More details on the new taqueria and whiskey bar in the former Pontiac Cafe space we mentioned earlier
the taqueria/bar in the former Pontiac space that he and his partners are working on, and he gave me the lowdown on the inspiration—the Bakersfield music scene of the ’50s and ’60s—for the hotly anticipated spot. Chef Paul Kahan has been dropping hints about his taco research on his Twitter—but up until today, very little was known about it. Today, Blackbird’s Justin Large spilled his (refried) beans at GrubStreet and Terry Alexander went on record with Chicago magazine.
As a fan of Buck Owens and some of the other California country acts, I thought it was an intriguing idea—though I can’t say Bakersfield-inspired-tacos-in-Chicago is a concept that visitors will immediately get. But I do like the idea—if only because I tend to think a curious clash of cultures often brings out a different kind of energy, of which Wicker Park could use a shot. Knowing that the principal partners are big music fans and that musician/Danny’s bartender Mark Hellner is going to be involved full-time, I’d say that the still-unnamed spot won’t be lacking for sonic style. The space has been totally gutted, and the layout will involve a central bar area that will serve drinkers on all sides.
The new joint won’t be some high-end, fancy, exclusive spot, but rather a street-chic joint where affordable food, cheap drinks and killer (mainly country) tunes rule. In other words, it doesn’t seem like the kind of venture that’ll put off the bohos and rockers who still wander Wicker Park. If anything, it should make them feel at home
[Click to continue reading Wicker Park taqueria and whiskey bar takes shape | The TOC Blog | Time Out Chicago]
This really sounds right up my particular alley of interest1, too bad I don’t live at Cortez and Paulina anymore, stumbling distance from Damen and North. And too bad this place isn’t next door to Blackbird2, even though that would mean less of a Wicker Park hipster vibe.
[what the Pontiac Cafe location looked like on September, 12, 2009.]
From Helen Rosner’s piece mentioned above:
“It’s definitely not Tex-Mex,” Large insists. “If anything it’s traditional Mexican with some California influence there.” If you think bourbon and tacos are an odd combination, all you have to do is look at the restaurant’s historical inspiration. The bar’s aesthetic and underlying theme is, as Dish noted, the Bakersfield sound that emerged in California in the mid-1930s, where westward-going Okies and northward-headed Mexicans collided, producing a southeast-meets-southwest hybrid that gave rise to the whole California country sound. But don’t look for vintage instruments decorating the walls — or even a Merle Haggard soundtrack. “I think it’s more what they’re going for in terms of bringing in the whiskey list,” Large told us. “Sort of a 1930s working man dirty south.”
To that end they’ll be making everything to order — right down to the tortillas.
Large is particularly jazzed about the L.A.-inspired al pastor taco, for which the kitchen has acquired a special trompo (the traditional spit on which the meat roasts): “What makes this spit great is that the actual spit itself is heated. It’s not like your traditional gyro cooker where it’s just flames on the outside charring this giant hunk of raw meat. The spit will be on display – we’re going to do it old-school style and carve the meat right off the spit onto the taco.” The other fancy kitchen object will be the wood-fired grill, on which Large is particularly psyched to make a wood-grilled fish taco. “I love a good fried fish taco, when done well it’s outstanding, but the wood-fired grill is like magic. The flavor and what it imparts to the fish is amazing.”
So, a healthy dose of Buck Owens, Louvin Brothers, Don Walser, Asleep at the Wheel, Gram Parsons with or without The Flying Burrito Brothers, Willie Nelson, The Flatlanders, throw in a little Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown and The Jayhawks, maybe even some Doug Sahm, Townes Van Zandt and Dwight Yoakam, marinate with some Bloodshot Records contemporary artists, toss back a couple of bourbons or more, chow down on an al pastor taco, sit in the fading sun, sounds like bliss. When’s it opening again?Footnotes: