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Little Tokyo Nights

By Michael F. Robleto
Published: Thursday, October 21, 2010, at 10:10AM
Senor Fish Michael F. Robleto

A crowded bar at Senor Fish

Few Downtown neighborhoods are as unique or talked about as Little Tokyo, but within is a vibrant nightlife that is as welcoming as it is a scene of its own. From $3 margaritas to a jazz bar where patrons are asked to be silent during music sets, Little Tokyo may have exactly what you never knew you were looking for.

410 Boyd

Hidden off San Pedro Street, 410 Boyd is a bar with a modern industrial feel that goes well with the surrounding neighborhood. It features a massive bar flanked by booths and a huge outdoor patio making for an ideal setting for random conversations and new friends in the making. Since it is popular on Fridays and Saturdays, Tuesday night is the insider’s tip for a couple reasons: twenty-five cent beers are poured starting at midnight until a quarter keg empties (about 50 beers), as well as $3 10oz margaritas and Adios MF’s being available. Beer drinkers will rejoice that pints of the “house beer” (usually PBR or Rolling Rock) are only $2 all the time, making it truly the cheapest beer Downtown! Sundays brings in a festival of four to five varying live bands, but the crowd seems sparse for this new promotion. Maybe it will change in time. The crowd was a very diverse melting pot of people. 410 Boyd (off San Pedro and 3rd)

Blue Whale Bar

Located on the 3rd floor of Weller Court (just east of Los Angeles St. between 1st and 2nd), Blue Whale isn’t like the other jazz spots Downtown. The vibe is more art gallery with the live art being modern/progressive jazz musicians. The crowd is asked not to talk during music sets and the focus is 100% on the musicians. Joon, the owner, is a major music aficionado and it is evident in the studious audience. While there is a $10 cover nightly, Thursdays through Sundays, Monday’s “jam session” nights are free and offer up-and-coming musicians the chance to play in open session. Most musicians at the Blue Whale are West Coast-based jazz players with some national tours coming through. Check their website for current showings. My experience found the staff to be quite friendly including Mitch the bartender and Big John the door guy. 123 Astronaut E S Onizuka

Cosmos Bar

If you took the Golden Gopher and moved it to Little Tokyo you would have Cosmos. The vibe is unpretentious and the drinks flow easy. The owner, Joe, is short and to the point but you can tell he loves his regulars. The décor is no frills and the karaoke that takes place is second fiddle, often resulting in not much more than background music. A favorite of locals, this place is a solid choice if you are looking to just chill or avoid the bustling Downtown crowds on a weekend. Domestic beers are only $3.50 and wells are $5.50. Closed Mondays. 333 E. 1st

Far Bar

The large outdoor patio of this Little Tokyo hotspot sits wedged between two massive concrete walls making for a hidden speakeasy type of vibe, and the long narrow entry corridor makes you feel like you know something others don’t. Seating is ample and there is a full bar with over 70 beer selections, though mainly Japanese craft beers. Entertainment comes in the form of rock bands, jazz and the ever-popular DJ night called Lemonade. The staff was very friendly and accommodating and the overall vibe was very SoHo-esque. 347 E. 1st

Kyoto Hotel

One of the best “hidden gems” of Little Tokyo is the rooftop garden at the Kyoto Hotel on Thursday nights. The setting is a traditional Japanese garden offering breathtaking views of authentic foliage and towering views of the adjacent Downtown skyscrapers. Most often used as a wedding event space, this became a makeshift lounge a couple years back and has been drawing in some interesting musical acts. The crowd is mostly hotel guests but locals in the know are discovering it. If the weather goes bad, the show moves to an adjacent ballroom but the vibe is not the same. Doors open at 6pm with the show starting at 6:30pm and going until 10pm. This is an ideal for a date spot or to start off your Thursday night Downtown discovery. 120 S. Los Angeles

Matsumoto’s 2nd St Jazz Bar

This “jazz” bar has a bit of an identity crisis. There is food but the room seems too dark to really be eating in. You would think jazz would be the highlight but it seems MC battles and hip-hop are the more common performers. There is a full bar but the wait staff I encountered seemed to be more bothered by my presence than anything else. Featured artists are up and coming musicians or USC students trying their hand at performing, far from the talent pool collected at places like Seven Grand, First and Hope or the Blue Whale. A cover charge of $5 to $10, is required at times, depending on the band. 366 E. 2nd

Senor Fish

Themed nights like Jazz Wednesdays and 80’s on Thursday make for a spot that is out of the normal Little Tokyo vibe. Part Mexican taco stand, part dive bar, Senor Fish has a great vibe and what seems to be a common spot for regulars. The large room has some seating and ample room for a dance floor that you can just tell gets packed. Senior Fish offers a full bar and some of the meanest fish tacos in Southern California, served up until 12:30 (later if there is an event). Shoot for arrival just prior to midnight for their “Happier Hour” special where you can get their amazing tacos for just a dollar. 422 E. 1st

Tapas and Wine Bar C

From the imperial red seating to the wait staff dressed in French Maid outfits, this place channels the funky nature we all think of when imagining nightlife in Tokyo. There is a massive choice of popular sake and international wines alongside a full bar, but it seems money is a main motivator on what is offered. Wines like Screaming Eagle, Opus One and Silver Oak are notoriously overpriced for the value and the rest of the menu are common wines you find almost anywhere at inflated prices. $20 for a glass of Stags Leap Chardonnay won’t make me a regular here, and $10 for house sake seems a bit high for the area. Although, there is one drink that regulars swear by, and that is the Galvatron (Bacardi 151, Patron and Maker’s Mark all in one shot). Ordering this drink is celebrated with a special music video and song designed to be the last memory you will have of the evening. 428 E. 2nd

Weiland’s Brewery Restaurant

This popular brewery/restaurant seems to be more restaurant than bar. There is lot of seating in the brightly lit, brick lined room but rarely is there an open seat. The front bar seems a bit tight and the general vibe was a bit distant. Fans of micro brews will take delight in the variety of craft beers but the main focus is the food. Open til 2am with a well-used jukebox, Weiland’s is a good stop to start your evening with a meal, but not really the place I would stay all night. 400 E. 1st

Have a favorite spot in Little Tokyo? Let us know in the comments.

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