Food & Drink

This Mobile Cocktail Experience Now Has a Permanent Home on the LES

A vintage VW minivan that doubled as a traveling bar provided a testing ground for Double Chicken Please.

Double Chicken Please
Photo by Sahid Limon

For cocktail experts and bar industry veterans, GN Chan and Faye Chen, the eight-year journey of opening their new Lower East Side spot, Double Chicken Please, in November 2020, has been a tale of perseverance. From staging pop-ups from a roving Volkswagen minivan, to all of the challenges that come with debuting a brick-and-mortar in NYC, add on the obstacles of sustaining the business during an unprecedented global pandemic, and that’s where the project currently stands.

“I honestly don’t know what drove us to today,” says Chan. “Probably just faith, or really stubbornness.”

The idea for DCP had been rolling around their heads for years, after meeting in 2010 while Chen was a bartender and manager at a small bar in the city of Taoyuan, just outside Taipei, where they’re both from. With Chen leaving for a new job, Chan was hired as her replacement, and the two became fast friends, soon sharing their own dreams about opening a bar one day. In 2012, Chan moved to NYC and became the first non-Japanese bartender in 20 years at revered speakeasy Angel’s Share. When Shingo Gokan, who was a consultant at Angel’s Share, told Chan he was looking to hire a manager/bar expert who spoke Chinese for a new bar in Shanghai, Chan recommended Chen. In 2014, she moved to Shanghai and helped Gokan open the multi-award-winning bar Speak Low, working there for three years while racking up recognition and winning industry awards (as Chan did the same on the other side of the world).

Chen finally planned her move to NYC in 2017 when the two secured a business partner and a space in the Lower East Side. But they experienced their first big setback when both of those elements fell through (the business partner was deported and the owner of the space decided to open his own bar there instead). 
  
Depressed and without jobs, they decided to take some time to figure out what was next. That’s when Chan watched a video about a couple in Alaska who spent two years traveling to Patagonia in a vintage van. So while Chen waited for her visa to come to the U.S., Chan decided to set out on his own in a pale yellow 1977 VW minivan with a pop-up tent roof to clear his head.

But after months of traveling, Chan felt something was missing. He yearned for a place to talk with guests and mix drinks, and that’s when he came up with the idea to bring the two elements together. Using his skateboard as a makeshift bar, Chan started making drinks for people in his van (which is way less sketchy then it sounds, we promise), and realized this could be the perfect solution until he and Chen found a permanent space for their future bar. Chen came to the U.S. in 2018 and the two began crisscrossing the country along with a photographer friend, in the first iteration of Double Chicken Please.

double chicken please
GN Chan and Faye Chen | Photo by Sahid Limon

The traveling experience involved an elaborate set up inside the van designed by Chan, with complex and layered cocktails recalling flavors most people hadn’t seen in a drink before (i.e. ramen and Waldorf salad). They partnered with local bars and garnered a following on social media to create buzz. Since the van was so small, each experience was a private, one-on-one interaction with the two cocktail veterans, creating a magical combination of exclusivity, well-crafted and innovative drinks, and intimate conversation—the building blocks of many acclaimed bars. 
 
By the end of 2019, the two had served cocktails in Miami, Columbus, Nashville, New Orleans, Houston, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Las Vegas, logging 10,000 miles and dispensing 1,200 cocktails in what was one of the most pandemic-friendly experiences—all before the pandemic started. They came back to NYC frequently, and secured a lease at 115 Allen Street in the summer of 2019. Due to unforeseen delays, the construction and buildout began the following summer while the two also continued their pop-ups in the van, doing September stints in Brooklyn at Hunky Dory and Manhattan at Patisserie Fouet in Greenwich Village.

Double Chicken Please
In front of their Volkswagen minivan at the DCP pop-up at Patisserie Fouet, summer 2020. | Photo by Tae Yoon

Ironically, of course, the minivan version of the concept was much more pandemic friendly than the brick and mortar, offering yet another unforeseen design challenge. Luckily, the decision to have two completely separate rooms and concepts inside DCP offered up a solution of sorts for social distancing.

A chic backroom is where they hope to be able to do elaborate cocktail menus with food pairings once indoor dining and bar seating is allowed to resume. But for now, the action is all up front, where things are much more casual—but no less deliberate. A row of taps shines behind a small bar for on-tap cocktails only, with options named by number. Current choices include the #6, a play on a michelada with vodka, clarified tomato, mango, Corona (the beer), black pepper, jalapeño, and absinthe; and the #7, their version of a negroni that includes cherry liqueur, red bell pepper, and cranberry.

Double Chicken Please
Photo by Sahid Limon

DCP’s kitchen is helmed by chef Mark Chou, a Taiwanese-American NYC native who previously worked at spots like Eleven Madison Park, Le Bernardin, and Blue Hill. His menu’s current must-try items include two versions of fried chicken sandwiches: The first is enriched three ways, with salted duck egg yolk on the bun, in the batter, and as a sauce. And the second is akin to Korean fried chicken or Taiwanese popcorn chicken, with a buttermilk brine and craggy coating topped with hot honey and Thai basil. A plant-based fried tofu sandwich dressed in a sesame-peanut butter sauce inspired by Chou’s mom’s cold noodle recipe is also available; in addition to a greenmarket salad; and razor-thin sweet potato chips seasoned with five spice powder and plum salt sent from Taiwan by Chan’s mother. The latter is also served with an optional (but highly recommended) salted duck yolk puree dipping sauce.
 
With so many aspects of the restaurant industry still in flux, Chan, Chen, and Chou don’t plan to rest on their laurels—which is good because as we all know now, the pandemic brings new challenges daily. In fact, the three are already working on a new pop-up concept. Talking to Chan, it’s clear that his brain operates at warp speed, and he’s continually fine-tuning and adjusting. “We change our ideas constantly,” says Chan. “Maybe tomorrow we will change everything, based on what we learned today.”

And through it all, this motto has continued to help the team adapt to the everchanging hospitality landscape. Since indoor dining in NYC has been put on hold again, DCP guests can now take their drink home, or grab a seat at one of the handful of high-tops available outside. In addition, 16-ounce bottled cocktails for takeout were recently added, as well as offering delivery for the first time as well.

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Devorah Lev-Tov is a Thrillist contributor.
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