The Mountain Bar, with its crimson-soaked walls and lanterns that look like entrails swinging from the ceiling, at first seems like the post-bloodbath setting of some crazy ninja action, a scene from Kill Bill. Yet all around you, the crush of well-dressed people calmly sip cocktails in what used to be Chinatown’s oldest restaurant, Man Jen Low, better known as General Lee.
Once you get to the walking street called Gin Ling Way, across Hill Street from the gallery-intensive Chung King Road, it’s easy to find the Mountain Bar. Just stroll under rows of illuminated red lanterns and between the pagoda-shaped shops until you find the mass of people nestled outside smoking cigarettes and yammering away like movie extras on a break from shooting.
Artists Jorge Pardo and Steve Hanson are the ones who’ve turned Mountain Bar into the hot spot and art-tart magnet it is now. The bar at the back of the main room, adorned with Asian wood-carved shelves that display bottles and Buddhas, is easier to get to now that they’ve taken away the cocktail tables that used to fill the room. But that also means it’s standing-room only, except for a long banquette that lines one wall and a couple chairs around the columns. Most people head to the opium-den lair upstairs, where there are beds and dark wooden alcoves filled with silk pillows and cushions. You have to get there pretty early to snag one of these spots — even the vultures who circle never get a shot since the boothsteaders in languid, comfy poses don’t give them up till last call, but you can try. The early bird also gets the spring roll: The kitchen stops serving at 8 p.m., but until then you can feast on curries and sandwiches and other Asian-fusion appetizers.
If you want to sit down, your best bet is the red sofa across from the dance floor. It’s the best people watching in the place too. From our perch there we saw the tiny dance floor swell with hoofers of varying skill, even to the extremes of white-man’s overbite andfull-blown Napoleon Dynamite. The crowd was all over the map too — white-haired gents with the kind of elbow-patched corduroy blazers commonly found on college professors, hipster chicks in vintage dresses, untucked artist types who have dribbled down from an Echo Park hipster hang, a nearby gallery or a local loft.
The cocktail list also reads like an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Canter’s-esque diner menu, from mojitos to white-chocolate martinis to the bar’s signature Cloud Martini with vanilla Stoli, sake and Cointreau. Of course, there’s beer, wine and sangria too.
There’s an old pay-phone booth upstairs, but no phone, which makes it a great spot to make a call on your cell or possibly make out, or even change into a superhero. The only bathrooms are downstairs, and the wait is usually long and can be murderous, especially on your bladder — drink accordingly or the bloody Shining walls might start giving you ideas.
Low light adds to the mystery, and on our night of attempted matchmaking for a newly single friend, it was nearly impossible to separate those you would or wouldn’t kick out of bed. Hmmm, maybe that’s the real reason everyone hangs out upstairs?
Mountain Bar, 473 Gin Ling Way (at Hill Street), dwntwn., Tues.-Sun., 6:30 p.m.-2 a.m. (213) 625-7500.