Salt Lake’s Latest Izakaya Bar is Sayonara 

The outside of Salt Lake’s newest themed bar Sayonara is unassuming. Apart from the spacious patio out front and chalkboard sign advertising sake and Japanese spirits, there’s little indication of what awaits you inside. The ambiguity doesn’t last long. Walking into Sayonara is a delightful surprise. Bright neon signs adorn enclosed booths, scenes from anime project on the walls, and a long bar decorated with samurai prints serve up high balls and Japanese microbrews. It’s like someone picked up an alleyway bar in Tokyo and placed it right here in downtown Salt Lake City—just as owners Ashton Aragon and Max Shrives intended.

Inside Sayonara. Photo by Adam Finkle.

The duo, who own and operate Tradition, had the vision to open a casual bar downtown that would showcase Ashton’s appreciation for Japanese Izakaya bars. When the space that formerly housed Ginger Street became available, the pair jumped at the opportunity. The bar underwent renovations last February and has been open since this summer. Unlike some new bars that might struggle to establish an identity in our close-knit nightlife community, Sayonara makes a distinct impression on imbibers. 

What was once a grand, open dining hall, has been shrunk down by four enclosed booths built in the style of Japanese Minka houses. Suspended wood panels visually lower the ceiling, and bright lanterns give the feeling of roaming Tokyo’s streets. “We wanted to bring everything down and really replicate that Tokyo alleyway feel,” Ashton explains. The booths each have their own personality, Aragon’s wife Elle designed them with themes in mind to replicate a cozy Japanese living room, and a sultry samurai-themed nook. One booth displays wall-to-wall collages of anime clipart, because “you can’t have a Japanese bar without some nod to anime,” says Elle. Most of the DIY decor was brought from Japan to the States, like hand-painted masks and anime movie posters. In short, it’s a mesmerizing space built with deep sentiment. 

Photo by Adam Finkle.

Sayonara Sips and Snacks

When creating the menu at Sayonara, Ashton set out to offer Salt Lake drinkers a selection of beer and spirits they wouldn’t normally find in Utah, while also serving approachable favorites. “We want to broaden people’s horizons,” he says. “But we also want to make sure we have the things people already love to drink.” There’s a little something for everyone on the menu—cheap drafts and a good sake list, and if you want that $50 shot of Japanese whisky, you can get that too. The cocktail menu, designed by Tradition bartender Rosemary Elliot, is similarly adventurous. The Wasabi Mule puts a spicy kick on a classic, and the Ume Martini combines Japanese pickled plum with Sochu and Gin. There’s also a few different highball variations if you’re in the mood for something light, like the Lemon Umezu–plum, vinegar, Gin and soda. 

Of course, any Izakaya bar is incomplete with snacks. Sticking to tradition, Sayonara’s kitchen serves up handmade gyoza, shrimp skewers, chicken katsu skewers and other small bites. “We’re not trying to blow people’s minds with the food, but that’s not what Japanese Izakayas are about,” Ashton explains. “It’s more about coming in after work or on a weekend with some friends, enjoying a good beer and a quick bite. Lowkey, affordable, and delicious.” The kitchen is open five to 10 p.m., seven days a week. 

Sayonara has made a welcome addition to Salt Lake’s nightlife community, and it’s only going to get better. Ashton has plans to host live music a few nights a week, and eventually be another destination for chef takeovers and pop-ups. The patio is also expected to get a makeover, with lots of hanging lanterns and privacy screens to reduce street noise and keep the space warm during the winter. Through the changes that new restaurants and bars inevitably make in their first years, I’m sure we’ll see Sayonara become another hotspot for weekend revelers and midweek happy hour seekers.  

Photo by Adam Finkle.

If You Go…

324 S State St


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Avrey Evans
Avrey Evans
Avrey Evans is the Digital and the Nightlife Editor of Salt Lake Magazine. She has been writing for city publications for six years and enjoys covering the faces and places of our salty city, especially when a boozy libation is concerned.

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