Summer is one of the best times to visit The Clark Bar, a friendly little neighborhood bar. It has beautiful clapboard siding that’s partially obscured by an abundance of green ivy and trees and one of the loveliest patios in town. You’d blink and miss it if it weren’t for the neon sign angled just off to the side and a few more neons situated in the windows. 

Inside, there are pool tables, poker machines, and varying degrees of seating including large comfy alcoves and a little L-shaped bar. It’s a bit dated, but I think that always gives places like this their character. Outside is a fenced-in patio that runs alongside the entire building and there’s even an enclosed Tiki bar/gazebo. Live music happens every day from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. You can find daily drink specials, the food menu and events listed on their website and/or Facebook page.

I was starving and one thing that excites me most about The Clark Bar is their menu that boasts things like "fresh-ground burgers and homemade fries." We ordered a couple of beers at the bar and then seated ourselves to a table outside. The live music was just about to start. It took a while to flag down a waiter to give us menus. They were super friendly but seemed short-staffed that night. We most definitely wanted cheese fries ($4) and my husband was pretty set on ordering a reuben ($8). When I started to tell the waitress that “I can’t decide between the Portobello sandwich and…..” she cut me off and stated the grilled Portobello was really good ($7). Awesome, I’m sold.

While waiting, we ordered another round of beers ($3 Blue Moon specials that night) and listened to the live band. We didn’t have to wait long to get our food. The fries were hot and fresh, we couldn’t wait to dive into that deliciously generic, liquid gold. It came in a fairly large plastic cup — and to think we thought we wouldn’t have enough cheese, pfftt. The homemade fries were good too, albeit a bit salty. The reuben came as reubens do: hot corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut on toasted rye. The thousand island dressing was served on the side, which my husband really liked. It was a solid, simple reuben. They didn’t skimp on the meat and I liked that the sauerkraut was interspersed between the layers of corned beef rather than just a thick pile in one spot.

My portobello sandwich was as delicious as the waitress described. A very large, grilled mushroom cap stuck out from the bun. It was served with feta cheese, pesto, and red onion. Is there any better combo for this type of sandwich? The proportions of all the toppings were great, though I do tend to tire of the strong red onion flavor about halfway through my sandwiches, and the pesto was really tasty and flavorful. I imagine they used a classic basil pesto, though if it’s homemade, I’m not sure. I’ve had a number of portobello sandwiches get soggy on me but this one did not. Both the top and bottom bun were grilled, which helped and also added a slight crunch. 

I enjoy the atmosphere at The Clark Bar and I like that you can always count on something going on, whether it be live music, karaoke, or stand-up comedy. The drink specials are pretty good and they even have some fun cocktail specials like Palomas and mango martinis. And of course, you won’t be disappointed with the food either. The menu prices are comparable to places like Farren’s or Guido’s; $8 to $10 for a good burger at most of our local establishments seems to be the standard. If you haven’t been to The Clark Bar, I encourage you to stop in. And for those of you regulars out there, well, you’re lucky to already know of another great hidden gem in Champaign. Enjoy!

The Clark Bar is located at 207 West Clark Street, Champaign. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

All photos by Bobbie Bonebrake.