Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Then and Now: Chun Cha Fu Restaurant on the Upper West Side, NYC

Broadway at 91st, Manhattan

Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets, NYC,
The east side of Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets, NYC, in 1977.
New York City is a collection of neighborhoods joined together by the taxman. Some neighborhood joints really strike a chord with people in the neighborhood. One such joint was Chun Cha Fu Restaurant, located on the Upper West Side. Apparently, it served "authentic" Chinese food (there are many levels of Chinese food, from completely Americanized with Uncle Ben's Rice and canned peas to squid soup down in Chinatown, so how authentic it actually was, who knows). Those who visited Chun Cha Fu Restaurant noted its "brocaded interior," which probably involved a lot of vaguely Chinese statues and dim lighting. Anyway, I came across the above photo of Chun Cha Fu from 1977 and grew curious what the block looks like now. So, this is a comparison of Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets from 1977 to 2017.

Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets, NYC,
The east side of Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets, NYC, in late 2017 (Google Street View).
The first thing is to make sure that we have the right location because Chun Cha Fu and its neighbors are long gone. A little research revealed that Chun Cha Fu was at 2451 Broadway. There's no 2451 Broadway any longer, at least as a business street number, and now the storefront location is occupied by Carmine's Restaurant. We also can verify the location by the distinctive windows on the building (an apartment building at 2451-2459 Broadway), which was built in 1920.

Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets, NYC,
The same block, the east side of Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets, looking north from West 90th Street (Google Street View).
The red building beyond, also visible in the original photo, is Haroldon Court at 215 West 90th Street. Haroldon Court was built in 1922, so this block hasn't really changed much in the memory of anyone now living aside from the changing names on the storefronts. Of course, those names change all the time, and they're how people remember a neighborhood, so the fact that the buildings themselves haven't changed in four decades is almost a minor detail.

Broadway between 90th and 91st Streets, NYC,
The old Chun Cha Fu location on the east side of Broadway between 90th and 91st Street, New York City (Google Street View).
So, Chun Cha Fu is gone and is replaced by a fine Italian restaurant which is developing its own legion of devoted fans. Sic transit gloria mundo. However, at least this space is still a restaurant, and otherwise, the landscape is pretty much intact. It may seem strange to find it remarkable to see buildings still there after only four decades for someone in London or Paris. However, while it may not be at all unique in the United States for buildings to still be there for 100 years and still devoted to their original purpose, it isn't all that common, either. Manhattan was highly developed by the early 20th Century and thus there hasn't been much reason to change many parts of it since. New York City has a lot of continuity, even if the people and the restaurants come and go.

I hope you enjoyed this entry in my "the more things change, the more they stay the same" series. Please visit some of my other entries in the series as we see how old treasures turn into new friends.



  1. Waiters all wore jackets with a bow tie. A lot of red and green decor with statues. Pu pu platters and cocktails with paper umbrellas. Closed in the mid 80's

    1. What a great place...Mr Lee and the other two owners always were able to find us a table - and the place was always crowded. I lived on W84th & West End from 1976-88 and this was - hands down - the best Chinese Restaurant on the West least in my opinion....Great food...great memories

  2. I grew up on 89th and West End so Chun Cha Fu was a staple. We are there at least once a week and it was the go to for Won Ton Soup take away when I got sick. A bit of a flu tonight had me reminiscing so I googled and was delighted to find this pic of my old neighborhood!

  3. i was a regular at chun cha fu from its beginnings. i was attending law school at night and would head to CCF right after class for the fixed price buffet - a few dollars for all you can eat - which worked out well since my take home pay was $94 per week. my monthly rent for my studio apt. was about the same. i continued to eat there until it closed, after dropping out of law clue that law school was not for me was that i was thinking about what i would have for dinner at CCF. went there with one boyfriend, the one i did not marry, and another, the one i did. mr. lee knew all his customers...when kids came along, he brought them fancy drinks with parasols. the last time i remember eating there, i was alone...i ran into a friend who also, apparently was a long-time customer. she exclaimed, "i didn't know that you knew mr. lee!" i answered, "i know him longer than i know my husband! another woman sitting nearby added, "i know him longer than BOTH my husbands."

    when i first met mr. lee he was young and the time he closed up shop, about 20 years later, which was probably the end of his lease, he was still dapper - knew every customer and her preferred dishes - but he was not so young - black hair was gray, a few wrinkles. he was a terrific restaurateur.