By Xintian Wang
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In the heart of Long Island City, a vintage bar becomes a time machine, transporting customers to1990s China. The soft, melancholic voice of Faye Wong fills the air, singing the iconic Eyes on Me. Its lyrics resonate with the diverse crowd, each with their own connection to the music. The melody beckons memories of late nights spent listening to the radio, secrets shared under the glow of a bedroom lamp, and the comforting presence of familiar voices from their childhood lands.
This is the cocktail bar 929 all about, bringing Mandopop and Cantopop music to first-generation Asian American guests and beyond. Co-founded by creative strategist Haoran Chen and entrepreneur Jeff Liu, 929 offers a unique cultural celebration that beautifully blends music, mixology, and a shared connection to the Chinese diaspora. The bar specializes in innovative cocktails using nostalgic Chinese ingredients, and Taiwanese light bites, complemented by a curated playlist of vintage vinyl records, spinning an eclectic mix of Cantonese and Mandarin pop classics.
这就是鸡尾酒吧929的夜晚，为纽约的第一代亚裔移民以及美国客人带来80-90年代的华语流行音乐。由创意战略师陳浩然（Haoran Chen）与企业家劉光耀（Jeff Liu）共同创办，929提供了一个独特的文化绿洲，将音乐、创业特调和对华人社群的共鸣融为一体。这家酒吧专注于使用怀旧的中国食材做创新鸡尾酒，搭配原汁原味的台湾小吃，和着精心挑选的黑胶唱片，传承着华语流行经典。
At the core of 929’s concept is the desire to create a space where people can come together, enjoy a drink, and revel in the shared love of Mandopop and Cantopop music, according to Chen. “We’re combining our heritage, so that means Mandarin pop and Cantonese pop. Then you see those posters of Hong Kong cinema and Chinese pop stars on the wall. That’s how we came up with the idea,” Chen says.
Chen immigrated to the U.S. when he was 12 and faced the challenge of straddling two cultures. The bar, in a way, serves as a space for him to explore and celebrate his identity, both as a queer Asian man and as a first-generation Chinese American. The complex journey of understanding one’s identity is mirrored in 929’s mission, encouraging first-generation guests to embrace their multifaceted backgrounds and experiences.
In addition to creating a community for lovers of Mandarin and Cantonese pop music as well as introducing these genres to the American audience, Chen wanted more senior Chinese immigrants to come here and connect with their roots. “When I was building this space, I was thinking about my mom. She obviously grew up listening to this kind of music and she likes to go to Karaoke. She likes to drink and she likes dancing. But when it comes to someone in her 50s who immigrated from China to the U.S., nightlife is really limited for her, especially when it comes to a nightlife space with the music that she likes. So, I hope this space would be for people like her, too,” says Chen.
Chen’s dedication to 929 is evident in his commitment; he quit his job as a creative and marketing manager at Industry City to run the bar full-time. In a country where Mandopop and Cantopop bars are scarce, Chen and his team have faced their challenges. When asked whether he ever doubted the success of such a unique concept, Chen told AsAmNews: “I worry, but when you do something niche, you have to just believe in it. At least I won’t regret doing it, because I feel like if I didn’t do it the way that it is, I would probably regret it.”
Still, Mandopop and Cantopop are new to the American audience. “There’s a stereotypical image of Mandopop and Cantopop, viewing it as slow, ballad-heavy music that focused solely on love themes. But there’s so much more about that. There’s a great catalog of electronic music, experimental and alternative rock, as well as dream pop. There are so many things that people don’t realize how diverse the Mandopop and Cantopop are,” says Chen.
(Check out our slide show below.)
As for Chen’s favorite Mandopop artists, he has a deep affection for female artists who have made a significant impact on self-empowerment, like Faye Wong, Sandy Lam, and Jolin Tsai. Chen says that these artists helped him navigate his own identity, offering messages of self-acceptance in their music. Chen fondly shared how these artists’ lyrics and personas provided him with a sense of belonging, even when struggling with his own identity.
Today, 929 has become a crucial place to connect people to their roots and help them navigate their own identity, be it Asian American immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, or simply lovers of Chinese music and culture. In the past Mid-Autumn Festival, 929 hosted a drag show and offered different kinds of mooncakes and special cocktails for guests. The drink Moonlight Love, named after singer Coco Lee’s classic song, is made of special Chinese ingredients like White Rabbit Candy, Lotus Seed, and Egg White.
“I find it fascinating to blend elements from the queer community into our traditional cultural celebrations. It’s a beautiful contradiction that I wholeheartedly embrace. This idea has me thinking that one day, our families might accept and celebrate both our cultural heritage and our identities as queer individuals, making traditional holidays even more special. The idea of a close-knit, open-minded family during traditional holidays is something I’ve always yearned for. Now, as I build my own family with my husband and our two cats, this is the Chinese tradition I hold dear, even in the heart of New York,” says Chen.
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