Sparrow Room, a mahjong and dim sum bar, opens in Arlington (photo: mahjong night at Bun’d Up). Photograph courtesy of Bun’d Up
Bun’d Up chef Andrew Lo grew up watching his family and staff play mahjong after hours at their Cantonese dim sum restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri.
“You close the restaurant and you all play mahjong together,” Lo recalls of the friendly routine. “My family is Cantonese, and in Hong Kong you often finish a meal, remove the top of the table, and there’s a mahjong board underneath.”
Lo and Bun’d Up founder Scott Chung take the idea of after-dinner games a step further for their next business: Sparrow Room, a mahjong lounge and underground bar-style dim sum bar behind Bun. ‘d Up at Pentagon Row. During the day, patrons order Taiwanese-style gua bao stuffed with fried chicken or bulgogi beef at the quick and casual restaurant. In the evening, they can head to the dimly lit 42-seat bar for games of mahjong, cocktails, and dim sum-style dishes like dumplings, beef noodles, steamed buns and cakes. with turnip.
The name Sparrow Room is reminiscent of the game’s original Chinese name: “the sound sparrows make when they approach a tree.” It reflects the sound of the tiles chirping and chatting, ”explains Lo. However, the bar will not be strictly Chinese. Lo and Chung, whose family is Korean, often pay homage to their Asian-American roots at Bun’d Up and their traveling barbecue, Wild Tiger BBQ. “I’m very Asian-American with an American accent,” Lo says. He plans to celebrate the role of mahjong in the United States, both in Asian-American culture and others.
Mahjong has a moment right now, in part because the national spotlight on AAPI culture, both positive and negative, like the Texan company owned by three white women who peddled a insensitive version of the game. But Lo considers traditional mahjong a hobby that anyone can enjoy. Lo started teaching mahjong lessons when he worked with Burmese food stall Toli Moli at Union Market. He’s already launched weekly mahjong nights on Wednesdays at Bun’d Up – the paid event ($ 30) includes a lesson, free practice time and free play, and three bao buns (cocktails are extra. ). When Sparrow Room opens, Lo says he plans to continue the classes as well as the racing tables for the experts.
“Mahjong was brought out of China at the beginning 20 years old, and it was rooted in the Jewish community, ”Lo says. “In the 1950s, you saw a lot of advertisements of American housewives playing mahjong at the pool. We have a lot of interest in mahjong nights from our Asian friends, and also from the Jewish community. It’s a game people have always played, but maybe they haven’t talked about it as much.
The Sparrow Room is slated to open in November. In the meantime, you can book tickets for the mahjong nights at Bun’d Up here.
1201 South. Joyce Street. Arlington.