Desperate for a place to watch the World Series, having walked out of a highly recommended bar in suddenly hip Little Tokyo after waiting 15 minutes without being able to order a beer, I ducked into what looked like a dive bar across the street.
Though this place was busier, the less-than-pint-sized Japanese-American bartender with a big grin took my order and returned promptly with a Sapporo that I swear was almost as big as her head.
I leaned back and took a sip, just then noticing the bar area was full of people speaking Japanese, except for one confused Japanese-American fellow a few stools down. His girlfriend was doing her best to translate the slurred blathering of an inebriated duo from Yokohama, keep the conversation moving and watching the game.
An old Japanese-American man with a well-trimmed silver beard sitting at the other end of the bar – apparently enamored with the crew – shouted to the bartender that he wanted to buy a round of drinks for the four. At least that's what I gathered from what I understood: "Sapporo. Ichi, ni, san, chi," the pouring and serving of the drinks, and the resulting "kampais" and "arigatos."
Alas, there was no free Sapporo for this wayward gaijin.
"Is this seat taken?" a deep voice boomed from above and to the left.
"It's all yours," I replied, looking up. The large man's glasses were missing the temple on the right side. Luckily the nose pad and left temple were tight enough to keep the glasses from falling off his face.
"Do you think they deported the rest of the workers?" he asked, his wide grin revealing as many holes as teeth.
"Huh. I don't know. It seems there are only three working, but she sure is hustling. He doesn't seem to be doing much more than pouring beers and watching the game," I said about an older Japanese-American man, this one with a longer but also perfectly trimmed thin gray beard.
My new friend informed me that the man owned not only the bar but the entire building, which had housed one of the last hostess bars in the city. Not convinced that I understood him, he said the man was "kind of like a pimp" and the third worker in the bar – an older Japanese-American woman wearing an impressive Kimono – had been his favorite hostess.
"Now they're all being replaced by Asian-fusion restaurants," he said, pointing without looking in the direction of a building under construction behind us, over-enunciating the final three words, the disdain almost dripping like blood from his mouth.
Though large swaths of the buildings in Little Tokyo are under renovation, or have been already, some old stalwarts like the dive bar remain. A small informational billboard at the edge of the neighborhood includes pictures of Little Tokyo from the past, before parts of this little enclave down the street from LA City Hall, the downtown courts and the huge police headquarters were chipped away to successive waves of urban renewal over the decades.