The El Chaman bar and eatery in Antigua Guatemala has got two really great things going for it: its pizza and the spectacular second-floor view of the San Agustin Church ruins. The north wall of the church is completely gone, leaving a full view of what’s left of the old San Agustin Iglesia and Convento in full sight — all the floors, doll-house style.
Downstairs at their 7th avenida Norte #2 address, you will find a bike rental shop so don’t be confused when you walk into that spot and don’t see happy customers swilling beer and downing mojitos. Go to the second floor (they open at 4 p.m.) and there you will find, daytime or nighttime, a stunning sideways view of the church, built in 1657 and destroyed by successive earthquakes starting in the 18th century. The good Fathers of San Agustin decamped for the new capital in Guate City around 1751.
San Agustin (St. Augustine to you gringos) said, “Lord make me chaste but not yet.” So here’s a lively bar, one that serves up heady drinks and pounding music, alluring to the senses and baser impulses. That it’s juxtaposed with the tattered but glorious remains of a formerly holy edifice dedicated to the tempted saint, well, this is no small irony.
Yolkobsens’ recommendation: time an early cocktail and light dinner on the terrace so that you can see the church painted in tender sunset pewter and then dissolving into twilight when the bar puts on their flood lights so that you can see it in an eerie nighttime relief of shadows.
Not only do you get a sideways view of the church, you get a downward and upward look that a sidewalk position at the east front of the building fails to afford. As the daylight recedes, the throbbing music — on some nights there’s a disc jockey or live entertainment — starts to flow over the time-roughened ruins next door.
We ordered a medium sized pepperoni pizza and found it hit the spot at a very modest price. There’s not much else on the menu besides quesadillas and salads. It’s not a restaurant; it’s a bar with some food. That was fine with us.
It would be a quibbling to say that once you bite into the pizza all the toppings slide off the crust at once. Best to eat it with a knife and fork. We gave it an A-minus grade, which is pretty good on the Yolkobsen Guatemala Pizza Scale.
We chatted for a while with the two young owners, both from Guatemala City, who opened up the place in January 2011. Like all Antigua Guatemala bars and eatery owners, they’ve noticed a bit of a down turn due to the extreme rainy weather this year, but felt that they were more than keeping their heads above water as far as their business was concerned.
As we were leaving, the next shift of younger patrons, a mix of tourists and Guatemalans, was starting to show up for the late evening and nighttime temptations that St. Augustine and the rest of us continue to struggle with. It’s a life’s work.