The tiny flames from tea lights leap, hotly glinting against rows of glass bottles behind the bar. On banquettes of rust-colored suede, the youthful and elegant of Los Angeles’s Eastside sip on smoky cocktails, nibble on fresh ceviche and crispy tostadas. Its soft pink walls glow, giving the Echo Park’s latest hot spot, Bar Caló, an intimate, womblike atmosphere that defies its strip mall setting.
This unexpected scene comes courtesy of Brooke Fruchtman and Jaime Turrey, owners of the similarly stunning Ostrich Farm. With Bar Caló, the pair set out to create a mezcal bar inspired by Mexico City and Turrey’s personal connection to Chicano culture. The room feels like a modern homage to parts further south–and so does the booze. Fruchtman and Turrey tapped Bestia alum Jeremy Simpson to make some magic happen in the glass. At Bar Caló, he’s created a you-won’t-get-this-anywhere-else menu featuring seasonal cocktails, independent Mezcal producers, and Mexican wines.
Below, we saddle up to the bar with Simpson to talk dream tigers, whole rabbits, and a cocktail shared with a person dearly missed.
How long have you lived in Los Angeles?
I have lived in Los Angeles for ten years now.
Where are you from originally?
Born and raised in St. Cloud, Florida.
Where was your first job bartending in the city?
Hyde Lounge, actually. I’m not sure I would call what I did bartending considering the level of volume and products that were utilized, but it was my first gig in Los Angeles where I was behind a bar–and tending to it in some manner, I suppose.
Where does Bar Caló take its cocktail menu cues from?
That’s an interesting question. I would say it takes its cues from Jaime, the owner of Bar Caló and Ostrich Farm, along with his wife Brooke. We spent months tinkering with the menu, tasting and tasting and really focusing on every detail of the program. He even named a good amount of them. One of our most popular cocktails, Dreamtigers, is named after one of Jaime’s favorite books, a collection of poems from Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges, and the Saint Jude is named after their total badass of a son. That, to me, shows a lot about our relationship as a team and their level of involvement and care.
Favorite farmer’s market in Los Angeles–and your favorite stall there, if you’re willing to share:
Santa Monica. Jimenez Family Farm. Whole rabbit for $10 a pound.
Something we should probably know about Mexican wines:
Don’t be afraid to explore different styles. Bichi does a great job of producing some really exciting natural wines, and Espuma de Piedra is a really delicious sparkling wine that goes perfect with our oysters.
Person in history you’d most like to share a drink with and why:
This is hard to be honest about and not feel like I’m trying too hard. So, I’m going to keep it simple and say my grandfather, John Crawford, because I miss him dearly.
Most overrated beverage:
Song currently on repeat at Bar Caló:
“Don’t Tread on Me” — Kit & the Outlaws
Best food/bev combo at Bar Caló:
Kumiai oysters from Baja with our cucumber shiso mignonette and a glass of Espuma de Piedra blanc de blanc.
Describe your favorite customer:
I would say someone who is curious. I appreciate when people ask questions about what we do.
What’s your latest drink obsession?
Well, mezcal, considering the focus we’ve put into Bar Caló. It’s hard to not obsess once you’ve really started studying the spirit, culture, and the people who produce it.
What’s your go-to drink?
Green tea. Or a clay pot-distilled Tobala from Real Minero. Depends on my mood, I suppose.
What would someone order to get your attention?
I suppose any of the classics that aren’t commonly ordered. Any stirred gin drink that isn’t a martini.
Where do you go for a drink when you’re winding down?
Tabula Rasa Bar in Thai Town.
Best seat in the house at Bar Caló:
If you can get a corner seat near the window, that is pretty prime real estate.
Seasonal fall ingredient we might see on the Bar Caló menu in the near future:
Very excited about fall. Our Market Margarita–which we update almost on a daily basis–has had yellow peaches, dragonfruit, and passion fruit throughout the summer. I would expect figs, pears, persimmons, and–to keep the alliteration going–probably pomegranate.
If you can’t take the heat: