For the real believers, tales of a subterranean New York have either at least a germ of truth (mole people, alligators in the sewers) or have yet to be proven (Masonic tunnels, government chambers beneath the Empire State Building). But to those of its denizens who have an enduring preoccupation with all things underground, the city offers up at least one incontrovertible concession: the Doyers Street tunnel.
Chinatown’s Doyers Street, that narrow little hyphen between Pell and the Bowery, witnessed most of the ambushing, stabbing, shooting and general racketeering of the Tong Wars, fought by rival Chinese gangs a century ago. Dense with saloons, opium dens and fan-tan parlors, the Bloody Angle—the moniker given to the 90-degree street in the press—was rumored to conceal trapdoors and secret panels leading down to a network of tunnels. At least one of those tunnels remains: Beneath the old Chinese Opera House, a flight of stairs twists down to a sunken underpass. It snakes indifferently beneath buildings before finally spitting out its cargo at Chatham Square.
Though today its benign shops and linoleum floors—all awash in fluorescent lighting—blot out most of the tunnel’s darker associations, it’s oddly comforting to know that a onetime nefarious escape route veers unseen beneath the street. — Emily Geminder