San Francisco Nighclubs 1944: CHINATOWN

Chinatown, in San Francisco, California, is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia. Since its establishment in 1848,it has been highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in North America. Chinatown is an enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity. There are two hospitals, numerous parks and squares, a post office, and other infrastructure. Visitors can easily become immersed in a microcosmic Asian world, filled with herbal shops, temples, pagoda roofs and dragon parades. In addition to being a starting point and home for thousands of Chinese immigrants, it is also a major tourist attraction, drawing more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
In the 1940s nightclubs in Chinatown became very popular with the soldiers passing through town on their way to the Pacific. These ads are all from the Curran Theatre’s The Playgoer magazine that is from Montez Lawton’s scrapbook (click on her name in the labels to see more).

Things get a little confusing when researching these places. In one piece it's stated that Club Shanghai was owned by Fong Wan, a famous Chinese herbalist. He called his shows:
'the Chinese ‘Folies-Bergere’ of the Americas.' He boasted, 'Our entertainment costs more than $2,000 per week' and offered what had become a nearly standardized Chinese-American menu. Still, patrons could order 'other native dishes upon request.' (SOURCE: Flavor and Fortune)
Obviously the problem is that the ad above says it was owned by D.W. Low. I'm throughly baffled, but I'll give you what I found.

To read about the different clubs, the entertainers, and the food visit here and here.

Click on image to see it larger.

There's a variety of ephemera online from some of these places:
here to see the cover of a menu for Shanghai Low,
here to see a postcard of the interior of Club Shaghai,
here to see a postcard of Shanghai Low,
here to see a photo holder for Club Shanghai,
here to see a photo of D.W. Low, owner of Shanghai Low, in traditional Chinese clothing
here for another menu cover of Shanghai Low,
here to see a bit of the exterior of Shanghai Low on Grant Avenue,
and here to see a photo of the interior of Shanghai Low.
Click here to read about Ed Pond, owner of Dragon's Lair.

Click here to see a menu from Club Shanghai featuring a photo of showgirl Miss Lana Wong and the owner, Fong Wan.

I did not find any ephemera for Lion's Den or Dragon's Lair.

Click on image to see it larger.

Sadly, I'm not finding anything definitive about these old clubs. It's just bits 'n' pieces from the past like these old advertisements; places and performers long gone. It would be nice if there was a book about this period in Chinatown featuring the stories and ephemera. Perhaps there is and I just haven't found it.

UPDATE: From reader Willard:
Club Shanghai opened around 1913 by D.W. Low. My father, Fong Wan, who had an interest in this nightclub, took sole ownership of it in 1946 until around 1956.

It was my father who brought Lana Wong from China to perform at his Club Oakland, formerly the New Shanghai Terrace Bowl in Oakland CA before her performing at the Club Shanghai. Barbara Yung, was the featured dancer after Ms. Wong left my father's employ.
Thank you Williard!


  1. Anonymous2/24/2013

    There is a book on SF Chinatown nightclubs during the 1940's and 50's: Trina Robbin's book, "Forbidden City: the Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs," 2009. Also, see Arthur Dong's Facebook: chinese american nightclubs.


  2. Frisco The Dead Client features a fictional Chinatown Nightclub owned by Lily A modern an Chinese-American woman..circa 1937. Lily is a patriotic American girl, who spies on Japanese spies. She is more heavily developed as a character in the Sequel The Dead Fisherman.

    1. Well that sounds pretty interesting! Thanks.