For decades, Little Tokyo has been a destination for its history, food and art venues alike. But in the last year, Little Tokyo has put itself on the radar for another, more unlikely offering–craft beer. And as the second half of L.A. Beer Week closes in, the neighborhood is ready to show off why.
Starting three years ago with the opening of dedicated haunts such as Wurstküche and Far Bar — which has been home to the city's largest selection of Japanese craft beers since its incognito location opened in the heart of Little Tokyo's First Street — the area's taps have been slowly replacing the proverbial fizzy yellow beer with more-flavorful libations.
The incorporation of both domestic and international microbrews, however, has hit new heights since this past May when Jimmy Smith took over Far Bar's beer program, upgrading the basic-line craft tap list and turning the hidden gem into Little Tokyo's craft beer epicentre. More local joints followed suit and now at least nine establishments within walking distance of each another have enough beer cred that Smith decided to organize tonight's Big Crawl in Little Tokyo, the area's first-ever pub crawl.
Though Little Tokyo's proximity to Union Station (where L.A. Beer Week's closing festival is held) brought beer fans to the neighborhood last year, Big Crawl is the first official Beer Week event the community has hosted, making it a stylized coming-out party that will introduce drinkers to one of the highest concentrations of craft-beer serving joints in the city.
One of L.A.'s most notable historic neighborhoods is getting a new life as a craft beer destination and Smith is on the frontlines.
Squid Ink: Has an event of this caliber ever happened in Little Tokyo before?
Jimmy Smith: No, actually [Far Bar co-owner] Don [Tehara] was telling me that this is the first time something like this has gone on where the businesses put it on by themselves. Usually it's the city or the neighborhood council, so this is big because it's the first time businesses have put something like this together on their own.
SI: What does that say about the atmosphere between businesses in the neighborhood?
JS: It's great! What's so wonderful about Little Tokyo is that it's a community and there's no competition. That's what's going to make this event so special, too–we're all working together, all promoting each others' bars for the event.
SI: Do you think the timing is right or the product is right?
JS: We've always been very neighborly and close, but craft beer is really bringing everybody together because all the establishments serve craft beer and want to be more involved with it. They see what we've been doing at Far Bar and they're on board with it. I really do think it's more the craft beer. I mean, a lot of them carry craft beer and people don't even know that they do.
SI: What are the beer-drinking crowds like in Little Tokyo?
JS: Little Tokyo has become a very diverse area. It's not just Japanese and it's not just hipsters. If you saw a regular crowd at the Far Bar, it's something from every age and race. That's what's so great about beer, you get people from all different demographics enjoying it.
SI: What's your favorite scene in Big Trouble in Little China?
JS: I haven't seen it in so long, but Don just reminded me that James Hong–from the movie–is a regular customer here and he's friends with the co-owner. So any scene with him in it would be my favorite. He actually had an exhibition a few months back in Burbank where he enacted parts from the movie. He plays such a great villain.
Participating locations and featured breweries:
Escondite–Black Market Brewing
Spitz–Eagle Rock Brewing
Xlixe–Mad River Brewing
Senor Fish–Avery Brewing
Wurstkuche–Brasserie D' Achouffe.
A suggested itinerary as well as a partial tap list is available on the event's Facebook page.