Imagine an alley where live chickens once roamed, a basement that stored the belongings of wrongfully incarcerated Japanese Americans, and a restaurant booth where the legend of Bruce Lee once dined. There aren’t many spaces that can boast witness to this, but the walls at Far Bar have seen it all. Long before Far Bar was a watering hole for craft beer and Japanese whiskies, it was originally named the Far East Cafe. In Little Tokyo’s historic building, its location dates back to 1935, serving chop suey and a piece of hope for the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. As time went on and Japanese immigrants had reestablished a community of their own, devastation hit Little Tokyo yet again with the Northridge earthquake, condemning Far East Cafe for 12 years.
In 2006, Mike Gin, Don Tahara, and Enrique Ramirez came in with a vision to bring the historic building back to life and introduce a restaurant/bar concept: Far Bar. Little Tokyo was not the curious micro-world we know today though. Its streets were still a ghost town, so the partners needed to change gears and jump on the craft beer movement in 2010. They were the first bar in Downtown to serve craft beer and today, they are the largest distributor of Japanese craft beer in Southern California, all while boasting over 500 whiskies to choose from. “We feel like we are the anchor in Little Tokyo, before it [Little Tokyo] expanded, people came here for Far Bar. With the Gold Line station, and now Uber and Lyft, all those things helped bring people and get us to where we are but we need to stay competitive,” says Mike Gin, partner and self proclaimed “assistant head dishwasher.”
With 2 bars, a mezzanine, and an alley patio, Far Bar offers more elbowroom than the average and a quiet place to converse with friends or knowledgeable bartenders. “People love it, the best part is learning from other customers,” says Guìllermo Bugarin, who leads the beer program and trains the staff on beer. Other notable items on the menu are the Ming’s Wings; crispy, juicy chicken wings buried under green onion and peppers, and the garlic wasabi fries invite nothing less than stuffing a fist full of fries right into mouths. What makes Far Bar uniquely itself is the relaxed and comfortable environment. There’s no pretense here, just good people who want to be surrounded by great food and craft beer.
Written by Janica de Guzman
Photographed by Jack Strutz