Monday, March 26, 2012

Return of the Bush & Kearny International Food Court?

This post has been updated.  See added final paragraph.

The International Food Court at Bush and Kearny, closed by a fire in early 2008, may be poised for a comeback. The basement level food court, affectionately known as “The Dungeon” by many or simply “the place with the red awning” by some, was officially located at 380 Bush Street but had a coequal entrance (and awning) at 316 Kearny St. (Never mind that it was previously known as The International Food Center, or “the place with the blue awning.) It specialized in cheap, ethnic (mostly Asian) fast food from six stations. In its last incarnation, the IFC hosted Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Filipino and Mexican food vendors. The food was generally indifferent, though the lumpia from The House of Lumpia and the Burmese tea leaf salad from By the Bite had many fans (and where else in the FiDi were you going to find Filipino and Burmese food?)

After the facility was closed by the disastrous fire, signs were posted at both entrances promising a reopening “soon.” Nobody held their breath, and that promise of "soon" faded with the ink on the signs.  Now, four years later, that “soon” may really be soon. Newly printed “Coming Soon” signs recently appeared, and  signs of activity have been spotted. within the past few days. Last Friday I observed an open door behind the grate at the Bush Street entrance, and people who appeared to be taking measure of the space milling about below. Lights can also sometimes be seen inside the subterranean interior from the street where previously there were none.

What phoenix will emerge from the ashes of the beloved dungeon?  It's unlikely that all six of the pre-fire tenants have been biding their time for the past four years waiting to resume, but at the very least we are being promised an "International Food Court" once again, and that is music to my ears. Given the recent upsurge in interest in ethnic street foods, the possibilities are tantalizing. I have yet to find any clues to the who, what or when of International Food Court II, but believe me, I'll be on it like Bulldog Drummond.  

Amazingly, I found a pre-fire video by sflunch on YouTube (God bless the Internet!) which captures the spirit of a visit to the IFC.  If you were a devotee, it may bring a tear to your eye or a Proustian flood of memories.

[Update - 3/28/2012] Today when I wandered by the IFC site I noticed the grate and a door at the Bush Street entrance were open, and peering down the stairs I could see feet.  I descended the stairs to the hallowed space, and saw that the feet belonged to a whole Asian family of indeterminate denomination who appeared to be inspecting one of the cooking stations. Before I could converse with them, Another Asian male who appeared to be representing the food court interposed himself between me and the family . I quickly asked him if they were preparing to re-open, and he said "maybe in one month."  I then tried to ask if tenants had been found for all six food preparation areas; I'm not sure he understood my question, as his English seemed to be quite limited, but he appeared to, and answered in the affirmative.  He then waved me goodbye, saying "come back next month."  The space and the facilities appeared to be sparkling clean, though there was some standing water on the floor near the Bush Street stairway (probably from yesterday's deluge) so some issues may remain to be dealt with.  Fingers crossed.

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