Last night a small gathering of media were invited for a sneak peek into John Manion's upcoming West Loop project, which debuted its name: El Che Bar. The restaurant's name comes from a plaque Manion bought on a trip to Argentina years ago that he has held on to for inspiration. As previously reported, this concept has roots in Argentinean cuisine, and he and his Viva La Rev team are looking at more restaurant properties for other ideas.
The inside of El Che Bar has been stripped to its bare bones and construction is due to begin soon. Manion, who has lived in Brazil and spent a great deal of time in Argentina, says the space will feature floor-to-ceiling windows opening up onto Washington Boulevard. The dining room will feature just under 100 seats with a bar area seating 14 more guests. An open kitchen, featuring a custom-made hearth, will put out food that is presented without pretense, such as vegetables that will be "served charred, skin-on." A card given to press in attendance makes a point of referencing the cooking terms "smoked, seared, roasted, and grilled" when describing what to expect from the kitchen.
Manion is also looking to add a small dining area that may end up doubling as a stage for musical acts. Speaking of music, Frank Orrall (Poi Dog Pondering, Thievery Corporation), was on hand at the event with another band, Mourning Doves, who will be El Che Bar's house band, only performing gigs there.
Manion talked about the highs and lows that South America has gone through, a place where you can see the beauty that once was, even as it decays . That mysterious yet familiar spirit seems to inspire the space as well as inform Manion's desire for his guests. He hopes that they feel as if they will be transported when they enter El Che Bar, not in a corporate, Margaritaville way, but as if they've travelled back to another time and place.
Judge for yourself when El Che Bar makes its debut next year.