Thursday, September 9, 2010

Golden Dragon Massacre, Chinatown, San Francisco

Imperial Palace Restaurant

About a year ago, I watched a documentary about the gangs of SF's Chinatown. It was absolutely intriguing and fed into my obsession with not only prisons and gangs but China in general. I have a sick fascination with all things China. Having lived there for a bit and being an honorary member of my best friend April's loud and entertaining Taiwanese family, I can't seem to get enough China. When I lived in China, she often treated me as a red headed step child and often literally slapped in the face. I was even mistaken for a Russian prostitute once and had fruit thrown at me, but that's the fun of China. When I saw the documentary, I vowed one day to go to the site of the famous Golden Dragon Massacre.

Original Golden Dragon 1970's
The Golden Dragon Massacre is one of the largest mass murders in San Francisco history. The massacre happened as a result of a war between the Joe Boys and Wah Ching gang over control of Chinatown. On September 4, 1977 at 2:40am, three Joe Boys members entered the Golden Dragon Restaurant with the intention of killing the head of the Wah Ching gang, Michael Louie. Spraying the restaurant with bullets from their automatic weapons, they killed 5 tourists and wounded 11 other innocent bystanders. No member of either gang was hurt in the shoot out. The city offered a reward of $100K and subsequently established a SF Police Asian Gang Task Force dedicated to combating the gang problems in Chinatown. In the end four Joe Boys members were convicted and received life sentences for the murders.

Imperial Palace 2010
The original name Golden Dragon is no more as the restaurant was shut down in 2006 due to failed inspections and owing their staff a year's worth of paychecks. Leading me to believe this restaurant was shady and remains shady today. The restaurant is now known as the Imperial Palace, located at 816 Washington (at Grant).
From the outside it looks like any other Chinatown restaurant but to know the history makes it much much more. Ironically we decided to go there on Saturday which was September 4th, the anniversary of the killings. I was super excited that there would be some sort of ceremony or alter or something set up to commemorate the anniversary but I was sadly disappointed. As my best friend April pointed out, that would be bad Feng Shui or Chi, thus the owners would never highlight such a dark moment in their restaurant's history. Although I knew she was right, I was still waiting for some sort of sign or even a shoot out!

The Imperial Palace did not disappoint. When John and I arrived there was a little old lady trying to coerce tourists to eat there. I overheard her say again and again, "you eat here, very good food", which brought a smile to my face. To avoid her, we scurried by as she was harassing some German tourists but unfortunately she spotted us from the corner of her eye and proudly escorted us into the restaurant as if she had magically convinced us to eat there. I had wanted to ask for a table in the rear so John and I could sit with our backs against the wall (Soprano's style) but I didn't think the old hostess would understand nor appreciate it.

The restaurant was a mix of tourists and Chinese families. John and I quickly spotted the owner in his 1980's Member's Only leather jacket. Immediately, I thought ex-gang member or something shady because you just don't up and buy this place without connections, its Chinatown! His wife and family were seated at the table to our right. She looked equally as interesting as her husband in too tight lilac bell bottoms jeans. To me they were the perfect couple to own this place. I kept looking over at the table and searching the restaurant for some indication that this was the site of the killings but nothing, not even a bullet hole. Even my trip to the bathroom, which was down a dilapidated staircase didn't reveal any clues. I could feel that this place had some history but there were no visible signs.

The food was fantastic. I can say this was some of the best Chinese food I have had in a long time. To start we ordered two ice cold Tsing Tao beers.  The waiter gave me a little smirk when I ordered with the correct pronunciation, Ching Dao and not Sing Tao like most Americans. We ordered the egg rolls and pork dumplings to start. The dumplings melted in your mouth, they were a perfect balance of green onion, pork and spices. The egg rolls also did not disappoint as the outside was so flaky and golden brown. John ordered the Mongolian Beef and I got spicy Shrimp with Black Bean sauce. Although my entree wasn't on the menu, the server didn't even flinched when I ordered, literally making this an actual REAL Chinese restaurant in my mind and not a tourist trap.  In China you generally don't order directly off the menu you just order what you want and if its not available they let you know (or not) and you pick something else. Our entrees were delightful. The food came out staggered, adding to the authenticity of the restaurant. After enjoying our meals, casing the joint for evidence and eyeing the somewhat shady owner and his family we decided to head out for a self-guided Crime Tour of Chinatown.

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