The Echo Park neighborhood spot has changed hands from Mitchell Frank to former bar doorman Nick Fisher — and he’s packing the place with arty parties.
In January, Nick Fisher, a 31-year-old artist, became the sole proprietor of El Prado, a small and storied bar in Echo Park. It’s dusk, and I’m sitting with him in the back patio — a formerly drab space now animated by colorful mosaics and plants in whimsical pots — and he’s telling me, over glasses of natural wine, about the performance art pieces that earned him distinction in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
“I made this prosthetic penis and hooked it up to this thing called a ‘beer belly,’” he says, smiling a little. “It’s like a CamelBak, but it fits on your belly and it’s full of beer. I would then bartend and every once in awhile I would ‘piss’ in somebody’s drink. The show was about deception.”
Fisher’s light brown hair is swept back into unruly waves. There are small studs in his ears. His faded blue long-sleeve is unbuttoned to the chest and his toes, which jut out from snake-skin sandals, are alternately painted lilac and light blue. His manner of speaking is loose and inflected, ever so slightly, like a surfer’s — which he is.
Three years ago, Fisher was El Prado’s doorman.
On Jan. 10, The Eastsider reported that business partners Jeffery Ellermeyer and Mitchell Frank — who made headlines in May for selling his independent concert promotion company, Spaceland Presents, to entertainment conglomerate Live Nation, along with beloved music venues The Echo, The Echoplex and The Regent — were transferring El Prado’s beer and wine license to an LLC controlled by Fisher. They had owned the bar for 12 years.
In a city like Los Angeles, where bars and restaurants are often owned by people like Frank and Ellermeyer, or by teams like Cedd Moses’ Pouring With Heart (formerly 213 Hospitality) or the 1933 Group, Fisher’s solo operation is notable not only for its rarity but also because of his idiosyncrasy. In other words, given his art-centered background, people are curious to see what the hell he’s going to do with the place.
In 2014, Fisher received a call from Calvin Marcus, a Los Angeles-based artist and close friend from the University of Oregon. Fisher, a Bay Area native, had spent the previous year working at a winery in Sonoma, and the four years prior to that working at Magnolia Brewery Company in San Francisco. During that time, he earned a Cicerone certification — the beer equivalent to the Sommelier exam — and completed UC Davis’ Masters Brewers Certificate Program.
Over the phone, Marcus urged him to move to Los Angeles. The underground art scene was thriving, he said, and Marcus was willing to let him stay in his Lincoln Heights loft. The timing felt right. Fisher was burned out on San Francisco and had recently lost several friends to drug-related deaths. He bought an ’89 Volkswagen Vanagon, packed it full of stuff, and road-tripped through Arizona, Texas and Utah before landing in Los Angeles.
One of the first things Nick Fisher did after he took over El Prado was to take down the sign out front. Then, friends, artists and sculptors helped fill the space with custom pieces. Photos courtesy of El Prado.
During his first week in the city, at a party in a Cypress Park garage and art gallery, Fisher was rolling a joint by the fire when he met a guy named Jeff.
“I’m like, ‘Yo what’s up, what’s your deal, what’s your story?’ Because he’s the only older guy there,” Fisher says. “He’s like, ‘My name’s Jeff. I’m a friend of these artists. I collect art. I own a beer and wine bar.’ I was like, ‘Dude, I’m an artist and brewer, we should be friends.”
Fisher asked him for a job, Marcus vouched for him, and soon Jeff — Jeffery Ellermeyer — scheduled him an interview with El Prado’s manager. Within a few weeks, Fisher was working as the doorman. It was the only position available.
Earlier this year, when Fisher took ownership of El Prado, one of his first acts was to take down the sign out front.
“My intentions weren’t to be a pretentious bar with no sign,” he says. “It’s more about a de-branding, a de-naming than it is any sort of renaming. It can still be El Prado, but it can also be ‘Nicky’s.’ It can also be ‘The Mosaic Lounge.’ It can also be ‘2805 West Sunset.’ It doesn’t matter, it’s not about a name.”
“I’m like, ‘Yo what’s up, what’s your deal, what’s your story?’ Because he’s the only older guy there. He’s like, ‘My name’s Jeff. I’m a friend of these artists. I collect art. I own a beer and wine bar.’ I was like, ‘Dude, I’m an artist and brewer, we should be friends.”
Nick Fisher, El Prado owner
The bar was named El Prado even before Frank and Ellermeyer’s 2007 acquisition, but exactly what went on there is harder to say. Some reports claim that it mainly catered to Mexican immigrants, which is possible. Echo Park was different then and had not yet succumbed to a wave of gentrification that, to be fair, Frank and Ellermeyer’s El Prado contributed to. It was a trendy outpost for hipsters in an otherwise rough neighborhood.
After removing the sign, Fisher recruited artist James Herman to design a mosaic for the doorway. It includes the words “El Prado,” along with other clever design elements. There’s even a stone from the Parthenon, which Fisher picked up while on a trip to Greece with his fiancé, a talented florist named Lindsay Cummins. Inside, artist Nik Gelormino contributed several hand-carved tables and designed a funky, golden disco ball that hangs in the back. Isaac Resnikoff, one of Fisher’s first supporters in L.A., supplied a sculpture. Michael Dopp, another supporter, added some tiles. Nevine Mahmoud, who hosted the party where Fisher met Ellermeyer, is carving a large stone table. Fisher met most of these artists shortly after moving to Los Angeles.
Things took off for Fisher in early 2015, after collaborating with artists to host Dopps, a one-night event where each artist contributed a unique element to a fully operational bar. Fisher supplied homebrewed kölsch beer to complement the mushroom tea and weed rosé being served. Dopps went over extremely well and led to further collaborations with artists like Dopp and Resnikoff.
For the next several years, they hosted regular shows at the Arturo Bandini gallery southwest of Highland Park. During that time, Fisher’s drinks got progressively weirder, and he started to incorporate performative elements into his boozy art. Soon, he was being invited to shows outside of California, and then outside of the country.
At the Sans titre (2016) gallery in Paris, he built and served drinks out of a bar three meters tall, which forced patrons to clamor for drinks from below. One year, he co-ran the bar at the NADA Art Fair in Miami and served mojitos “by the foot” using plastic sleeve tubing and a heat sealer. At the now-defunct 356 Mission gallery in Boyle Heights, he served drinks from a bar hidden behind a painting of a clown. He poured vodka sodas, into which he threw handfuls of colorful pills, filled with “food coloring or Alka-Seltzer and different acids and sugar or flavorings,” Fisher says. When they opened up, “your drink would start changing colors and change flavors.”
“The El Prado job was always to supplement whatever money I was or wasn’t making on the art,” Fisher says.
It’s growing darker in the patio and Cummins emerges from the bar and offers to refill our glasses. We accept. “This was always my steady gig.”
Fisher was promoted to manager in 2017. He had worked the door, but also spent significant time excelling as a bartender, groomed by his experiences in Northern California and the art world. Frank and Ellermeyer recognized this, so when they moved to sell the bar in 2018 to pursue other ventures, they offered it to Fisher first.
“I couldn’t say no,” he says, “because I knew if I did say no someone else would snatch this up in a heartbeat, and I would have regretted it and screwed up this great opportunity.”
He looked over the numbers, and after some reflection decided it was a worthwhile investment. The bar was already up and running. All he had to do was make sure it didn’t flop.
On Tuesday evenings, beginning in July, El Prado started hosting a “Drinking Club.” Anyone who buys a bottle from their revamped list of all-natural wines receives a laminated membership card. Buy a bottle, receive a sticker for the front. Fisher believes it will catch on, partly because of his faith in how approachable and drinkable natural wine can be.
“It’s about drinking light, fun wine,” he says. “It’s losing the pretention. It’s not stuffy table service and white tablecloths. It’s about hanging out on the porch drinking wine with your friends.”
Fisher and I talked for hours, and now it’s dark outside. Voices and lights spill out from the bar. He excuses himself to handle something inside. Alone, I raise my glass to the light, inspecting it with a squint, and polish it off.