The LiPo Lounge, also known as the LiPo Cocktail Lounge, is a real business with the address of 916 Grant Ave San Francisco, CA 94108, located in Chinatown. Considered a dive bar, the LiPo lounge is home locals and an oddity to be briefly enjoyed by visitors.
In the novel Nocturnal, the LiPo Lounge is said to be the headquarters for Johnny Yee who is the leader of the local Tong gang. He is said to run his operations from the basement of this Chinatown bar.
The Legitimate Business
The LiPo Cocktail Lounge is a small and unpretentious Chinatown dive that lies behind a set of double doors cut out of a faux rocks with large red lacquered doors. Complete with a wraparound bar, it has a 1970’s noir feeling with dingy red leather booths and ubiquitous, traditional Chinese lanterns for lighting and decoration. Situated behind the bar, is a golden Buddha statue frequently adorned with candle and flower offerings.
A lone staircase leads to a dimly lit basement, where dilapidated bathrooms and a cave like room are located. On the weekends, local start up bands play in this stuffy, dark basement but during the week it is just plain dark and cavernous, giving off a dangerous vibe.
Li Po (701-762) was among the most revered Chinese poets of the pre-modern era. Li Po was recognized for bringing an unparalleled grace and eloquence to his treatment of traditional Chinese themes. Another well recognized characteristic of his poetry is the air of playfulness, hyperbole and fantasy that infuses his work.
Li Po grew up in Szechwan in western China and later traveled extensively in the eastern and central regions. Around 742 he gained recognition from emperor Hsuan-tsung (Xuan Zong) and was appointed to a post in the Hanlin Academy, but a few years later he was exiled from the capital as a result of slanders. He fled south at the time of the rebellion in 755 and entered the service of Prince Yung. The Prince's downfall involved Li Po in a second exile, though he was eventually pardoned and resumed his life of wandering.
Several of Li Po’s well known poems were dedicated to or involved greatly themes of liquor or alcohol, such as one entitled “Drinking Alone with the Moon”. This makes the naming of this small San Francisco cocktail bar all the more apropos.
The Yee Corporate Headquarters
In the novel, Nocturnal, the basement of the LiPo Lounge was the well known location for the headquarters of Johnny Yee, an ambitious young member of the Suey Singsa tong. More specifically, it was the section of the basement known as 'The Five Rooms' that served as a crime headquarters.
For those familiar with the location, the stairway that led to the basement where the weekend bands play, also leads to a non-descript locked green, solid iron door with a faux wooden finish. Guards posted at this door allow the privileged continue through a short hallway, which leads into a wide, round central room with four additional rooms. The hallway in and the rooms are spaced out equally around the main area, like points of a star – thus the name 'The Five Rooms.'
'The Five Rooms' appear cave-like as well because they are little more than holes chipped out of the Chinatown bedrock. These rooms have housed vice activities for 125 years, including activities such as opium dens, fan tan gambling, slave-girl quarters, a more up-scale brothel, and a secret torture and execution chamber. However, currently Johnny Yee ran his small but growing empire from within the well-appointed office located in Room Two. The other rooms included activities such as Little Bob torturing and killing Sam the Narc.
In the novel Nocturnal, Frank Lanza, the new boss of the San Francisco La Cosa Nostra makes a move on Yee by calling him on his wife’s cell phone and alerting Yee that both his wife and his young son Eric, were in his custody. Yee knew that if Lanza had his wife that meant her two bodyguards were probably dead and that his wife and son’s life were in peril. It was then that Yee’s cell phone went dead, indicating that an imminent move was being made on the 'The Five Rooms.'
Yee tried to escape through a tunnel located behind a filing cabinet. The tunnel led underneath the back of the Li Po Lounge, underWashington Street to a sub-basement a half-block away. That tunnel, and dozens like it, zig-zagged through Chinatown, remnants from the old days of opium dens, slave girls and prohibition. However, when Yee was able to pry open the secret door he saw a creature move in the dim light of the tunnel. He smelled the sour stench of old garbage and musty fabric, then saw the creature and panicked at the horrific sight.
- Nocturnal (Rough Draft)
- References to the history of the person, Li Po were taken from the Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry