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Conversations with Karla Flores-Mercado

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karla Flores-Mercado.

Hi Karla, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
My family and I migrated to the United States from Mexico when I was five years old. As far as I can recall, my mother was always in the kitchen, making tamales. She now has a tamale business and a restaurant in Mexico. We started off selling tamales in barbershops and grocery store parking lots until she finally got to own a small taco restaurant in Los Angeles. She was a wonderful cook. When I would taste her food, it was never one-dimensional — all those layers of flavor. I take pride knowing I have her gift of pairing flavors together.

I naturally stayed in the hospitality industry — thank goodness for this industry, allowing me, as an immigrant, to have income when my resources for school and opportunities for work were slim. Making connections with guests was easy for me. I soon managed small pizza joints, Mexican restaurants and even found myself cooking for a friend in their food truck. I got the opportunity to serve at a pop-up breakfast spot called Ktchn Dtla. Chef Felix, my dear friend, would rent out restaurants, nightclubs, lofts, anywhere that was not being used in the mornings, and we would create unique breakfast experiences and delicious food. We would make a restaurant magically appear by bringing our own tables, chairs, pots, and pans, and we would make it all work. A bunch of young kids having fun and being creative. Reservations would be fully booked every weekend and when we ran out, we ran out. I slowly started creating breakfast cocktails and was learning the cocktail craft.

After some years there — learning to work on the fly, making anything work, no matter what, to provide a memorable guest experience — I decided to do something similar on my own. Being a huge fan of blues and jazz, the roaring twenties style, and especially the stories of the illegal underground nightclubs during prohibition, a friend and I decided we wanted to create an experience you couldn’t just get at your local bar. Throw a party! Invite some friends! We said. We rented warehouses, hired our friends to play jazz, designed craft cocktail menus, and dressed the part. Don’t get me wrong, great times but hard, hard work. We wanted guests to have an authentic experience so we brought real glassware, juiced our own citrus; we had password-only entrances and exchanged vintage play cards for cocktails. We found ourselves throwing parties with 200 reservations — people dressed in their best 1920s outfits for a true, vintage cocktail experience. We explored different themes and eventually did live cumbia music with tiki/latin style cocktails. A couple of articles later and we were a must-go-to event!

After many years of events, it was time to get into the real bar world. I hadn’t worked in a bar since my early 20s when I poured margaritas out of a soda gun at Acapulcos. Around this time, I was in LOVE with scotch and would often find myself at Wolf and Crane in Little Tokyo. They have a top shelf Monday, and I was able to try a variety of nice scotches and Japanese whiskies for half the price. One afternoon, my regular Monday bartender got crushed on the floor with a storm of people. He said don’t you do bar stuff? I said yes, and he said hop in and help! Very shortly after, I was hired and started designing their cocktail program and, not long after, managing. After years of Wolf and Crane being known mostly for whisky, we finally got it to be recognized and well respected for cocktails too. Now I run the beverage program for the overall group, Park Hospitality (Wolf and Crane, Lowboy, Bar Flores), and I’m a partner in my very own craft cocktail bar, Bar Flores, in the beautiful neighborhood of Echo Park.

The vision for Bar Flores bar starts with the space itself. It used to be Barragan’s, one of the biggest Mexican restaurants that had legendary Margarita Wednesdays and was known for always playing cumbias. We wanted to maintain a place where everyone could continue to come in and feel comfortable. As an ode to Barrragan’s, we have Melody Tuesdays with live music (cumbias and more) and we carry on the tradition of Margarita Wednesdays. I created a very kitchen-forward, seasonal, colorful – never too-sweet, never too-sour – cocktail program. We have a cocktail for anyone who walks through our doors, whatever kind of drinker you may be. When you walk into Bar Flores, the moment you go up the stairs, you see a huge portrait of my grandmother. Paying respect to our grandmothers is something that is important to me. The bar has a wall adorned with pictures of the grandmothers of all our staff and our regulars. It celebrates them, that old photography, all the things we just don’t have anymore, and the endurance that our mothers and mothers’ mothers had back then. Today, Bar Flores is a home, where you feel safe, where we host you as if you were in my home, in my kitchen, making you a drink. Mi casa es su casa.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I build teams and provide comfortable environments for our guests. I get the chance to play in the kitchen and be as creative as I want. My biggest accomplishment today is that I got here by working hard and meeting incredible people who allow me to do what I am good at.

Do you have any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
Enjoying good meals and good music.

Contact Info:

  • Email: karla@parkbars.com
  • Website: www.barflores.com
  • Instagram: @barflores_la @mercado_de_flores


Image Credits:

Photographer Kevin Vu Kim

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