I was passing through The Grove last Friday evening on my way to the Sheldon Concert Hall to hear the Grammy-award winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra. There was just enough time for a quick bite. Robin and JC, who were with me, had been to the Sanctuaria and remembered that it had good tapas. Their fusion of Mexican and South American flavors would be a perfect prelude to our evening of Latin music. So in we went . . . .
As we entered the black, vault-like doors, I had a moment of deja vu. This could be the Bat Cave! A scene from those old comic books I read as a kid. But there was no sign of Bruce Wayne, though there was a friendly guitarist, who greeted us warmly as we entered the bar.
I soon figured out that the place is dimly lit in keeping with the “Day of the Dead” theme. The decor maybe a bit bizarre for those unfamiliar with the Mexican holiday (somewhat like our Halloween) with its gaudy skeletons and skulls. (During the November 2nd celebration, it’s believed that the spirits of dead relatives visit families to enjoy the festivities in their honor.)
Art pieces from 17th and 18th century churches mingle happily with the folk art and the imposing modern sculpture behind the bar. The decorative mashup gives the place a charm all its own without being overly kitschy.
On the Wild Side
The menu highlights a number of favorites from Spain, Mexico, Cuba, and Central America, as well as their signature wild tapas. Sanctuaria punches up their fare with locally sourced foods and grass-fed beef, and dishes including venison and rabbit.
Many of the herbs and berries used are grown in a charming garden that surrounds an outdoor patio, featuring a 19th century French conservatory and Belgian gazebo. The menu notes: “We are supplied in part by Foundations Farms, our own organic, sustainable and humane local farm.”
We ordered tapas—several small plates designed for sharing. I was impressed to see that the fries were cooked in duck fat, as they are in France, and accompanied by a velvety queso blanco sauce. Our server, working within our time schedule, delivered our order quickly and we were on our way to the show. A departure far too soon. The place is designed for lingering with friends over drinks and shared plates, especially so during warm weather when the patio reopens.
One meaning of the word sanctuaria is “refuge” and, indeed, this place lives up to its name.
150 Drink Varieties!
Sanctuaria has got to be the Cocktail Capital of the Midwest. They offer 150 different varieties from old favorites to contemporary concoctions. If you can’t make a decision and want to literally risk the luck of the draw, they offer a “cocktail roulette,” where you randomly pick a number to determine your choice.
Regulars keep their own black/white composition notebook in the Sanctuaria library to reference any previous visits and comments they made on their orders. I have to admit my lack of knowledge about bars and mixed drinks, but Feast magazine named Sanctuaria one of the coolest in the city.
Sanctuaria Wild Tapas, 4198 Manchester in The Grove. Hours: Tue-Thu 11a-3p and 5p-11p. Fri-Sat 11a-3p and 5p-1a; Sun 9a-2p and 5p-9p. Closed: Monday.