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This SF bar is celebrating Lunar New Year with a 23-foot dragon

Chen-Chen Huo, who immigrated as a child from Taiyuan, China, poses for a photo in his popular bar, Trade Routes, on Polk Street in San Francisco on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023. Huo was inspired to celebrate the New Moon Lunar New Year by decking out his bar based on the decor his parents do for the New Year festival. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

If you try to count the number of red lanterns shining at Trade Routes, you will lose your mind. The 2-year-old Polk Street cocktail bar is celebrating the Lunar New Year in the most festive way.

“It will be really cool for people to get excited about Lunar New Year, whether or not they are Chinese,” said co-owner Chen-Chen Huo, who is also an immigrant from China.

A 23-foot-long dragon decorates the ceiling of Trade Routes, a popular bar on Polk Street on Jan. 25, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Huo and his two partners, who are also of Asian descent, purchased hundreds of decorations and ornaments—like rabbit dolls, red envelopes and lanterns—to create an immersive experience that patrons encounter immediately upon walking in. And most notably, they hung a 23-foot dragon in the middle of the bar space to make sure you know it’s a celebratory time of the year.

Huo, 30, came to the U.S. when he was 3 and has been living in San Francisco ever since. He said his memory of early childhood in China is mostly related to Lunar New Year, and since he moved to the U.S., his family would always decorate the house for the festival, a tradition he was inspired to re-create.

He also said he hopes to uplift the Lunar New Year’s presence in San Francisco’s bar industry, bringing in the same level of energy as Christmas celebrations.

Chen-Chen Huo, who immigrated as a child from Taiyuan, China, poses for a photo in his bar, Trade Routes. | Camille Cohen/The Standard
The owners were inspired to celebrate the New Moon Lunar New Year based on the decor Huo's parents put up for the festival. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

In that vein, there’s also a new menu with five special cocktails for Lunar New Year, all using strong Chinese liquor baijiu. One of them, the “Baba Mama”—the name means “father and mother” in Chinese—is an alluring combination of baijiu, lychee and egg white.

“It’s sweet and potent,” Huo said, “exactly how you would want your parents to be like.”

Huo said that he’s satisfied and excited about the bar’s new look, even though he’s received a bit of constructive criticism saying the design is over-the-top.

“I really like having people walk in and [having the design hit] you over the head,” Huo said.

Creating such an atmosphere is not cheap. Huo admitted that Trade Routes spent a few thousand dollars and “ran over budget” for the decorations, because the bar  bought most of the merchandise from China and the shipping costs are high.

Lunar New Year began on Jan. 22, and the decorations will be up at Trade Routes till Feb. 12.

Trade Routes: New Moon

🗓️ Lunar New Year menu through Feb. 12
📍1750 Polk St., SF