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LITTLE TOKYO : Hotel Launches New Japanese-Style Bar

July 17, 1994|TOMMY LI

If Californians can adopt sushi and karaoke into their eating and entertainment habits, then Akira Yuhara is hoping they'll drink to his version of a Japanese beer garden.

The New Otani Hotel's food and beverage director has set up a bar at one end of the building's half-acre, third-floor rooftop garden, which had only been used before as a reception area.

To capture the look of a Japanese beer garden, Yuhara surrounded the bar with white banners and overhanging red-and-white electric lanterns.

He also placed 13 round tables and 50 square stumps used as chairs along the edges of the garden's walkways.

The only thing different from a traditional Japanese beer garden is the garden scenery itself, Yuhara said.

In Japan, beer gardens are normally staged during the summer atop corporate buildings or on the ground, he explained. The after-work event is often sponsored by beer companies.

Many Japanese beer drinkers see it as a summer tradition mainly because it helps them cope with the humid climate.

"Everybody gets thirsty," Yuhara said. "They want to go outside and have a beer. . . . They are groggy. They need stamina."

To liven up the atmosphere, sponsors over the years have developed party themes, such as disco or Hawaiian nights, he said.

At the New Otani's beer garden--believed to be the first of its kind in Southern California--Yuhara has adopted a jin-ya theme in recognition of the Japanese samurai headquarters where warriors would often drink together the night before a major battle.

He sees his garden as a jin-ya because it is a place where today's Downtown executives can gather in the evenings to prepare for corporate battles ahead.

Since opening June 23, the beer garden has averaged 60 customers a day and has netted $10,000 in beer and appetizer sales, $4,000 more than average summer sales at the hotel's regular 40-seat Genji Bar, Yuhara said. It's open from 6 to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and is scheduled to close Aug. 31.

Lucy Hosokawa, 30, of Pasadena and her co-workers were among the first to show up Monday.

"It looks interesting," said Hosokawa, a manager at the nearby Sanwa Health Spa. "It's a nice atmosphere."

She said she has visited beer gardens in Japan and enjoys the opportunity to sip beer with friends and co-workers at a place other than a bar.

Although 80% of his customers have been Japanese workers and 10% have been hotel guests, Yuhara said he hopes to attract more American clients.

"This year, we arranged Japanese-style," he said. "Maybe next year, we arrange American-style."

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