DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - The Far Bar has come a long way since opening in 2005. What started out as a modest cocktail bar has now morphed into a haven for serious craft beer drinkers with some 40 taps dedicated to great brews. What’s more, the Far Bar’s kitchen is whipping up gourmet gastropub cuisine with an Asian-fusion twist. It’s a winning combination that has helped create a new and loyal clientele for this storied Little Tokyo landmark.

Located in the historic Far East Building, the Far East Cafe (as it was known then) opened in the 1930s and quickly became the place for family and community gatherings. It drew both immigrants and politicians, along with a string of notables like gangster Mickey Cohen and actress Anna May Wong to its curtained booths. In 1994 the Northridge earthquake forced the restaurant’s closure, and for more than a decade the iconic vertical “Chop Suey” neon sign was the only reminder of the cafe’s long history.

In 2002, the Little Tokyo Service Center began a $4 million restoration project, bringing back the Far East Cafe along with affordable housing and a community center. In 2006, the restaurant reopened as the Chop Suey Cafe and Lounge. Today, the space operates as the Far Bar, packing in new generations to enjoy a piece of history with a cocktail and side of wasabi fries.

Part of the Far Bar’s allure is its near-secret entrance. Look for the clapboard sign and enter through a narrow alleyway tucked between two buildings that leads to the bar’s charming brick patio strung with twinkling white lights and paper lanterns. It’s a slice of L.A. that time forgot, a romantic high-walled retreat perfect for relaxing after work with a craft beer or specialty drink (like a bacon Old-Fashioned) from the busy bar inside. Among the taps are some fine choices, like the Tokyo Pale Ale, Hitachino Nest White Ale and Angel City Eureka Wit, or sample from any of the special flights.

Of course, beer drinking requires some tasty accompaniments, and the appetizers here are the ideal place to start. Crowd favorites include the aforementioned fries tossed in garlic and drizzled with wasabi aioli, the fried mac and cheese lollipops or the addicting Ming’s Wings rubbed with Asian spices. The Far Bar tacos make the ideal plate to share with friends and come three to an order with Asian slaw and pickled jalapeños (choose from Sapporo-braised short rib, sake pork or spiced shrimp).

The half-pound Angus burgers are the restaurant’s specialty, with almost a dozen creative versions. There’s the signature Far Bar burger on a brioche bun with smoked gouda, grilled onions and miso mayo, the Mongolian lamb burger with crispy wontons, or the exotic wild boar burger with caramelized onions and Asian pear butter. The spicy tuna burger is a lighter but still tasty option with seared ahi, Asian greens, pickled ginger and wasabi aioli. Don’t miss the third-pound Kobe beef hot dog, a decadent meal you can top with bacon, caramelized onion, tomatoes, crispy Okinawa yams and miso sauce.

The menu also offers several hearty entrees, including a 12-ounce New York steak, lamb chops with Israeli couscous, crispy striped bass with sunchoke puree, seafood pasta with Korean cream sauce, bacon fried rice with char shu pork, and a bulgogi beef bowl with kimchi and a fried egg. Diners can get their sushi fix too with the Far Bar’s menu of handmade rolls.

Enjoy a pint while catching comedy night or perhaps a live music act on the patio and take advantage of the unbeatable happy hour prices on burgers and appetizers. With its fascinating history and modern appeal, Far Bar is an L.A. treasure that will continue to serve as a gathering place for generations to come.

At 347 E. First St., (213) 617-9990 or Open weekdays 11 a.m.-2 a.m., weekends 10 a.m.-2 a.m. Happy hour weekdays 3-7 p.m., weekend brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m.

Cuisine: Asian Fusion

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013