The co-creator of Double Chicken Please oversees a dual-space cocktail bar that also operates as a design studio in New York’s Lower East Side – and has earned the respect of the bartending world in the process. GN Chan, newly crowned winner of the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award, talks to Kat Odell about freedom, magic and car breakdowns
“I view all drinks from a design-oriented perspective,” declares Double Chicken Please co-owner GN Chan, a college industrial design major and former street magician.
In November 2020, Chan and partner Faye Chen – an alum of Speak Low, Shanghai – debuted a dark, narrow drinking den on New York City’s Lower East Side. Pandemic or not, The Big Apple took note of the Taiwan-born drink maker’s self-described “hacking design”, in which cocktails are deconstructed then reconstructed in unusual, playful ways.
So much so that earlier this year the dual-concepted Allen Street lounge, which Chan says is influenced by the duo’s Taiwanese heritage, was crowned The Best Bar in North America. The award reflects DCP’s brilliant combination of seasonally driven, unadorned cocktails on tap as well as liquid interpretations of iconic foods from around the world. And now, as part of The World’s 50 Best Bars 2023, GN Chan has been named the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender––the only peer-voted accolade in the 50 Best programme.
In 2020, Chan and his partner Faye Chen founded Double Chicken Please
But it’s not just about incredibly delicious, expertly seasoned drinks spiked with ingredients from Asia and beyond, garnished with the occasional house-made Oreo cookie. “Double Chicken Please operates as a ‘design studio,’ with food, beverage and hospitality serving as primary tools,” explains Chan. “It's a space that seeks to ignite inspiration in individuals while remaining open to being inspired by the people who visit the space.”
One bar, two menus
Chan worked under lauded Japanese bartender Shingo Gokan, whose Tokyo-based The SG Club is currently ranked No.14 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars, during his tenure at New York’s pioneering Japanese cocktail den, Angel’s Share. He describes his drink-making style as deriving technique and ingredients from places around the world including India, France, the US, Japan and Taiwan.
DCP offers two unique imbibing experiences that display this global inspiration. Up front at industrial-styled Free Range, one finds minimalist, seasonally accented draft cocktails or ‘taptails’, flavoured with ingredients like curry and winter melon. According to Chan, this space “embodies a young and untamed spirit, celebrating freedom and an unwavering pursuit of opportunities and possibilities” with hip-hop artists like Brockhampton playing in the background.
French Toast is served with a house-made, branded Oreo cookie inspired by an espresso martini
Meanwhile, walk straight back for a more technique and craftsmanship-driven, mid-century lounge-style experience in a retro-feeling space with wall-to-wall wood paneling. Here at The Coop, drinks draw on Chan’s adventurous ‘hacking design’; cocktails are deconstructed and rebuilt, sometimes accompanied by a food element. For example, French Toast, a tipple based on the classic American breakfast dish, is served with a house-made, branded Oreo cookie – whose flavour is inspired by an espresso martini – clipped to the glass’s lip. Chan explains that the drink demonstrates a reverse pairing, in which one drinks the food component (French toast) and eats the drink (espresso martini).
Patrons can also sip liquid tributes to a Waldorf salad, Japanese cold noodles and mango sticky rice, or choose from any of the six not-so-classic cocktails, like a dirty margarita that calls for bergamot and verjus in place of triple sec and lime, or a Moscow mule that relies on house-made white miso ginger honey to enhance the libation’s flavour.
DCP was a concept many years in the making. Chan met Chen in 2010, while the two were both working at Hide Out, a bistro in Taipei. “I accidentally started learning bartending,” says Chan, who has never really consumed alcohol for pleasure since he has a low tolerance. He says he stumbled upon the job in desperate need of work, so much so that he lived in the venue’s attic for seven months until he could afford a place of his own.
“Turns out, bartending is like [a] great combination of my two interests: design and performing,” says Chan. And when a bartender from Hong Kong sat in front of Chan one day, he asked her where is the world’s most competitive cocktail city.
In 2017, Chan took an US road trip that inspired many of the menu's drinks
“A month later, I quit Hide Out and bought a one-way ticket from Taiwan to New York,” he adds. “And that’s how everything began.”
Fast forward to 2017 and Chan had plans to open his own bar in New York, but at the last minute the space’s landlord pulled the deal.
“I decided to take some time off while still looking for another space,” states Chan. After watching a YouTube video of a couple in Alaska who had quit their job to travel Patagonia in a Volkswagen minibus, he was inspired to do the same, shaker and jigger in tow.
That year Chan and Chen embarked on three years of cross-country bar pop-ups in Chan’s 1977 Volkswagen T2 Westfalia. The gigs were “on and off because the car kept breaking down” but the team still managed to complete several big trips across the country.
“It's almost like a teaser for our menu in The Coop," considers Chan, noting that some of the bar’s most iconic cocktails were born during this time, with drinks like a whiskey, coffee butter and wild mushroom ode to the southern staple Red Eye Gravy, and NY Beet Salad, shaped with gin, beet and mascarpone cheese. “They are all still on our current menu but with elevated twists.”
Want to try? Get in line
Today, snagging any one of DCP’s 70 seats is no easy feat. While Free Range up front is reserved for walk-ins with a mix of bar seats and standing room, guests generally need to wait at least 30 minutes to enter. Behind, The Coop offers a mix of reservations and walk-ins, and without an advanced booking one can expect to wait at least two hours.
Chan considers Double Chicken Please as much a design studio as a bar
In receiving the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award, Chan reflects on the last half decade. He admits that opening DCP marks a significant achievement for himself, from brewing the idea a decade ago to bringing his and Chen’s vision to life, notwithstanding the obstacles they faced, including opening a bar during a pandemic.
But he persevered. Along the way Chan earned not only respect from global cocktail enthusiasts, but also from his fellow bartenders. He shares that earning this individual title “holds immense significance for both me and Double Chicken Please as a brand and as a team” and that it “serves as a source of motivation, driving me to persist in creating and striving forward”.
Although Double Chicken is recognised as a cocktail bar, Chan notes that he likes to position it a design studio. Through the lens of hospitality service and product conception, the bar collaborates with partners from other industries to create unconventional cocktail experiences. For example, the bar recently teamed up with off-Broadway show Blue Man Group for a series of four recitals over two days at DCP that involve live music, collaborative performances and, of course, food and drink. “We are going to change the whole place to make it into an immersive experience,” notes Chan. The trick is, getting in.
(Oh, and one pro tip: Don’t forget to order the fried chicken sando.)
Now watch the video:
The 15th edition of The World’s 50 Best Bars list, sponsored by Perrier, will be announced on Tuesday, 17th October 2023 in Singapore. To be the first to hear about the latest news and announcements, browse the website, follow us on Instagram, find us on Facebook, visit us on Twitter and subscribe to our YouTube channel.