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The Enabler

May 15, 2008

Chinatown, thanks in part to the beloved 1974 water-scandal film noir of the same name, has always remained a bit of an enigma. It's a tacky simulacrum of an ethnic neighborhood, but it's too absurd to not yield real pleasures.

The main square's premier dive, Hop Louie, is shoe-horned beneath the cake-like tower of Chinatown's 1941 pagoda and feels a bit like a storage shed that a down-on-his-luck bachelor moved into. There's just a small black lacquered bar, a tiny faux-wood dance floor and a back room where an old man (who may or may not own the place) can occasionally be found sleeping.

Once the Enabler put money in the jukebox only to have a grumpy bartender turn the sound off so as not to disturb the old man's repose. "You are very rude," he told the Enabler when we asked if we could have our dollar back. The bartender's mood swings, documented in pen-and-ink napkin portraits on the back wall, have always charmed the Enabler. Once we came in and he didn't feel like making drinks, so he sarcastically invited us to go make our own. That's our idea of service, though we'd like to know: Who'd get the tip?

950 Mei Ling Way, (213) 628-4244

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-- theguide@latimes.com

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