Karla Flores-Mercado wants you to feel at home as soon as you arrive at Bar Flores, her new Echo Park cocktail concept set to open in early August. The project is a labor of love, and it shows in every detail, from the portrait of her own grandmother gracing the entrance to her carefully-considered menu.
Sharing a building and owners with Lowboy and Adamae, Bar Flores takes over a second-story space (with a fantastic deck!) that holds a lot of history; Flores-Mercado herself remembers sipping cheap margaritas and dancing to cumbia in the room, back in the days when the property was known as Barragan’s and the neighborhood’s vibe was a bit less yuppified than it is today.
Four years ago, Flores-Mercado wrote down a wish and put it in a jar. Her wish was to open her own bar, on her own terms. We spoke to her as she prepares to see that wish finally come true.
You first developed a big profile in the L.A. cocktail scene with your pop-up “speakeasy” series, Sip. How did that project evolve into what you’re doing now?
I had been doing the pop-up thing for a long time, about six years. I was trying to bring back the classic music that was popular back in the day, and be in a space that wasn’t a bar. I would rent spaces and invite a list of guests. We would do kind of a themed party, people would dress very ‘20s, ‘30s. I have a lot of friends who play music, and I would have them come and do some jazz, and I would do my cocktails. It started growing into a bigger and bigger thing.
It got to be more popular, we would have like 200 guests, and at some point I decided to switch it up, and go for a more Latin, world music vibe. Those were really fun. The colors were so bright, with the cocktails and everything, and it was just super fun. I started making friends with people who DJ that type of music, next thing you know I’m friends with people in cumbia bands, and we just went with it.
After about three years of the pop-ups is when I started working at Wolf & Crane, doing their beverage program there. I started slowly moving away from Sip because I was so busy, but when I did them they were super fun, and I knew I wanted to bring that vibe over here.
What can you tell us about the history of the space you’re taking over?
The vision for this bar kind of starts with the space itself. It used to be Barragan’s, one of the biggest Mexican restaurants. It was built around the same time as Dodger Stadium, and it was over 50 years old when it closed down. Barragan’s had a killer ‘Margarita Wednesdays,’ with one-dollar margaritas, cumbia music playing all the time, it was awesome. I loved it. I used to go back in those days. It was a staple in Los Angeles.
How do you describe your vision for Bar Flores?
My hope is that it’s a place where anybody can come in and feel comfortable. We will have live music, and I love that feeling of sitting down and listening to live music, without it specifically being at a show. The space has a back patio that is surrounded by cacti and flowers and plants.
I want to really play around with my recipes and have a lot of fun with it. Everything’s going to be kitchen-forward, seasonal, colorful. Never too sweet, never too sour. Whatever type of drinker you are, I want to make something for everybody who walks through the door.
I’m just very excited about this. I can’t wait to share it with everybody. It’s a very special bar.
How did you first fall in love with cocktails and hospitality?
My mother is a chef and owned restaurants in Mexico and here in Los Angeles, and I grew up around the restaurants from the time I was a little kid. She was always in the kitchen, working, and it’s kind of all I know, in a sense. I wouldn’t say she taught me how to cook or make cocktails, exactly, but it’s what I’ve been around my whole life, and it still fascinates me.
In this industry, sometimes you have a lot of people trying to tell you what you can do. Maybe you can start a bar program, but if you have other people involved trying to control it–and it’s never really going to be yours, in that way, and you’re never going to feel happy or fulfilled. With this project, I got to choose the stairs, choose the cement, choose the color of the walls.
The thing I’m best at is my work, and I’m just so happy to be getting an opportunity to do it like this. I get a little freaked out. I have that fear of rejection. But every time I walk into this space and turn on the music, I feel it start to come to life, and I know it’s going to be really magical.
Family and a sense of home seem like really important themes for this project.
When you walk into Bar Flores, the moment you go up the stairs, what you see is a huge portrait of my grandmother. Paying respect to grandmothers is something that is important to me. We’re going to have a wall with pictures from our staff of all their grandmothers, it celebrates them, that old photography, all the things we just don’t have any more.
It’s important to me because, women in the past, they used to go through very difficult things, and they couldn’t always stand up for themselves in the same ways we can now. Most of them, they weren’t very happy in their marriages, they didn’t always have so many options, but they still gave the best versions of themselves for their children. They had to work, and cook, and raise kids, and they taught us how to love and respect people, how to treat people right, even when they weren’t always treated right themselves. We have to pay homage.
Bar Flores, 1542 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. The bar is scheduled to open in August, 2019.