A Historical Culinary Trip to Sake Dojo and Far Bar
By Rahimah Shah-Fiddmont, Development Associate and Editor
Owner Don Tahara’s restaurants, Far Bar and Sake Dojo, both located in Little Tokyo fifty steps apart from one another, provide food and drink that give his customers a glimpse of Asian tastes without having to travel. In an interview with Don, he told me about the fascinating history of his Asian fusion and Japanese bar restaurants.
In 1994, Little Tokyo Service Center had finished renovating the former Far East Cafe Building at 347 E. 1st Street after the damaged of the 1992 earthquake. The building was recognized as a National Historic Building and had to follow strict guidelines in order to preserve the architecture and design.
This resulted in a two-year process to approve building plans. The restaurant that is Far Bar today, opened in 1996 as Chop Suey Café, which showcased old school Chinese American recipes and more contemporary Chinese American dishes. After a period of slow sales and menu tweaking, it dawned on Don to change the business plan to emphasize the bar and the unique patio with the food menu featuring Asian small plates and bar friendly appetizers. The restaurant was rebadged as Far Bar with an unmarked entrance gate leading into a narrow patio surrounded by red brick walls and illuminated with mini overhead lights. A few years later the historic dining room was converted into a second bar to accommodate the bustling foot traffic on East 1st Street.
To distinguish Far Bar, Don decided to specialize in whiskeys, craft beers, and craft cocktails. Today, Far Bar offers 30 rotating beer taps, draft cocktails, and a curated selection of wines, Japanese craft beers, and sake. The bar offerings are paired with spicy, savory, and delicious foods, such as Ming’s Wings, wasabi fries, and sushi rolls. Far Bar stages special events such as food and drink pairings with Bourbon, Japanese beers, craft breweries, Irish Whisky, and sake. Catering, both in-house and off-site has been a constant for Far Bar as it has participated in numerous community events, weddings, City Hall functions, and private celebrations. Don’s business ventures did not stop with Far Bar. Sake Dojo, located on the same street, was born in 2018.
Don came up with the idea of Sake Dojo after developing a fondness for the fermented rice blended drink from his sake education classes and his own studies. Toshio Ueno from Mutual Trading Company was his main mentor, and he learned more about sake from the master sake brewers and sake sommeliers. He hired a sake expert to curate the extensive sake collection at Sake Dojo. Forty sakes are dispensed from a refrigerated computer-controlled system, which prevents oxidation of opened bottles and can be served by the glass. The food at Sake Dojo centers around sushi and sashimi and menu offerings with a wide range of umami to pair with the wide variety of sakes.
Like Far Bar, Sake Dojo specializes in tasting events to educate their customer’s palates. The best example of this is their discovery that different
cheeses naturally pair with sake. Don shared, “Our main elements are to educate our staff and customers to receive knowledge from the producer and brewer. We really stress the educational aspect.” Don encourages diversity and equality in an area that is traditionally led by men. “We’ve had a number of women distillers come in and talk about their whiskey and distilling process.” To add, his delicious cuisines incorporate global tastes. He shared, “We are of the generation where so much more information is available, and we have brought many parts of the world in our foods. There isn’t any cuisine out there that doesn’t do that.”
Presently, Sake Dojo has taken its show on the road as caterers with safe food preparation and delivery during the COVID-19. They also offer lunch at a deep discount to the community seniors. In addition to the senior meals, they have special parties and regular dining while Far Bar offers take-out. Don’s daughter, Jill, has literally been by her fathers’ side. Don warmly said, “My daughter has been working without pay and even prior to the pandemic without
pay. Over last year and half, she has really been there.”
From the inception of both of his businesses, community is the tie. One of the many reasons he created both Far Bar and Sake Dojo is to be a part of the immediate community and the Los Angeles community. Giving back is key on how he runs his business and is the cornerstone of his business model.
Post- COVID-19, Don hopes to share his robust fall cuisines with his earthy drinks. If you are in Little Tokyo, you will be at a loss if you do not pay Don and his restaurants a visit. Don, his staff and the unique blend of Asian cuisine and drinks will take you on a culinary global experience. For more information,
please visit: farbarla.com and sakedojola.com.