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Welcome back to the world of Suzie Wong

To shift with the times, a Chinatown lounge goes retro and upscale

At the Seven Stars Restaurant and Lounge in Portland's Chinatown, owner Sue Wong So was ready for a party. And like many hostesses, she had the jitters. Seven Stars was reopening after being closed a month for a $150,000 face-lift.

The new awning outside So's Northwest Fourth Avenue restaurant was ready, and the 'open' sign for the new Suzie Wong's Lounge was in the window. The bar was stocked and she had plenty of Chinese appetizers barbecue pork, spring rolls and crab puffs ready to go. The fridge was full of cold Tsingtao beer.

Seven Stars, now in its 20th year, is the original location of Albert Wong's Tuck Lung restaurant, which closed about two decades ago. The spot, which has operated as a restaurant since 1900, now hopes to attract the kind of upscale crowds heading to the nearby East Chinatown Lounge, around the corner on Northwest Everett Street in an old tofu factory.

Chinatown is changing, and So plans to change with it.

The enterprising Ms. So hired Brian 'Chico' Joseph to be the bar manager in her new venture and engineer the change. Joseph, who has tended bar at such hipster hangouts as Berbati's Pan and upscale Pearl District bistro Holden's, will help bring the Chinatown stalwart into the year 2003 with DJs, karaoke and retro posters.

Last week's grand reopening featured a champagne dedication and dragon dancing, followed by a Suzie Wong look-alike contest judged by female impersonator and Old Town doyenne Darcelle XV. Participants did their best impersonation of movie actress Nancy Kwan, once called 'Hong Kong's Gift to Hollywood,' after whose famous movie character the lounge is named.

Bartender and de facto neighborhood historian Richard Horswell works across the street at the Republic Cafe. Horswell and old-timers at the Republic Cafe bar will remind you that there was once a bar called Suzie Wong's down the street, in the current location of the Lum Yuen dim sum house near the gate to Chinatown on West Burnside Street.

So, the engaging Horswell says, represents a modern businesswoman for the tightknit Chinatown community, one who's ready for whatever the future holds including the changes expected to follow Fourth Avenue redevelopment plans now in the works.

The city's investment, courtesy of the Portland Development Commission, will pump $4.5 million into Old Town/Chinatown, a 12-block district of restaurants, stores and social clubs along Northwest Third and Fourth avenues between Burnside and Hoyt streets. The project, expected to break ground in 2004, will bring in two pedestrian malls and gussy up streets, lights and plants.

'What Sue hopes, and what I hope, is that this investment in the neighborhood will spur new thoughts about the area,' Horswell says.

Seven Stars Restaurant and Suzie Wong's Lounge is at 205 N.W. Fourth Ave., 503-228-2888.

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