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Tiki Central Forums General Tiki JOHN-O's Zombie Road Trip...
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JOHN-O's Zombie Road Trip...
JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2694
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-02-26 11:09 pm   Permalink

More Chop Suey action... This time instead of a Chinese Mai Tai, it's an (Asian) Zombie at the Far Bar in Little Tokyo.



This is the site of the former Far East Cafe which was one of L.A.'s most atmospheric mid-century Chinese restaurants prior to its closing after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The outer facade and original neon are still there. (And yes this is a Chinese restaurant in a Japanese neighborhood.)

Here's the exterior as it existed prior to WWII, the Far East Cafe is to the far right...



And how it looks today...



If any childhood restaurant memories are burned into my adult psyche, then it's from this place. Any Sansei kid growing up in L.A. probably had some type of family get together at the Far East, it was a J-Town institution. I remember my grandfather boasting that his two generations of offspring had grown so large that he needed to reserve the entire 2nd floor mezzanine for family reunions.

As kids we used to blow our straw wrappers on to unsuspecting diners below. Also I recall being fascinated by the ancient pull chain toilets in the restrooms. And we always ordered the same "China Meshi" comfort food dishes of almond duck, chicken chow mein, pakai (sweet & sour pork), chashu (BBQ pork), shrimp & lobster sauce, and hom yu (fatty steamed pork). This was Cantonese soul food for local Japanese and Mexican families, as well as L.A. Civic Center employees working down 1st street.

And man, did the Far East ooze historic L.A. !! Opened in 1935, the restaurant was a maze of wooden stalls. The stalls were constructed for curtains to provide diner privacy but the curtains had to be later removed as they posed a fire threat. The place really felt the age of the 1896 Beaux-Arts style building it was housed in. And it remained frozen in time, never really changing over the 30 years I visited there.

The noir atmosphere was appropriately used for a movie scene in "Farewell, My Lovely" based on the Chandler novel of the same name. Narrative lifted directly from the book:

"I was having some Chinese food when a dark shadow fell over my chop suey..."



In 2006, the Far East was renovated and opened as an Asian fusion bistro called the Chop Suey Cafe, and had several unsuccessful start/stops trying to establish a new clientele. Far more successful was the adjoining patio bar called the Far Bar, which is accessed via a narrow alleyway...



Apparently that worked out so well that the main restaurant recently took on that brand.

Although the bones of the original Far East Cafe are still there...



The remodel unfortunately took away much of its timeless historic character...



And as you can expect, the beloved cuisine of my childhood is gone, having been replaced with hipster bar food and a trendy craft cocktail menu.

Given the Little Tokyo location, the menu lists "witty" drink names like Godzilla, Yellow Fever, and Bird Flu.

I ordered the Asian Zombie (oddly colored blue) which didn't turn me into an Asian Zombie, but did help to console me on the loss of a special place from my Wonder Years, at least as how I fondly remember it.

On a related note, someone recently asked me "JOHN-O, you grew up in Rosemead. You seem to be taking the closing of the Bahooka rather lightly."

My response ?...

"At this point, I've grown immune."

I just want my old Far East Cafe back !!


 
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Atomic Tiki Punk
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Joined: Jul 19, 2009
Posts: 6187
From: Costa Misery
Posted: 2013-02-26 11:38 pm   Permalink

Keep it coming, buddy!

 
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congawa
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 11, 2008
Posts: 356
From: Long Beach, CA
Posted: 2013-02-28 4:00 pm   Permalink

This should make Atomic Tiki Punk happy, since they've added a bunch of TV screens where he can watch all his favorite sports teams simultaneously!

Caltiki
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Atomic Tiki Punk
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 19, 2009
Posts: 6187
From: Costa Misery
Posted: 2013-02-28 4:03 pm   Permalink

(shaking fist in the air!)

 
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arriano
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Joined: Jun 13, 2006
Posts: 1290
From: Dog Patch - San Diego
Posted: 2013-03-01 09:05 am   Permalink

Sometimes you have to weigh the good with the bad. Consider the fact that it's a miracle the brick buildings haven't been leveled for a gleeming high rise. I went to the Far Bar and had the Asian Zombie just last year. Nice place. I kind of freaked my friends out as we were walking down the street and I suddenly slipped into the passage way. The Asian Zombie doesn't look or taste much like a zombie, but at least it isn't simply called a "Zombie."

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lucas vigor
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 12, 2004
Posts: 3985
From: SOCAL
Posted: 2013-03-01 09:15 am   Permalink

John -O, I too am totally interested in ancient chinese secrets....especially since my happiest dining memories from the early 70s were cantonese restaurants....man, I loved the food coloring and MSG! There was a place in san diego called "the lime house" that we went to quite a bit...there is virtually nothing about it on the interwebz.....

[ This Message was edited by: lucas vigor 2013-03-01 09:16 ]


 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2694
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-02 4:07 pm   Permalink

A VERY significant Chop Suey find !!

It's the Bamboo Inn in L.A.'s Westlake district, a stone's throw away from McArthur Park.



Congawa (aka Caltiki of the Ding Dong Devils) tipped me off to this one. He and I made a recent visit after a light noshing at Langer's Deli across the street.

Many claim this is the oldest Chinese restaurant in L.A. When I asked the restaurant's Chinese matriarch how old the establishment was, she replied in broken English... "Very old, very old. Maybe 60 year." That would date it back to the 1950's but really the place felt even more ancient than that.



The decor was more stark L.A. Chinese Noir (Caltiki's description) than kitschy Oriental exotica. It vibed very much like the Far East Cafe that I posted about earlier.




Unfortunately there were no Tropical cocktails to be found but the menu was old-school Cantonese; Chop Suey and Egg Foo Yoong being the definitive entrees for me. The food had a good starchy quality to it but would probably horrify authentic Chinese cuisine purists. Not that you'll find any of those in this primarily Central American neighborhood who were giving the Bamboo Inn a brisk lunchtime business. In fact the owner spoke more fluent Spanish than she did English.

Only in L.A. will you find the world's best Pastrami deli sandwich (so admits New Yorker Magazine !!) and a mid-century Chinese restaurant, in a 99.99% Latino neighborhood across the way from a historic public park (and former crack supermarket).

So what does this all have to do with Tiki ?? Well Chop Suey is what Donn Beach was first passing off as exotic Polynesian cuisine back in the Pre-Tiki days. The fact that Chop Suey restaurants have been as much a vanishing breed as original Tiki establishments makes the Bamboo Inn a very important find IMHO.

And on a side note you can wash down your Egg Foo Yoong at this nearby mid-century Latino dive bar...



 
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Or Got Rum?
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 29, 2009
Posts: 338
From: Wisconsin
Posted: 2013-03-02 4:26 pm   Permalink

As always John-O, A pleasure to read your reports on the things I love and care about....history and heritage....with Soy and Cocktails to boot. Xie xie. OGR

 
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lucas vigor
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 12, 2004
Posts: 3985
From: SOCAL
Posted: 2013-03-02 5:25 pm   Permalink

O-John, you definitely make the connection between chop suey and tiki....it works for me!

 
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congawa
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 11, 2008
Posts: 356
From: Long Beach, CA
Posted: 2013-03-04 11:11 am   Permalink


John-O, it was a treat to join you in our shared first visit to the Bamboo Inn.

From the outside, it's hard to notice as one of many doors in old but nondescript one-story business building. However the red door and hand-painted signs stand out...


...as does the vintage scale and hand-written menu (only the Lite beer sign and A rating destroy the mood--though the meaning of the A rating itself is an unexpected plus.)


Once entering through the front door, the inside doesn't disappoint...


The hanging Chinese lantern in tandem with the paneling, booths and ceiling fans, contributed to the "Chinese Film Noir" effect...


...as an intrepid urban archeologist documents the menu...


I was only able to stay for about 10-15 minutes, since I was attending an afternoon birthday party at the nearby Bob Baker's Marionettes Theater (a time-warp of it's own, well-worthy of a visit as it has almost disappeared several times, and I wouldn't be surprised if it went the way of Bahooka sometime soon).

As a result, I wasn't able to eat there, as John-O did (how was the food?). And John-O, did you have a chance to visit the Tango Room?

Caltiki Brent
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2694
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-05 08:13 am   Permalink

I had the Egg Foo Yoong... with brown gravy !! That's been a "Polynesian" staple since day 1. Unfortunately it's fallen out of grace in today's major Tiki restaurants like the Mai Kai, Trader Vic's, and Don the Beachcomber.

And the Tango Room was not as divey as the exterior might have you expect. It was a good place however to drink tequila, watch soccer, and listen to Mariachi music. Also for Tikiphiles, just transpose the "a" and the "o" and you'll be drinking in the Tonga Room...





 
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christiki295
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 09, 2003
Posts: 3818
From: LA-2547 mls east Hawaii &5500 Easter Is
Posted: 2013-03-06 12:07 pm   Permalink

Chinese restaurants around LA & SD which serve Tiki drinks:
http://www.tikiroom.com/tikicentral/bb/viewtopic.php?mode=viewtopic&topic=31585&forum=1&start=0&hilite=golden


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creativenative
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 17, 2012
Posts: 203
From: Island of O'ahu
Posted: 2013-03-07 04:08 am   Permalink

Yesterday I had lunch with an old friend, retired Hawaiian actor Doug Mossman. He had lots of great Hollywood stories from the 60s when he worked in Tinseltown. In one story he mentioned he owned a Chinese restaurant. I was surprised and interrupted his story to learn more. What was the name? China Trader Doug, you are Hawaiian, tell me did it have a Polynesian decor? Of course, he answered. So I looked it up today in other websites and of course in this one. I know the restaurant is now in the boneyard but I have to share a few picts from these other sites to illustrate the Chinese Tiki connection:

A drawing from the menu, I think:


Neon sign with the restaurant's Chinese Junk logo:


Part of the menu, lots of nouveau Chinese pupus & lots of tiki drinks:


Rare shot of the exterior with tikis from Bora Boris:


Quote from one of the other websites Jazz Profiles a blog by Steven A. Cerra:
"The China Trader is not there anymore.
Originally located at 4200 Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake, Ca, it was a Chinese restaurant that had a South Sea islands and nautical theme with lots of tiki heads and bamboo sprouting from every nook and cranny.
For a time it was best known for being the birthplace of the Hawaiian Eye drink [think Mai Tai]."

Doug was one of the regulars on HAWAIIAN EYE playing the Hawaiian cop Moke. It all makes sense.


Different matter:
a few pages ago I think John-0 put out a pict. of the Chinese restaurant used in the CHRISTMAS STORY. It was a resin model. I have a better one from Dept 56 that came out a couple of years ago. It's in my Christmas Chinatown village (probably the only one of its kind) we put up every year. It's the building with the green roof and the "Bo ling" sign. Here's a pict.:



[ This Message was edited by: creativenative 2013-03-07 04:13 ]


 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2694
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-09 12:02 pm   Permalink



 
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JOHN-O
Tiki Socialite

Joined: May 16, 2008
Posts: 2694
From: Dogtown, USA
Posted: 2013-03-09 12:03 pm   Permalink



 
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