Thirteen-year-old restaurant and bar Flora has been sold along with its adjoining sister business Fauna Bar. Both business will issue their last calls and close on November 9.
Flora was among the first in a wave of businesses to usher in a new era of nightlife in Uptown Oakland, settling into the art deco Oakland Floral Depot building at 1900 Telegraph Avenue a few years before the reopening of the Fox Theater in 2009.
Owner Thomas Schnetz cites personal reasons for the sale, but notes that the future of the space is in good hands. Former Flora bar manager Christ Aivaliotis, now co-owner of the tiki-inspired downtown Oakland bar the Kon-Tiki, will take over, reopening with new businesses in the space this spring.
“It kinda breaks my heart, but it made sense for me right now,” says Schnetz, who also owns the Oakland taqueria Xolo and Sacramento bar La Venadita. (He was also one of the original owners of East Bay Mexican staples Doña Tomás and Tacubaya before he and business partner Dona Savitsky ended their partnership and divided up their restaurant holdings.)
Schnetz hopes longtime Flora customers will return in the coming weeks for a last taste of the restaurant’s signature dessert, a salted caramel pudding that’s remained on the menu for 13 years, and a final sip of the bar’s most popular cocktail, called Carter Beats the Devil (reposado tequila, mezcal, lime, agave, chili tincture).
“When I first started in the East Bay, there really was nothing in terms of cocktails,” Schnetz recalls. But with the help of Eric Adkins, Schnetz’s friend and the longtime Slanted Door group bar director, Schnetz sought to change that. “We had great bar people come through [the bar] who have gone on to do great things all over the place — and the kitchen too,” says Schnetz.
Aivaliotis falls in that camp. But the new owner recalls his early skepticism toward Flora. “I though [Schnetz] was crazy for putting something in there,” Aivaliotis says. Aside from Cafe Van Kleef, the strip of Telegraph felt dead.
Then the Fox, closed since 1973, re-opened as a concert venue. “We would see those doors [to the Fox] open, and we’d start sweating,” says Aivaliotis. “A thousand people would come through. It was wild to watch that transformation, and once [Schnetz] paved the way, more places started to open.”
“[It] was something Oakland hadn’t had before,” says Schnetz. “I wanted it to be something like what you’d find in New York and San Francisco. It was special.”
Now, to differentiate itself from the pack that’s joined it, Aivaliotis plans to change Flora’s decor. He’ll incorporate tiki bar elements at what’s now Fauna Bar, and at what’s now Flora, he’ll open a new restaurant focused on steaks and chops. Wylie Price will redesign the space with Cuban and Floridian accents, and Kon-Tiki chef Manuel Bonilla (Hawker Fare) will lead the kitchen.
“It’s a fortuitous thing [to sell to a friend],” says Schnetz. “But it’s sad for me, obviously.”