Ernie Becerra may be best known as the founder of Barrio Logan’s ¡SALUD! Tacos “but his family’s love language was truly music,” states the menu at the La Bamba Room, which Becerra recently opened adjacent to his popular taco shop.
Inspired by time spent in Japanese listening bars, where Becerra saw elements that mirrored his own Chicano culture, the La Bamba Room is his re-imagination of the experience created for his community, framed by memories of family and the surrounding neighborhood.
Soft textures capture the high-def tones pouring through the very speakers that once sat in Becerra’s grandmother’s home. So did the crushed orange velvet swivel chair now placed in the corner of the bar, where the plush seat offers a full view of the dimly lit lounge.
His grandmother’s home bar was transformed into the DJ record booth and her credenza serves as a record-playing cabinet behind the bar; between mixing cocktails, bartenders can be found flipping over their favorite records.
When the doors opened earlier this month, the bar quickly filled up with reservations, somewhat to the detriment of locals and defeating Becerra’s purpose of bringing a high-caliber cocktail program to Barrio Logan. Reservation capacity has now been cut in half.
Every signature cocktail is dedicated to a Becerra family member or a Barrio Logan memory. “I had to really get to know each family member… and really understand why he wanted to create that drink for Barrio Logan,” explains bar manager Tony Roehr (Mabel’s Gone Fishing, CH Projects).
The My Charmaine, made with Baja Gin, fresa amaro, pasilla, and guava, is dedicated to Ernie’s aunt (or second mom) who left the family much too soon; a portion of its sales goes to support a breast cancer foundation.
Its bestselling cocktail — the classic 7 and 7 — is also the one Roehr says he was most resistant to serve, fearing it would dominate orders, but it is the drink of choice for the elder generation of the Becerra family. Roehr puts his twist on the throwback drink, using homemade 7UP (yes, just like in the Bear) stirred with a house blend of whiskey punctuated with hints of vanilla.
Roehr’s El Gran Campeon is essentially a spicy pineapple margarita. “But maybe that spice doesn’t have to come from generics like jalapeno or habanero. Maybe we can dive a little deeper into some of these other spice components,” he explains. Reaching for an al pastor-spiced cordial and green chile liqueur, he aptly blends it the tequila or mezcal with a splash of pineapple and lime. “You still get your spicy margarita, but with more depth.”
The Golden Arrow is a love note to Roehr’s mom. “Growing up, my mom would always make pineapple upside down cake at every single gathering… so I made a cocktail that tastes exactly like that.”
A menu of small plates offers simple starters like Grandpa Pio’s olives, marinated in herbs, chilis, and garlic, and a picadillo empanada topped with habanero crema and pickled onions.
“I feel like part of the [Becerra] family when I’m here and I want that for everyone else,” says Roehr.