Sidebar is new downtown Edinburg speakeasy

The newly-opened Sidebar in Edinburg is an homage to the speakeasies of the prohibition era. (Daniel A. Flores | dflores@themonitor.com)

Tucked deep within the old Daily Review building in Edinburg, a block from the bustling construction of the new Hidalgo County courthouse, is a new prohibition era-inspired restaurant hoping to pioneer a downtown revitalization.

Sidebar owner Robert Puig is a physical therapist by day and a newly minted restaurateur by night, donning a slick black suit while gliding through the amber-lit speakeasy tweaking the slightest detail.

“This place just kind of fell in our lap about two years ago,” Puig said of the once-dilapidated structure which “looked like an insane asylum that had been abandoned for 13 years. It was a wreck.”

An old printing press, printing plates and a newspaper from 1968 found during the remodeling are on display near the entrance, relics to the previous life of the building “so people always remember what this place was,” Puig said.

What was once an icehouse, and then a newspaper headquarters, is now a business center.

When patrons turn the corner, past the art exhibit, offices and conferences room of the front, they are confronted with warm light gleaming from candles, lamps and picturesque bar in the distance. Glass bottles glow on the tall shelves lining the wall at the rear.

Puig describes a 2-foot “pile of ink” at the center of what is now a dining room. It took about six weeks to remove the “disgusting, industrial white paint” that covered the walls, he said.

“When we sandblasted and saw the beautiful, original brick underneath, that’s when … (we) saw the vision of what this could be,” he said. “We kept as much of the original stuff as we could,” including a wood-beam ceiling crafted in the 1940s.

The project is an ode to the past, with lighting fixtures saved from the now-defunct Joe Brand and a large chandelier salvaged from a Chicago theater hanging in the corner behind velvet rope.

“They don’t make stuff like that anymore,” he said.
And that same spirit is brought into the kitchen, with meats brined overnight, according to head chef Danny Aguilar.

“It’s something that’s a lost art that a lot of people aren’t doing anymore,” he said.

Aguilar said the menu is “not very complicated,” and described the kitchen as French-style in which everything is made scratch. They also butcher meat and make all their sauces and stocks.

“We do things that can fit with the period theme,” he said.

A popular appetizer is the fire-roasted peppers stuffed with jumbo lump crab served on fresh tartar sauce and topped with hollandaise and fried cilantro. Another is the three-cheese fondue with sauteed chicken breast marinated and cremini mushrooms with garlic cream, white wine and chicken broth.

“It’s just simplicity,” Aguilar said. “We’re just taking familiar favors and just reintroducing them for what works in this atmosphere.”

The salmon nachos are a play on bagels and lox, he said, which included smoked salmon with chipotle cream cheese and diced red onions on friend yellow corn chips.

The pear salad, which includes smoked bacon, toasted almonds, and honey-garlic vinaigrette, is topped with fried brie cheese cakes. This references the classic cheese plate, and opens the door for pairings as they grow their wine list, they said.

For an entree, Aguilar said he trims of fat cap off the ribeye.

“I’d rather them just be able to enjoy it and not have 4 or 5 ounces of gristle on the plate,” he said. “Everything that goes on the plate should be edible.”

The steak is seared, topped with brandy-garlic-mushroom cream sauce with grilled asparagus and rustic potatoes.
There are also lollipop lamb chops served with blue cheese crumbles, barbecue sauce and bacon. And the barbecue, grilled salmon fillet is plated on basmati rice with asparagus.

The kitchen will also feature seasonal or chef picks.
Behind the bar, drinks from the signature cocktail menu are made to order with fresh ingredients, which is an attention of Puig’s obsession to the smallest elements.
As a self-taught interior designer, Puig makes sure all the lights have dimmers, and he strategically kept warm tones throughout for ambiance to compliment the live jazz. Glass doors lead to the open kitchen, and a private two-table enclosure called the Red Room is open for reservation.

Customers who book the space enter through the back entrance, complete with a latch to identify those outside and an inconspicuous name plate on the building.
“That’s the only sign on the building that you even know this place is here,” Puig said, another nod to the era they hope to emulate. “The mystery is half of the allure of this place.

“You don’t expect a place like this, especially in the Valley.”

Puig describes entering Sidebar like “walking into a dream,” he said.

“The building, the environment, the decor, the food and the service all just kind of adds to that whole dream,” he said. “And then you’re back in reality on 107 when you walk out.”