Venerable Downtown LA restaurant Baco Mercat has closed permanently after nearly nine years. Chef/owner Josef Centeno made a public announcement of the closure this morning on Instagram, just days after being awarded the Restaurant of the Year by the LA Times for his finer dining restaurant Orsa & Winston around the corner. The duality of the timing — being given the highest restaurant praise by the city’s paper of record one day, and closing his first, defining restaurant another — underscores just how perilous the current coronavirus pandemic and uncertain economic times have been for the restaurant industry in Los Angeles.
Baco Mercat opened on Main Street in Downtown in November of 2011. The restaurant helped to spur a rush of openings in the neighborhood throughout the the decade to follow, and would define chef Centeno’s career. He would go on to open Bar Ama, Orsa & Winston, and (for a time) vegetable-focused restaurant PYT and side-project Ledlow all within a city block of one another over the intervening years, as development and renewed diner interest pushed Downtown to — for a time — become the hottest restaurant real estate market in Southern California.
Centeno opened a more casual takeaway version of Baco, called BacoShop, in downtown Culver City, before flipping that space to a Tex-Mex takeaway called Amacita last year. Centeno and partner and food writer Betty Hallock even released a Baco cookbook in 2017.
Centeno’s statement reads, in part:
Bäco, you were born one night out of hunger and a little too much booze and who knew it would spark the light that would guide me through the years ahead. When I finally found you a home, I spent countless hours building parts of you and preparing you for the world. You helped me develop into so much more than a cook. You introduced me to so many ideas, spices and flavors that would shape the way I see the world.
We are at a crossroads now. The world changed, and I have to make decisions about how to move forward and though the choices are difficult it is all part of the process.
The full statement can be seen below.
View this post on Instagram
I’m not one for dwelling too much on anything. I know that there is always a beginning, a middle and an end. But I wanted to acknowledge, say thank you and goodbye to a piece of work that has taught and given me more than I could have ever imagined. Bäco, you were born one night out of hunger and a little too much booze and who knew it would spark the light that would guide me through the years ahead. When I finally found you a home, I spent countless hours building parts of you and preparing you for the world. You helped me develop into so much more than a cook. You introduced me to so many ideas, spices and flavors that would shape the way I see the world. You forced me to do something every day that scared me (running a business does that pretty easily). It made me a better chef, leader and owner. You taught me to run an extremely successful business that would provide things for me and my team that we never could have imagined possible. But we are at a crossroads now. The world changed, and I have to make decisions about how to move forward and though the choices are difficult it is all part of the process. I want to thank @bettyhallock for all the support through these years and for writing the Bäco cookbook—and @bearloveswinston—I know it has not been easy. To @genevievemmh for helping me run these restaurants and keeping them together even through times when all we had was duct tape and some Elmer’s glue. To all the team members that stayed until the end and those who have come and gone, thank you for being a part of the experience. And to all our incredible patrons, thank you for supporting us all these years. It has been an honor to serve you! Bäco Mercat will live on, as we run special menu items at @bar_ama. Be on the lookout. As for the Bäco—you started as a dream and an off-the-menu-item and now you’ve come full circle. ⚡️⚡️⚡️
The closure of Baco is just the latest in a string of prominent restaurant shutters during the COVID-19 crisis. Koreatown restaurant Jun Won said that it would be ceasing operations this week, and chef Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec also announced that it would not reopen. Other prominent closures include Here’s Looking at You, Stan’s Donuts in Westwood, tasting menu restaurant Auburn, Downtown newcomer Bon Temps, and many more.