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Josef Centeno’s downtown restaurant Bäco Mercat has closed permanently

Customers inside Bäco Mercat restaurant on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

That latest blow to the city’s dining scene landed Saturday morning on Instagram: Chef and restaurateur Josef Centeno announced that he had closed his celebrated downtown restaurant Bäco Mercat for good.

In a statement, Centeno thanked his staff, customers and collaborators while also nodding to the unparalleled challenges restaurants are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic fallout.

“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,” Centeno wrote.

Opened in late 2011, Bäco Mercat emerged as one of the city’s singular dining experiences over the last decade, inseparable from the booming downtown food scene it had helped build.

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It was also the place where Centeno cemented his legacy as a chef, serving an ambitious polycultural menu filled with flatbread sandwiches and wildly creative vegetable dishes that former Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold once described as “a graduate exam in culinary poststructuralism.”

Propelled by the success of Bäco, Centeno would go on to open a collection of successful restaurants near the intersection of 4th and Main streets: Bar Amá, the now-closed PYT and Ledlow, and Orsa & Winston, the intimate tasting menu restaurant named as The Times’ Restaurant of the Year earlier this week.

Centeno would also open casual offshoot of Bäco in downtown Culver City in 2017; the restaurant relaunched as the Tex-Mex concept Amacita last year.

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As the COVID-19 pandemic forced much of L.A. to close down in March, Centeno and his staff prepared meals for healthcare workers in partnership with the nonprofit group Dine 11. Like many restaurants, Bäco Mercat had pivoted to takeout and delivery service over the last few months, and more recently, outdoor dining. The restaurant was also forced to closed briefly in late May after it was damaged during protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody.

“COVID-19 impacted us tremendously,” Centeno said in a statement to the Times. “Bäco Mercat was an intimate experience meant to be shared with friends and family — over family-style dishes and bottles of wine passed back and forth. Bäco was a very labor-intensive style of cooking that takes a lot of staff. We tried during the past two months to find a sustainable model. But with only takeout and a small patio that fits just a few tables and continuing uncertainty, it didn’t make sense. So I decided consolidating was the best way to move forward.”

For those seeking one more Bäco, Centeno said some of the restaurant’s popular dishes would soon be offered as specials at Bar Amá.

Updates:

4:36 PM, Aug. 02, 2020: This story has been updated with a comment from Josef Centeno


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