At Chinatown’s Nom Wah Tea Parlor, discovering a trace of the past that’s easy to miss

The wonderful Nom Wah Tea Parlor has been a fixture on Chinatown’s curved Doyers Street since 1920, and moved to its current location in 1968. Sunday, I stopped in for a bite and came away delighted by the experience at the father of Gotham’s dim sum restaurants. The place recently underwent a sensitive renovation, but has retained its authentic character from yesteryear. 

The purpose of this Retrologist post, however, is not to extol the vintage decor, or even the charming sign, which are all quite delightful and worthy of praise. No, I want to divert your attention to the bottom of the yellow facade, right next to the front door.

Way down at ground level, revealed by the chipping of paint, is a phone number, presented in the vintage way, with an exchange name: HO8-8600. Today, we’d write 468-8600. 

The HO stands for Hollis — as in the Queens neighborhood, according to this site. You’d give out the number by saying “HOllis8-8600.”

What was this number for? Well, we can also see the abbreviations “GEN. CONTR.” right above the phone number, suggesting these were the digits for the general contractor. The name of the contractor, however, is still obscured. 

I touched on the topic of old telephone exchanges in this recent post, and will again in future articles. These traces of communications history linger all around town, but they’re harder and harder to find.

In an era where so many calls are initiated by pressing a cell-phone button, I revel in finding traces of phone numbers that actually had evocative names in them (BUtterfield 8, anyone?) — and could take 15 seconds or more to dial on a rotary phone.

I’ll keep looking for them.

Text and photos: Rolando Pujol

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