George Chen surprise-announces plans to create a rooftop bar at China Live

China Live owner George Chen has always planned to continue to expand his restaurant empire throughout the building at 644 Broadway. But in a sly Instagram photo shared Sunday, Chen used the occasion of megastars Michelle Yeoh and Sandra Oh visiting China Live to hint at one more development: a rooftop bar in Chinatown with sweeping views of the Bay Bridge and Transamerica Pyramid.

Oh was in town April 29 to introduce Yeoh and honor her work at a screening of Yeoh’s film, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Chen says organizers asked if he would be willing to host the duo and SF Film board members following the event, and he agreed to have the group in for champagne and appetizers. (SF Film previously resided at 644 Broadway with China Live before leaving the building during the pandemic, Chen says, so it was an easy request between former neighbors.) At one point in the night, Oh wanted to go outside for a breather and a China Live manager took the group up to the roof, which led to the picture Chen shared on Instagram. “I just posted that on Instagram for fun, saying, ‘Hey, roof deck coming’ and a lot of people still ask me about it,” he says.

The caption about an upcoming rooftop bar wasn’t just an offhand statement, however. Chen shares he’s had a plan for placing a bar there since the beginning of China Live, going so far as to have plans drafted for it by AvroKO back in 2014 (see below for those early mockups) and later by Cass Calder Smith. Chen says the rooftop has panoramic, unobstructed 360-degree views, and about 5,000-square-feet of usable space once a bar area is put in. The rooftop bar was put off as Chen worked to open and stabilize China Live — as well as his other ventures within the building, Eight Tables and Cold Drinks Bar — but then the pandemic struck, forcing Chen to pivot his business strategies to keep his restaurants open. Now, Chen feels he’s in a space to pursue the rooftop venture once again, especially since he feels San Francisco needs more roof decks. “If we can work out a deal with our landlord, we’ll probably go ahead and start on the roof deck,” Chen says. “I think that Chinatown gets some of the best weather for some reason — and it’s not too windy.”

There’s still plenty of work to put in before that happens, such as working out a deal with Cypress Properties Group, which manages the building and gathering necessary permits with the city, according to Chen. Still, he’s already had enough foresight to help those rooftop plans to come into fruition; Chen shares that China Live’s existing alcohol permit extends throughout the building and, while perhaps some updates are in order, he does have those early mockups of the space in hand. He’s imagining a space with drinks, small bites, space heaters and fire pits, and potentially a veranda with a retractable canvas covering. It’s still in the early, early stages, but if everything goes right — from landlord approval to permitting to construction — Chen says he could see it opening in summer 2023. That’s a lot of if’s, but if Chen can pull it off, San Francisco would gladly welcome another rooftop option to party on. – Eater San Francisco (05.18.22)