s too painful.

    Here’s a great photo of Yee Mee Loo Restaurant from the 1930’s by the great photographer Harry Quillen from the LA Public Library Archives. There are a couple of hundred photo’s of Chinatown in this great collection.

    Click for Image Yee Mee Loo’s was at the corner of Ord St and N. Spring St. and Chimatli is correct, if you turned the corner and went half a block south on Ord St you would be at Philippe’s, which I often did after a couple of drinks at YML’s. Also, right across the street from YML’s was the famous Chinese Seafood Restaurant “Mon Kee’s” which was one of the first Chinese Seafood restaurants in LA.
    Directly across the street from YML’s was the “Dragon Inn” which was maybe the best place in town to get the “Won Ton Soup” it was famous for.
    If you went a block west on N. Spring you would be at the old “Placita” and Olvera St.
    The YML restaurant was great too; it had a big window on N. Spring St so that you could look right into the kitchen and see the cooks wailing on their woks. The interior of the restaurant was just like it was in 1935, the walls were covered with photos of old movie stars, especially Asian ones, like the beautiful Ana Mae Wong and all those nameless but great Chinese actors who you would recognize immediately from old WW2 movies where they were all featured as evil, sinister, Japanese military officers.
    On the Ord St side of the old brick building there was another entryway that was set back into the building, very odd looking but with a purpose. In the 1930’s my Uncle Pete, who was Lalo Guererro’s piano man for many years, used to take the streetcar a few nights a week from his 6th St home in BH’s to play piano in the gambling casino and bar in the basement under the YML restraunte, this was incredibly as a fourteen and fifteen year old kid. Uncle Pete told me that the place was guarded by corrupt LAPD cops, who all turned a blind eye to the gambling, prostitution, and drug dealing that went on in Chinatown during the 1930’s and 40’s.
    When it was announced that a Hong Kong investor group had purchased the old building and was going to tear down that historic and great building that housed the YML I couldn’t believe it. When it closed and was torn down and replaced with that shit ass-looking thing that now stands at the corner of N. Spring and Ord I felt like vomiting. I can’t even stand to look at that fucking monument to symbolic stucco architectural Hong Kong Capitalism, I usually avoid driving or walking there, it’s too painful.

    Here’s a great photo of Yee Mee Loo Restaurant from the 1930’s by the famous photographer Harry Quillen from the LA Public Library Archives. There are a couple of hundred photo’s of Chinatown in this wonderful collection.

    Click for Image http://jpg2.lapl.org/pics42/00055630.jpg

    Title(s) Yee Mee Loo Restaurant [graphic]

    Photographer Quillen, Harry.

    Description 1 photograph : b&w

    Title(s) Yee Mee Loo Restaurant [graphic]

    Photographer Quillen, Harry.

    Description 1 photograph : b&w

    Series Chinatown.

    Notes LAPL00055630

    Summary Exterior view of the Yee Mee Loo Restaurant, at 690 of an unidentified street in Old Chinatown.

    Subject(s) Yee Mee Loo Restaurant (Chinatown, Los Angeles, Calif.).
    Restaurants California Chinatown (Los Angeles).
    Chinatown (Los Angeles, Calif.).

  9. Sorry for the screwed up double click post above. I was trying to get in the image site and messed it up.

  10. Your right on DQ,
    Just because the economy is depressed doesn’t mean we have to be. I love alcohol, it’s in my blood homeboy – My blood would run a lawn mower back in the day. Did you know the pulque-swilling Aztecs called their highest level of intoxication “Drunk as 400 rabbits.” Why 400?

    Beacause the Aztecs were crazy motherfuckers, that’s why! One of the best things about booze is it’s a sure path to adventure. You go out for a night of drinking and you don’t know where you’re going to end up the next day. It could work out good or it could be disastrous, Ese. It’s like the throw of the dice?

    Siempre recuerden … that when the bartender is slammed, resist the powerful urge to order a slightly-dirty, very-dry, in-and-out, super-chilled half-and-half martini with a lemon twist. Limit orders to just beer, straight shots and two-part cocktails. Asi no hay problemas, tu sabes. And if you owe someone money, always pay them back in a bar. Preferably during happy hour.
    Hasta la proxima DQ

  11. I heard in the 1930s, the LAPD was running a lot of underground vice activities, and the mayor was down with it.

    Mr. Clinton of Clifton’s restaurant was on the reformist side, and the cops went and bombed his car. Those must have been really crazy days.

    Also, by the 1930s, Chinese immigration had been banned 50 years (and wouldn’t be legal for another 15 or so). I’m sure Chinatown had a big undocumented, underground population, in addition to the native born people who must have been into the second and third generations by the 30s.

  12. @Rob, yeah I was wondering about some of these comments too. It seems like they were trying to take the piss out of the post but I can’t quite tell.

  13. Yea Chimatli, I have a rather ill cyber stalker fan, a troll, an anti Chicano shape shifter, a person tainted by some right wing religious zealotry who has a sick love-hate fascination with all things LA Eastside and don quixote.
    Her/his posts are very obvious to me and others who know this persons modus operandi.
    His/her motivation for this compulsive stalking is based on a pathological disorder known as “Monomania” or in simpler terms what I refer to as “donquixotephobia”.
    I know this unfortunate person is suffering terribly and I would recommend his/her relocating to someplace like Arizona where xenophobes and nuts are more accepted.
    I even understand that the famous psychiatrist Dr Hugo Winterhalder (also the composer of the fifties pop hits “Canadian Sunset” and “Springtime for Hitler”) has prescribed “menudo enema therapy” and vigorous door-to-door exercise with Spanish speaking Central American Jehovah’s Witness’s in Simi Valley. But alas to no avail, so I guess we’re stuck with this person and his/her weird illness.

    Sandra, that is a funny blogsite, “puropedo magazine”
    I especially liked the $6.95 special “watch out for anything that can be misinterpreted as ironic”, funny!

    I have noticed that some of these so-called hipster bars really try to segregate themselves from the neighborhoods they reside in, but in a very subversive and yet subtle way. It is in my estimation a form of segregation and elitism, a hypocrisy that is almost humorous as it emanates from these suburban refugees, who probably think of themselves as liberal thinking urbanites.
    Whenever a couple of real local Chicanos enter one of these hollow hipster Valhalla’s there is usually a general freezing up and a palpapal tenseness from the hipsters, whose element is so fragile and contrived that the theatrical, role playing, participants sometimes forget their lines and resort to wild hand gestures and their voices start to hit high falsetto screeching notes. The fear and loathing towards the local residents, who would dare invade the fake hipster vibe and presume to order a $2.00 Budweiser, let alone find some Spinners or Brenton Wood on the jukebox, is a sight to see. Maybe it could become a kind of local people pastime, invading the hipster vibe at the hipster bars dressing locally and asking the bartender for a whole list of cheap beers, hitting on the too cool chicks, complaining loudly about the Beck or Fiona Apple music on the jukebox and the lack of oldies.
    Hmmmmm?

  14. Solutions to two of life’s problems DQ – Hey, I am with you! The Abilify makes me a little crazy, remember?

    The Problem
    You lost your job.

    The Drink
    Brutal Hammer
    1 part cheapest vodka
    1 part cheapest burgundy
    Cynically throw in
    a few ice cubes.

    The Solution
    Drink ten of these and pass out. You will wake up with the worst hangover of your life. The first thing you will think is, “There’s no way I’m going to work with this headwound. Then you’ll realize: ”Hey! I have no job to go to!” See, it’s all in how you look at it.

    The Problem
    A loved one passed away before you could say goodbye.

    The Drink
    Final Farewell
    3/4 Oz. Brandy
    3/4 Oz. Sloe Gin
    Juice of a lemon
    1/2 an egg white

    The Solution
    Gather every item the deceased ever gave you. Take them to the pawn shop and sell them. Take the money to a bar and let the loved one’s ghost buy you a Final Farewell. Closure, baby, full-on closure.

  15. Uno mas para mi cuate SNS. (smile)

    The Problem
    You are intolerant of other races, creeds and religions.

    The Drink
    Brotherhood of Booze
    1 oz Tequila viva Mexico!
    1 oz Vodka viva Rusia!
    1 oz light rum viva Cuba!
    1 oz Gin viva Inglaterra!
    1 oz Whiskey viva Escocia!
    2 oz pineapple juice viva Hawaii!

    The Solution
    Whenever you feel intolerant, drink a couple of these. In that glass are the products of many divergent cultures and nations, existing in perfect harmony. Individually the liquors are harsh, mixed together in brotherhood they make a very tasty cocktail indeed, Rob Thomas.

  16. DQ- Loved that post, the old classic Los Angeles places are some of the best to remember. Sounds like a place from a John Fante book(not sure on the spelling of his name) I love the old time classic atmosphere, something very hard to find nowadays. I fondly remember going to Cole’s at Los Angeles & 6TH ST, to get some of that classic old-time atmosphere, the dim lighting, sawdust on the floor, vintage photos on the wall, now I believe it has changed alittle because the outside atmosphere is going thru a change also, now I understand the food is still good, but the lights are now bright inside, and it has been updated a bit I believe.

  17. I love your caption “Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown,” My father, the late Joe Mantell, actually uttered those famous words in movie history. And, coincidentally, he LOVED Yee Mee Loo…I recall vividly accompanying my parents every single weekend as a child on the 20 minute drive from Encino to Chinatown’s Yee Mee Loo restaurant. The food was always amazing. It was such fun to watch the cooks through the glass window at the front of the restaurant. Really fond memories. Such a shame they torn down the restaurant. Really makes me sick.

  18. Thanks Cathy, great movie and a great place was Yee Mee Loo’s. There is another classic movie that had a scene in Yee Mee Loo’s, and as an Eastside kid raised in the old Catholic Church, a movie that is as factual as can be about the history of the Catholic Church and the LAPD in Los Angeles. I’m speaking of the movie “True Confessions” 1981, with Robert Duvall as the cynical old detective whose brother the Monsignor (Robert Deniro), was even more cynical. A really great movie that had a scene in the Yee Mee Loo restraunt when Robert Duvall’s partner Frank takes a kickback from some Chinese mobster types.
    Wonderful old LA dive now sadly long gone.

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