How would you feel if you came across the following on a restaurant’s cocktail list: Hot Asian, Love You Long Time, Face Down in Saigon, and American Joe? Would you find it offensive, ironic, amusing, perhaps peculiar? “Horrifyingly racist” is what Kate Aurthur thought. Aurthur happens to be BuzzFeed News’ chief Los Angeles correspondent.
On Saturday night, after seeing the drink names at The District by Hannah An, Aurthur tweeted, “Horrifyingly racist drink names at the District restaurant on 3rd St.” and attached a snapshot of the offending monikers circled on the menu. The Twitter thread continued with brief discussions between Aurthur and her followers about whether or not the owner is Asian, and if the drink names were meant to be ironic.
Nobody knows the intent behind the drink names better than District owner Hannah An, daughter of Helene An and part of the An restaurateur family, which is behind a handful of successful Asian restaurants including Crustacean in Beverly Hills. We reached out to her to get the story behind each moniker and find out what she thinks about the tweets. For the record, An was born in Vietnam.
“American Joe is the nickname we had for U.S. soldiers in Vietnam,” An says. “We appreciated and loved the American soldiers. In fact when I was 6 or 7, I was saved from drowning one day at a Nha Trang beach by an American Joe when the wave swept me away. He saved me. This drink is to show my affection for the American G.I. in Vietnam.”
“Hot Asian is literally a hot, spicy drink with Asian flavors. It has lemongrass and Vietnamese chiles in it. It’s playful.”
“Face Down in Saigon is just a playful way to describe drinking a lot and having, maybe, too much fun. It’s not negative. It’s not supposed to be offensive.”
“Love You Long Time. I never saw Full Metal Jacket, so I don’t really know the movie scene, but I know the reference. For me, it’s lighthearted and meant to express my gratitude for Americans in the war.”
Ultimately, we’re just talking about cocktail names, not Ted Cruz’s campaign or the recent racist chants by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma. Aurthur even tweeted, “I’m sure [the names are] ironic? I don’t think it works?” Frankly, my immediate reaction when I visited the newly opened The District almost two months ago was that the cocktail names raised red flags, so I’m not surprised that some people are offended.
I questioned An further and asked if she seriously wasn’t aware of the connotations or possible misinterpretations behind “Hot Asian” and “Love You Long Time.” An replied, “I went to an all-girls Catholic school. I have a teenage daughter. I honestly didn’t intend the drink names to be thought of like that. If people are that offended, I may change the names, but please experience the restaurant first, so you know my true intentions.”
Having tasted An’s garlicky lobster noodles, we recommend you heed her request.