As a kid in Taiyuan in the northwestern Chinese province of Shanxi, Trade Routes co-owner Chen-Chen Huo remembers Lunar New Year as one of the most special times of the year. The entire country almost shuts down, he recalls, and the phone rings frequently with inbound calls from siblings and cousins near and far. “It was just a really happy time that we look forward to,” Huo says.
Now he hopes to bring some of that excitement to the Polk Street bar he owns with business partners Jay Ryoo and Ryan McCargar. From January 18 to February 12, Trade Routes will host the New Moon Lunar New Year Celebration, a pop-up celebrating the upcoming Year of the Rabbit with special cocktails and an abundance of over-the-top decorations. The event comes on the heels of the bar’s Tinsel Time Christmas pop-up and represents a growing number of cocktail and bar pop-ups celebrating the Lunar New Year across the Bay Area. “This was our second year doing a Christmas event,” Huo says. “But growing up here in San Francisco to immigrant parents Christmas was really big, but for me, Chinese New Year and Lunar New Year were even bigger.”
The bar’s New Moon Lunar New Year Celebration cocktail menu is comprised of five drinks, including a White Rabbit slushie and a flight of the Chinese liquor baijiu. Huo says the New Moon cocktail is meaningful on a personal level. The drink combines baijiu with rum agricole and a pu-erh tea syrup. The team used a 3-pound bag of imported pu-erh tea from Huo’s parents to make the final ingredient. “It just felt really nice to have my parents contribute,” Huo says. “I know they’re really proud of us.” Served in a globe-shaped glass meant to represent the new moon cycle, it’s a spirit-forward and high-octane cocktail, Huo says, thanks in part to baijiu’s relatively high ABV.
Other drinks include the Babamama, a floral blend of Chinese rose wine and lychee, and the boozy Seeds of Serenity, which features mezcal, soju, and pomegranate. For a more refreshing option, try the Jinju Juice featuring gin, Cointreau, and kumquat. Finally, the Ambassadors marries both Chinese baijiu and Korean soju, a nod to the Chinese ambassador to Korea and the Korean ambassador to China. The White Rabbit slushie, meanwhile, honors the Year of the Rabbit, which starts on January 22.
Similar to the bar’s Christmas-themed pop-up, the Lunar New Year event will mean a decorative overhaul to the space. The primary focal point will likely be the imported 23-foot-long dragon Huo and Ryoo plan to hang from the ceiling, which will be supplemented with dozens of lanterns, fake firecrackers, and Chinese couplets which are traditionally hung on, and over, doors. “We really want this to hit you in the face when you walk in,” Huo says.
Across the bridge in Oakland, AAPI-owned and operated bar Viridian will also bring back its Red Envelope pop-up, another celebration of the Lunar New Year through food and drinks. The bar hosted the event for the first time last February, and this year co-founder Alison Kwan and co-owner William Tsui say they’re bringing it back bigger than ever. Once again, the team will go all-out with decor: last year they strung up a 60-foot silk dragon, but this year they’ll give the resident reptilian a second friend plus a whole pride of lions. “We’re going to figure out how to stuff it all into our little space,” Tsui says with a laugh.
They’ll also bring back the multimedia projections, which will once again be designed by video arts designer and game developer Rachel Hwang. In total, there’ll be three rabbit-themed video murals this year. The team also plans to install LED infinity mirrors on the towering shelves that run down one side of the room. “It’s the most maximalist that you can get,” Kwan describes. On the famously chromatic front windows, local muralist and painter Melanie Getman will put up a rabbit-themed installation. Finally, the team plans to bring back the Red Envelope playlist, which spotlights contemporary and classic Asian artists — and which Kwan says has been the bar’s most popular playlist to date. (Viridian makes all its Spotify playlists available on the bar website.)
As for the food and drinks, Tsui says he’s got his work cut out for him: There’s a fresh cocktail menu with about 20 drinks coming for the Lunar New Year celebration. Some will be revived cocktails from the bar’s first menu, but about 15 will be entirely new. One of the most eye-catching will almost certainly be a “hot pot-style cocktail” that will be served in an “auspicious, ostentatious” golden pot topped with a bird. It’s a shareable drink, intended to serve between 2-4 guests, that arrives in a cloud of dry ice. And though the bar runs a White Rabbit cocktail year-round, the holiday brings a Jade Rabbit drink made with single-malt scotch, white peach syrup infused with pandan, amaro, and citrus. Chef Kevin Tang’s food menu, meanwhile, includes modern and playful riffs on familiar dishes. Think tea-smoked tofu, a riff on the classic duck dish; longevity noodles; tamarind crab; and Thai tea bingsu.
Last year’s event drew long lines that wrapped around the restaurant and down the block — and once again, it’ll be a first come, first served situation. But Kwan says the best move is to come late (as in, after 11 p.m. if you don’t plan to eat food) or very early (as in, before the doors open at 5 p.m., though you may still end up waiting in line). Both Kwan and Tsui say someday, they’d love to see Red Envelope grow as big as the Christmas-themed Miracle pop-up bars. “We’re super excited to be able to let everyone in and experience the space,” Tsui says.
The New Moon Lunar New Year Celebration at Trade Routes (1750 Polk Street in San Francisco) runs from January 18 to February 12.
The Red Envelope pop-up at Viridian (2216 Broadway in Oakland) runs from January 25 through February 26.