My LES: Gigi Li
For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we ventured a bit farther west to talk with Gigi Li, who lives in Chinatown. Li was recently elected as chair of Community Board 3, which encompasses the Lower East Side, the East Village and Chinatown.
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What do you do?
I run a nonprofit, Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, that helps maximize funding for free after-school programs, community centers and summer jobs for young people throughout the city. I am also the chair of Community Board 3 in lower Manhattan.
How long have you lived on the LES?
I’m approaching year four, and my fun fact is that I’ve had family living in the same building on Pell Street since the mid-1970s. (I’m third-generation Pell Street.)
Favorite block in the neighborhood?
Obviously Pell Street — it’s one of the original streets of Chinatown and the entire street is only one block long (between Bowery and Mott). It offers the best soup dumplings (Joe’s Shanghai); my hair salon (22 Pell Hair Salon); and the last of the old-fashioned Chinese diners (Mei Sum), complete with spinning aluminum-base bar stools and a variety of snack-size steamed rice boxes with a selection of meats.
Favorite date spot in the neighborhood?
Tough one … that would have to be New Malaysia Restaurant in the arcade on Bowery between Bayard and Canal, then Chinatown Ice Cream Factory afterward.
Favorite coffee in the neighborhood?
Forget coffee: when in Chinatown, try the Hong-Kong-style milk tea from Super Wang Bakery (42 Mott St.) It’s super-strong tea sweetened with condensed milk. If you can’t live without coffee, you can order the half-coffee/half-HK milk tea – it’s just as yummy.
Favorite cheap eats in the neighborhood?
Well, of course Xi’an Famous Foods, M Star Diner on Division Street, Tasty Dumpling and there’s a cart that steams noodles when ordered (only open until noon) on the corner of Elizabeth and Hester streets. I recommend the beef noodles plus an egg.
Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?
Congee Village, because you can’t beat good food and cheap drinks, walking tours at the Tenement Museum and Sugar Sweet Sunshine for the banana pudding.
Favorite hangout in the neighborhood?
Whiskey Tavern is always popular – can’t beat those picklebacks and tater tots. Ten Ren for bubble tea, because they don’t care how long you stay. Be aware: no bathroom and no outlets for laptop charging. And the basement of Elizabeth Center (between Bayard and Canal) — with so many little stores, you’re bound to buy something that’s cute and you don’t need.
How has the neighborhood changed in the last few years?
Interstate buses pop up everywhere, hotels are multiplying and more dog owners. When I adopted [my dog] Vito three years ago, there were only a handful of doggies. Now, the doggy poo that’s not being picked up around Columbus Park speaks for itself.
Favorite LES memory?
This one is easy: when firecrackers were allowed during Lunar New Year. Yeah, those were the days.