Editor's Note: as much as it pains me to say, Bar San Miguel is no longer with us, having been replaced by the Mexican restaurant Platiyo. I hope you had the chance to visit before its demise, which occurred sometime in early 2002.
Bar San Miguel is the place you've passed by 100 times but have never been into. This particular section of Clark, between Belmont and Newport, is not a great one for bars. There are a few gay bars, some funky boutiques, and what used to be a public housing project. I never went in because it looked like an upscale gay joint, but decided to give it a chance when a saw the smallish, white and red sign innocuously proclaiming, "Patio Open," from one of the front window's many square panes of glass. It turns out that Bar San Miguel is nice, but not upscale it was the valets for Mia Francesca next door and the nicely painted orange and red façade that made it look shi-shi. In addition, you'll find the same patrons frequenting Bar San Miguel as you'll see at Redmond's, Johnny O'Hagan's, or Sheffield's nearby, given its laid-back feel. Overall, Bar San Miguel is a straight, quiet neighborhood bar with a phenomenal beer garden in the back.
Bar San Miguel is a Chicago version of an establishment you might find in San Miguel, Mexico. There are nicely framed pictures of Mexican doorways, a map of Mexico on the wall, and a bookcase by the door that offers books written on Mexico. Bar San Miguel serves Mexican food, and the kitchen is behind a deli-like counter, stocked with cheeses and other Mexican ingredients. Bar San Miguel is a far cry from its predecessor Joel's, which was filled with glass moderne and bathed in gray.
The large, laminated one-page menu offers a good selection of standard Mexican fare, including enormous burritos, tasty quesadillas, and excellent tacos. They also serve a pizza topped with steak fajitas and one with barbeque chicken and portabella mushrooms. Unfortunately, the only Mexican beer available is Tecate out of the can, as they do not have any taps and, more importantly, no Dos Equis Amber.
Chicago touches at Bar San Miguel include a multi-colored, linoleum floor, tables with wooden bench seating, and a fireplace. There is an elevated booth area across from the bar; watch out or you'll trip over the steps as you leave like I did. The bar itself is rather small, with decorative wooden posts and a few barstools. The bare-bones bathrooms with a roll of paper towel for your hands (better than nothing) are around the corner from the bar, right next to the hand sink, reminiscent of Smoke Daddy.
A curving glass block wall, next to the kitchen, leads to a large outdoor patio. This expanse is filled with trees and shrubs growing through the cement, including a lone pine tree. There are many plastic tables and chairs, surrounded by chain link fencing with red-painted, wooden slats in the middle. There are apartments upstairs, so don't be surprised if the beer garden is used as an exit for the tenants. Once, while enjoying a Tecate out back, a girl walked her mountain bike through the beer garden and out to the alley.
The beer garden offers a relaxed atmosphere and is very conducive for conversation. On a recent visit, our conversation turned to New Orleans: the R Bar, Mardi Gras, and excessive drinking. It was observed that only upon the fourth or fifth visit to the Big Easy can one remember the layout of the city and where all the places are that one has been. On this occasion, a friend of mine told his "poison control" story. It all began during one of his first visits to Nahlins, when he put in a ten hour drinking session. He got back to his lodgings around 2:00 a.m. where, for every half hour over the next twelve hours, he puked. Those familiar with accounting practices may note that his vomiting adhered to the FIFO method first in, first out. It seemed that every time my friend heaved, he would say something like, "Green... I remember that place! Grenades at the Tropical Aisle!" By the color of his yak, he was able to recount where he had been, what he had eaten, and what he had drank. Then he zooked blood red, which made him very nervous until he remembered that he had started off the evening by drinking a hurricane from Pat O'Brien's (which is a deep red color, for those of you Crescent City virgins). He become more nervous when he kept blowing chunks well after the hurricane. At two in the afternoon, his continued retching scared him into calling the Poison Control Hotline. He told them that he couldn't stop vomiting, at which point the woman on the line asked, "Well, what did you drink?" "Well, I started off drinking a hurricane at Pat O'Brien's, and then a daiquiri at the Daiquiri Factory, and then a couple of grenades at the Tropical Aisle, and then I ate a burger at..." went on my friend. "I think you'll be okay," *Click* was her response. He, in fact, was okay after that.
"If ever a bar deserved long lines, obnoxious doormen and inflated prices, this is it. Thankfully it has none of these things. Despite being in a prime location, this warm and welcoming Spanish style tavern is normally about as busy as a social at a leper colony most nights. This is actually a plus because that makes it open season on pitchers of their near orgasmic sangria. It is doubtless the libation of choice whether on the back patio with a gaggle of groupies during the summer, or in front of the fireplace with your grandmother in the winter. And to ensure you don't slip into a sugar coma, the Spanish style menu offers mainly delectable little appetizers that will knock your socks off. As they have been in business for over a decade, head over soon before the cat's out of the bag."
Shecky's Bar, Club & Lounge Guide 2002
Bar San Miguel offers a laid-back place to put your feet up, inside by the fire or outside in the beer garden, and enjoy a burrito or Mexican pizza while recounting past drinking adventures. It is a great place to visit for a few drinks during the week, before or after dinner at Mia Francesca's, or as a place to meet up with your friends before heading out to more adventurous bars elsewhere in Wrigleyville like the Underground Lounge, John Barleycorn's Wrigleyville, or the Wild Hare. Salud!
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