November 19, 2000, Sunday
The City Weekly Desk
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NEIGHBORHOOD REPORT: CHINATOWN; Not Your Father's Chinatown At Hip New Bars and Clubs


Chinatown is a neighborhood of dim sum houses, cramped tenements and garment factories, at least according to some nonresidents. But these days, many visitors there are just as likely to spend the night bar-hopping as eating a Chinese meal.

In a trend that some welcome and some deplore, several bars have opened up in Chinatown in recent years that cater to a crowd that might otherwise be found in SoHo or the East Village.

Places like the Good World Bar and Grill, a Swedish canteen at 3 Orchard Street, and Fun, a swank, futuristic club that opened in May under the Manhattan Bridge at 130 Madison Street, draw a steady flow of non-Chinese patrons into the heart of Chinatown long after the kitchens have closed.

''Unless you wanted to go to Harlem, this is one of the last neighborhoods that has not been taken over yet,'' said Annika Sundvik, a Swedish expatriate who opened Good World last year. ''The neighborhood seemed a bit off the beaten track. Cabs didn't know where to go.''

Ms. Sundvik liked the space so much that she kept the awning from the previous establishment, an erotic message parlor closed by the police.

''Older Chinese men still come in and follow the waitresses around,'' she said.

According to Huey-Min Chuang, director of the Business Outreach Center, a local group, ''Chinatown is not a mystery anymore. People used to know us for the food and shopping. Now it's a hip place to be.''

But while visitors may be charmed by the neighborhood's ethnic flavor, some residents say the area's newfound popularity may threaten that atmosphere.

Christopher Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, a local social service agency, said: ''Chinatown is becoming just another tourist shell or a haven for luxury condominiums. We don't want Chinatown just to be a hip place for people to hang out.''

The clubs are ''a symptom of the gentrification trend,'' which endangers the local economy, he said.

Frank Muller, 33, a partner of Fun who lives on Canal Street in a building stacked with garment factories, agreed. ''We don't want to yuppify the area too much,'' he said. ''It's a really nice atmosphere down here.''

But market forces may have other results. Kau Fong, a real estate agent who brokered the deal for Fun and Good World, said he had three new clients seeking to open bars in the area. ''The rent here is still quite attractive,'' he said. DENNY LEE