In what has become one of the most popular bars in Los Angeles and likely the Southwest, is a story about an immigrant family whose legacy is celebrated so deliberately and yet so subtly. Off of the sunset strip, before the Dodger Stadium, is a warm red-beige building whose entrance looks like an entrance to any older restaurant in Mexico.
Go up the stairs, you may hear Thee Sacred Souls or a Pedro Infante track, or even Beyonce’s COZY, but as much as the music encompasses this geography and sonic space, it also encompasses the founder whose eclectic taste making created what is my favorite bar in Los Angeles, Bar Flores in Echo Park.
All photos by Julian D. Mercado
We sit in the early afternoon in September, in between serving up old fashions and rum mai tais to my partner and I – Karla Flores, 34, is getting ready to celebrate the 4-year anniversary of the bar earlier this fall.
For Flores, it was a given that she would end up here. Growing up, she helped serve tables at her mother’s restaurant where she learned that food was hustle.
“There was something so special about leaving with your tips every day and getting to know new people every day, I still love that,” she tells CALÓ NEWS. For years, as Flores grew older, she found herself serving and supporting kitchens that later turned to popups.
After years of serving and frequenting Wolf and Crane, during a busy night, one of the bartenders asked her if she could lend a quick hand. That night then became a full-time position. The owners of Wolf and Crane had also known about the successful pop-ups Flores had at that time done under the name Bar Flores.
I first learned about the bar from my friend Dj Sleepwalk of Chulita Vinyl Club deejaying there a few years back before the pandemic. After learning that the owner was also an immigrant, I realzied that her story of owning such an authentic bar truly inspired me.
My assertion is that Bar Flores has become such a staple, that newcomers or even outsiders don’t take the time to truly look around or to understand the place’s history. Once you enter the bar, you can see a portrait of Flores’ grandmother with adornments around the bar wells that look like a kitchen in any abuelita’s house.
The tile as I’m told is also imported and installed by local Latino workers. It is not only a beautiful bar, it is one of the only bars in Los Angeles that is specific to its style and not trying to replicate what a “Latino bar” should be.
Sometimes, patrons put their feet on leather couches in the back and are reminded that this is their home.
“I’m not afraid to truly tell people to respect this place like their house because that is what it truly means to some people,” Flores said as the bar suddenly gets packed. The way she speaks of her legacy is one that is told as a matter of fact. Maybe it’s my own vantage point as an immigrant writer that forces me to really grapple with the fact that she accomplished such a feat in one of the most competitive bar markets in the country. For Flores, she is already thinking of doing what her mom did and opening up a space south of the border.
Bar Flores has offered kitchen forward whiskey, mezcal, and tequila cocktails with specialties in Japanese whiskey fusion drinks as well as food pop-ups that come in and visit.
I’ve driven then Ubered home from Bar Flores since 2019 more than a few times. It is due to my friends who DJ and even the nights where I take a notepad to write some ideas and leads on. Two thirds of my time there, Flores has always been behind the bar, taking orders and organizing the bar like she is a new bar back on a Friday night. That’s possibly why I always and will always go back.