The One Who Keeps the Book New York
How to Get Into Double Chicken Please
What started as a pop-up bar in a 1970’s Volkswagen camper van traveling across the country is now one of New York’s most coveted and tough-to-get-into bars.
Double Chicken Please, which opened in November 2020 on the Lower East Side, has been the talk of the town for multiple reasons: The deliciously juicy fried chicken sandwiches. Inventive, creative cocktails you can’t find anywhere else (Cold Pizza or Red Eye Gravy cocktail, anyone?). The duality of the more casual front room space, and a speakeasy-like, seated-only backroom that takes reservations. And the fact that last year, it ranked sixth on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. In short, reservations have never been quite the same since.
Wondering how to get in? In this latest edition of “The One Who Keeps The Book,” we interview co-founders Faye Chen and GN Chan, along with brand marketing and communications manager Tako Chang, to get tips on how to get in, what to order once you’re there, and what’s on the horizon for the team in 2023.
Resy: What was the thought process behind having a dual-concept bar, and how do the two rooms differ?
GN Chan: It wasn’t our initial intention to do a dual-concept bar. We looked for a space for four-and-a-half years. When we found it, we thought, “This space is narrow and deep. How can we make it work?” And the dual concept followed. We’re happy with how it turned out. The front room is casual and fast-paced. We serve cocktails on tap and fried chicken sandwiches. The back room has more whimsical and crafty drinks. It’s two different environments, styles of service, cocktail programs and ambiance — two different experiences. So, it depends on what people are looking for.
How many seats are there at Double Chicken Please?
Chan: The front room has both standing room and seats, and it can accommodate between 20 to 35 people. The back room has about 50 to 55 seats.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
Chan: Six days in advance at midnight, only for the back room.
How quickly do those get booked out usually?
Chan: From what I hear, it’s almost impossible to book because it gets booked out so fast. Like we’ll see people sitting at the bar waiting until midnight to book a table who still won’t be able to make a reservation. I’m grateful for this, but we also want to try our best to fulfill everybody’s needs.
Do you hold any seats for walk-ins?
Chan: Yes, the front room is walk-in only. For the back room, we reserve half of the seats for walk-ins.
Faye Chen: When you wait in line, you can put your name down on the waitlist for the back room with the host. Although the front room is first come, first served, to ensure our service quality when the front room is over its capacity, we do take names for a waitlist there as well.
What’s the usual wait time for walk-ins? What’s the best time to stop by?
Chen: We open at 5 p.m. Generally, we’ll start having a line around 4:30 p.m. and it will take about 30 minutes to fill both rooms. Those would be our first round of seatings. After that, it really depends. The average wait time will be around one-and-a-half hour up to four or five hours, depending on when you join the waitlist. A smaller party of two to four people will always be easier to accommodate than larger groups, because we have tables that we can separate into smaller tables and turn times will be faster.
How long do the waitlists usually get?
Chen: On our busiest nights — Fridays and Saturdays — we usually have about 20 to 25 groups on our waitlist. On less busy nights, if it’s cold outside, for example, it might be closer to 15 groups.
What You Need to Know
Plan Ahead: Reservations drop six days out at midnight.
The Layout: There are two rooms — the front room accommodates 20 to 35 guests (standing and sitting) and is walk-in only, while the back room accommodates 50 to 55 guests and is half walk-in, half reservations.
Pro Tip: Waiting in line before the bar opens at 5 p.m. is your best chance of getting in without a reservation. The waitlist can get long, but if you’re lucky and willing to wait around, you might be able to get in if someone cancels.
Walk On In: Get there before 5 p.m. to wait in line for either the front or back room.
Prime Times: 5 to 7 p.m. and 10:30 to 11 p.m.
Must-Orders: The fried chicken sandwiches drew a cult following when they first opened and remain top-sellers. You can’t go wrong with whatever taptail or cocktail you order, but do consider the Japanese Cold Noodle in the back room, which won the Bacardí Legacy Global Cocktail Competition.
How many covers do you do on a given night?
Chen: About 350 covers.
How long is your Notify list on average? Is there a specific day or time when you’re likely to get off the list?
Chen: We currently don’t use Notify, as we get booked out really fast. We try to give as much open space for our walk-ins as possible.
Any other tips you have for getting a table?
Chen: If you’re a smaller party, it will definitely be easier to get a table. Honestly, if you wait in line before 5 p.m., you have a good chance of getting in. If you’re hungry, and you want to grab a sandwich, I’d suggest you wait in line for the front room to enjoy food and drinks more quickly.
Do you have any funny stories to share about patrons trying to get in?
Chen: People can get quite creative.
Tako Chang: Sometimes, we’ll have a group of three or four guests who will take turns approaching our staff. One person will tell a staff member, “Someone told us that we’re next.” Our staff will then go check in with the host. Then, 20 minutes later, the same group of people will send someone else to check in with the host and say the same thing. They will just take turns and say things that have never been said before.
I do respect that. If I were a guest, I may do that too. Other people will sneak in and take an empty spot and say, “Someone in the front told me to sit here,” but that’s not part of our SOPs [standard operating procedures] . We’ll do our best to accommodate everybody but we hope that guests can respect our house rules as well.
When would you say is the busiest time?
Chen: Usually between 5 to 7 p.m. and we’ll also have a pretty nice rush around 10:30 or 11 p.m.
We’ll do our best to accommodate everybody but we hope that guests can respect our house rules as well.— Tako Chang, Brand Marketing and Communications Manager
The back room is the portion of the bar that can be booked on Resy. What are your favorite seats there?
Chen: At the bar, where you have a clear view of the bartenders making the drinks. To me, it’s like a stage and you’re in the front row of the concert.
Chan: I would also say the bar, but more specifically, the first seats at the corner of the bar are probably the best. You can see the whole room. It’s almost like a show. You see the bar design, there’s a neon chandelier and a dropdown ceiling. It’s a very special place to enjoy the experience.
Chang: For me, it depends on the occasion. If I’m visiting with a group of friends, my favorite spot is the second table when you enter the back room. There’s a black sofa I love sitting on — it’s a very comfortable environment where you get to have that special moment to catch up with your friends over great drinks. If I’m going just by myself or with a friend, I like to sit at the bar. It will provide a more intimate and immersive experience with the bartenders and the drinks.
What kind of music do you play, and who curates it?
Chan: We take music very seriously. We play old-school hip-hop and trendy music in the front room. The vibes are very vivid and uplifting. In the back room, the design is warmer, so we play lounge music to get into the mood.
In terms of the playlist, we let our team contribute to it with the music that they think fits the place. If people like the music, we’ll keep it on the playlist. We update it very frequently, every week — we’ll add a couple of songs, and pick and choose new things. It’s still evolving.
Chang: The design of each room is very different, and our clientele has been shaping more clearly, especially after the [World’s 50 Best Bars] awards. When we open at 5 p.m., we’ll play more subtle, old-school hip-hop. Then, as the room fills up with more guests, we’ll turn the volume up also change up the beats. We do have a standard template, but it all depends on the mood and our team has the responsibility to read the room.
For example, on a Saturday night recently, we were playing Bad Bunny, because everybody was in a Bad Bunny mood, and he had just won an award. So, we’ll also catch the trends from time to time. In the back room, it’s more a combination of indie and house music, less lyric-involved and more groovy.
It’s Friday night at 7 p.m. Can you set the scene?
Chang: At 7 p.m., it is booming and cheerful — you can barely hear the music. Guests are talking, cheering, and laughing. The team has been hustling since 5 p.m. and we have our last round of team members who clock in for service at 6.30 p.m. So, at 7 p.m., they’re walking into a full house. There are different angles to look at it.
From a team perspective, this is when everybody is pushing it. We are ready to get everything done efficiently and to provide the best hospitality. At the host stand, there will be a lot of communication in action as it’s when we turn tables and guests would like to put their names down on the waitlist. If the weather is nice, you can also get a great view from the outside. It looks happening and uplifting through the big glass windows. People walking past the bar and waiting in line are peeking to see what’s going on inside.
In the back room, servers are turning tables, ready to welcome new guests. The bar is about to take another round of orders. The ambiance is loud and lively, the guests, the temperature, the music, the whole flow, everything is perfect. You walk in, and you know that this is Double Chicken Please.
If someone is visiting Double Chicken Please for the first time, what should they order?
Chan: My perfect combo would be to start in the front room, grab a sandwich, and have one or two tap drinks. For first timers, I would recommend either #2 (tequila, Cocchi Americano, Italicus, earl grey, and grapefruit), #5 (whisky, Patron orange, oolong, longan, and honey), or #13 (Acqua di Cedro, cold-brew coffee, shiso, yuzu, and agave). They’re very different drinks, but all easy to start with — they’ll open your appetite and go really well with the sandwiches.
When you’re done, maybe you move to the back room and have another couple of drinks to end the night. Our cocktails stretch into “appetizers,” “main courses,” and “desserts.” But there are no specific guidelines you need to follow; it’s just how we’ve designed them. For a second round of drinks, start with the Japanese Cold Noodle, then go with the Red Eye Gravy as your “main course” for something more complex and good to sip on, and finally, end with something that reminds you of a dessert, like French Toast or Key Lime Pie.
What are your favorite items on the menu?
Chan: My favorite so far is the new sandwich we just dropped, our mochi donut chicken sandwich; it’s fun and spicy. For dessert, I love Le Big Mac: it’s a macaron ice cream sandwich that’s a collaboration with our neighbors at Pâtisserie Fouet.
Cold Pizza is my favorite drink — it’s funky, savory, and heavy on tomato. You might associate it with a Bloody Mary when you see it on the menu, but it’s not. It’s actually a very refreshing low-ABV [alcohol by volume] drink with an interesting combination of flavors. We wanted to riff on the margarita cocktail with the flavors of a margherita pizza — tomato and basil. We use a housemade basil cordial, Parmigiano cheese, and burnt toast tequila. On top, the garnish is an edible print of a slice of pizza sliding from your hand. All the visuals, from the garnish to the drink itself, are precisely designed to work together.
Chang: In the front room, the cocktails are intended to be very approachable, easy, and simple — classic cocktails with a seasonal twist. My favorite is #13; it’s our take on the espresso martini with yuzu. I’m very big on coffee but I also have a sweet tooth and love yuzu. I can’t say no to this combination, along with the salted egg yolk sandwich. I love savory food, so it’s something that I’ll eat anytime.
In the back room, I love the Japanese Cold Noodle cocktail. It’s refreshing and has a very subtle note of sesame oil, which I also love. If I can still eat, I’ll pair the Red Eye Gravy cocktail with our chicken liver mousse. On top of the mousse is the mushroom and coffee butter we use to fat wash the whisky in the cocktail, so it completes the whole journey from drink to food, or vice versa.
Chen: I love the koji cucumbers, one of the cold appetizers on our menu. They open your appetite really well. I’m not really into sweet food, so I prefer savory drinks. In the front room, I’d go with #6 (Illegal Joven Mezcal, Corona, absinthe, tomato, mango, and jalapeño) which is like a michelada. In the back room, similarly to GN, I love the Cold Pizza cocktail: it’s savory and umami, with a slightly spicy touch.
Was it a goal of yours to be on the World’s 50 Best Bars list from the beginning, especially considering you opened during the pandemic?
Chan: We’ve been in the industry for a while. The past two years weren’t easy at all. In the beginning, we were empty the whole time at the height of COVID, but then things started to pick up. Being on the list is a prize for us. We are grateful to have this recognition and that people like our stuff. We’ve only been around for two years, so we have to keep working and polishing. We want to keep our heads down.
How have things changed since being part of the World’s Best Bars?
Chan: It definitely has helped people discover us in a global scope, especially the international travelers. We do see a tremendous growth on it.
You are originally from Taiwan and now work and live in New York City. What made you open your first establishment here and how does the bar culture differ from back home?
Chan: We love New York. It’s a place of talent and diversity. For us, it lets us dream big. The cultural difference between here and Taiwan is tremendous. It’s a different type of hospitality. Here, people are more liberal, open-minded, and in a way, more straightforward. The cocktail culture is rooted in tradition in New York.
In Asia, the cocktail culture is still pretty new. It’s more of a luxury. You go out with friends after dinner, have a drink, and chat. In Taiwan, most of the bars open around 7 or 8 p.m. In New York, bars open at 4 or 5 p.m., or even 11 a.m. — people start drinking at different times and have different mindsets.
In the U.S., people drink cocktails at a much faster pace than in Asia. In Asia, when people order a cocktail, they’ll take a photo, sip on it, and chat about it. There’s nothing right or wrong, it’s just very different.
Operating a bar in New York is a big challenge for us, but it’s a challenge that we view positively. The clientele here is particularly global and diverse. How can we use our background, incorporating our roots and previous experiences in Asia to reimagine them into something new that people can enjoy in New York? How do we create an environment where everyone that steps into Double Chicken Please can feel safe and happy? From the language that we use to the products we serve, we try to resonate with all different kinds of people and make it enjoyable for everybody.
Do you ever think about opening a concept in Taiwan?
Chan: We do. Especially with our parents getting older. We want to be able to take care of them and be closer to home, but we’re not rushing it. We want to make sure that what we’re doing is beneficial not only for us, but also for our team. We don’t want to start a new project without thinking and planning through carefully and strategically. We plan things slowly and surely, step by step.
What do you think has made Double Chicken Please so successful? Why are people clamoring to get in and resonating with the concept?
Chan: That’s probably a question we should ask our guests. My guess is that the drinks and flavors are purposefully designed. We want the flavors to be universal. In the back room, the drinks are inspired by different dishes: we have Japanese Cold Noodle and Mango Sticky Rice, but also Red Eye Gravy, a hippie breakfast from the 1970s in Florida, and French Toast, a classic brunch dish. New York Beet Salad is our take on this salad that you can find anywhere in New York. These familiar concepts resonate with people. Nothing tastes better than nostalgia. We try to bring a little bit of something for you to remember your past, building a bridge between us and the guests.
Nothing tastes better than nostalgia. We try to bring a little bit of something for you to remember your past, building a bridge between us and the guests.— GN Chan, Co-Owner
When you first started, Double Chicken Please became mostly known for the fried chicken sandwiches, then you opened the back room and started doing drinks that were very unique and creative. What have you learned since opening in 2020?
Chan: I wouldn’t do it again. It’s very rewarding, but it was a very painful experience in the beginning. We opened during COVID and two weeks in, we had to go through the second lockdown. The space was empty all the time, but we made it through and I’m very proud of that. We had a lot of ups and downs, and we spent a lot of time figuring things out, making many mistakes in order to make some things right.
Do you have any changes planned?
Chan: We are doing a minor “rebrand” for our front room. At the moment, we call the two spaces the “Front Room” and the “Back Room”. Starting in May, we will have different names for the two spaces with stronger brand identity and marketing approaches to implement stronger personality for the dual concepts.
When we first opened, everything was a little vague. Now that we’re past COVID and we have a clientele here to support us, we can be bolder and try something that we have always wanted to do since day one. The brand evolves with a period of time, so we can offer more.
What excites you most this year?
Chan: It’s a very exciting year for us because we have a several plans lining up. We’d like to start exploring new opportunities. The key focus of the year will be Double Chicken Please original event curation and merchandize design. We hope to create products that play as an extension to deliver our values and beliefs for guests to bring a piece of Double Chicken Please home to have fun with. At the same time we want to keep polishing our day-to-day service quality and internal training.
Chang: We’re very excited about this new year with the upcoming projects and collaborations. Dedication and devotion are what make the brand foundation solid in the long run, and we’ll see what the future brings us.
Double Chicken Please is open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from 5 p.m. to midnight on Sundays.
Coralie Kwok is a French-born writer and hospitality professional based in Brooklyn. She’s always on the quest for the best baguette.