Having opened in November 2001, the Bar Celona Bar and Grill has become a fashionable mainstay in a part of town known more for t-shirts, baseball hats, burgers, and hot dogs. While the second location, next to Kincade’s at 948 W. Armitage didn’t last that long (replaced by Lot 48 under the same ownership), the original location of Bar Celona stands by while other establishments continuously turn over, particularly on this section of Clark Street, running between Newport and Waveland deep in the heart of Wrigleyville. Chalk it up to the successful ownership of the bar led by (bring me the head of) Adolfo Garcia and his partners, who also owns the popular Sopo and Lot 48. The Latin fare at Bar Celona, combined with a cocktail menu longer than that of the beer selection, will put you in the right mood as you start to groove with the increasingly interested locals.
You’ll find Bar Celona wedged in-between the larger Central, yet another holding for the Bar Celona cabaal, and Uberstein, formerly Heaven on Seven and a notable addition to the city’s bar scene as it is one of the few German places along with Glunz Bavarian Haus that is opening rather than the current trend of the opposite. Fortunately, neither Bar Celona or Uberstein feature EU prices, considering the current exchange rate… Anyway, Bar Celona is located in a dark brown, brick three-flat with a black awning and a garage door-like façade that opens out in summer and which has been replicated by just about every bar up the block.
Walk through the double-door entrance and you’ll find yourself in a narrow, single room taberna. An oak bar topped with cowhide and sided in tin runs along the south wall of exposed brick where patrons become entranced by the two giant, flatscreen televsions behind the bar and in front of gently pulsing, beige-colored strips of cloth. Opposite the bar is a banquette with high-backed chairs along north wall, and a few sought after cocktail tables up front allow you to survey the madness that never ends on Clark. Additional low-slung tables are located in the back with seating at small upholstered cubes for those unlucky enough not to sit at the booths. A goldish glow drifts down throughout the main room from an array of Mediterranean-style hanging lights, straight out of the early 1970’s that compliments the rustic, beige-painted walls featuring brightly-colored local artwork.
Get your night started off with something from a nice list of cocktails and decent beer selection, though I was disappointed they didn’t have my favorite Dos Equis Amber – yes, it’s a Mexican beer instead of Spanish but it’s still good even though Café Iberico gives me a hard time every time I try to order it there. The ever-popular sangria (red and white) at Bar Celona is $2 on Thursdays (pitchers are normally $15), martinis are $5 on Fridays, and all drinks are half off on Wednesdays. You know when to see me there… Bar Celona also serves a good selection of mostly inexpensive Mexican and South American entrées, of which I found the Cali Tacos to be excellent, the chipotle and orange barbequed fajitas ok, and the complementary chips and salsa to be very good. I didn’t have the Chicken Sangria but it’s said to be rather dry. The kitchen also churns out a few paninis, salads and a small selection of tapas, including “Mole de Pavo” or turkey with mole sauce (a somewhat spicy brown sauce with a hint of chocolate flavor). The obligatory burgers are $2 with fries every Monday along with $2 bottled beers. Rather than pouring over either the menu of drinks or food, I’d recommend you make up your mind quickly as you never know when you’ll see your waitress again or what mood she’ll be in when she arrives…
An exceedingly worn set of wooden stairs leads down to another room filled with booths along the north wall, a smattering of low-slung, wooden tables and another bar runs along the south wall. The whole room is encrusted in tile where the walls aren’t painted red, and is illuminated by eclectic hanging lights. If they don’t have a private party foundation-eers busily getting sloshed on a few glasses of sangria, the space tends to be empty early in the evening, but it really starts bumpin’ later so head down there if you’re in the mood for cavorting.
Although not as polished (or sterile) as a place like Soiree Bar Bistro, Tryst or Blu, the Bar Celona features a cool, somewhat sophisticated Latin vibe that is more relaxed and has a lot more character – not to mention a steady stream of talent in their late 20’s and early 30’s who are drawn to the cocktails and the atmosphere. Yes, Bar Celona is definitely a beautiful people bar, with lots of designer jackets and low-cut blouses. ¡Buen provecho!
This “tasca,” Spanish for a friendly gathering place usually located on the side of mountain roads in Latin America where you can get small plates to go with a few shots, reminds me of an upgraded version of the now-defunct Bar San Miguel, and a more pleasant version of Taberna Tapatia, as the DJ-infused music at Bar Celona is not played in your face – though, Taberna’s got Bar Celona beat by not having any big-screen TVs even if this is all but required this close to Wrigley Field. Regardless, with a renovation and menu overhaul to celebrate its fourth anniversary last year, Bar Celona keeps the sangrias poured, the margaritas blended, the martinis shaken, and the glances deviant. You know you love it. Bar Celona doesn’t open until 4:30pm, except for Cubs afternoon home games when it opens at 3:30pm. I recommend avoiding it when the Cubs are in town or you might be overrun by the sweaty t-shirt crowd, at least for a little while before they get thrown out or pass out. Instead, head for dinner at Bar Celona during the week or cocktails on the weekend, and you’ll be sure to leave satisfied no matter your cravings. For more information, check out the Bar Celona website. ¡Salud!