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The Notion of “Expat Bars,” and Amigo’s Bar and Grill in Progreso

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Before we dive headlong into our review of the newly-opened Amigo’s Bar and Grill in Progreso, there are a few things that need to be mentioned about so-called “expatriate bars,” in general and particularly as they exist in present-day Progreso.

Many fellow Americans and Canadians living here in Yucatan have mentioned to me that they would never set foot in a dining establishment which self-identifies as an “expat hangout.” In general, expatriates here seem to be of one of two minds: Either fully embrace all that is Mexican, and dislike anything that is American or Canadian, or try to turn this little corner of Mexico into Little Miami, or at the very least, Little Scranton.

The first type refuses to acknowledge the idea that, living here, anyone would want to eat anything other than tacos al pastor and black beans, and resents Northern chains such as Starbucks and KFC establishing outposts here. The second type of expat spends a lot of their time furious over the total lack of sharp cheddar cheese, the crazily aggressive driving, and thinks that Mexico is great, except for, well, maybe all the Mexicans.

Therein lies the particular challenges inherent in launching such a restaurant. By serving so-called “Northern” food, you are going to alienate one half of the very population you are trying to embrace, right off the bat. Restaurants here of this type are faced with a tough choice: fully embrace only one half of the population you are targeting, lose the rest, and risk alienating the locals with your English menus and signage, or try and surf both worlds, and risk destroying the “expat” atmosphere while never fully servicing the tastes of a Yucatecan clientele.

We have seen both methods tried here, some successfully, others less so. What has been most puzzling to us about launching an expat bar is not the challenge of finding your audience…it’s why so many of the ones we have seen thus far are so godamned awful. It seems like the simplest possible formula for a restaurant. If you want to open an establishment that will appeal to Northerners who are missing the bars and restaurants from their homes, it’s not exactly rocket science. Fill the place with flatscreens, show a few American football games, get a big, dark-wood bar, and have some imported dark beer on tap. It is a complete mystery why this formula has been so hard to grasp; why instead of hearing rave reviews of a bar and restaurant that caters to expats, I hear, “Well, it’s never made me sick.”

We tend to fall somewhere in the middle of the two types of expatriates that I describe above, with regard to dining out. While I will hit up Los Compadres on the late-night and eat Fiesta tacos (a dizzying combination of pork, onions, peppers, some kind of white gravy slurry, and topped with a rolled up slice of ham) until I can’t see straight, I would be lying if I pretended I didn’t spend almost equal time slurping down Vanilla Lattes (helado, natch) from the Starbucks outside of Gran Plaza. And while I adore Yucatecan cuisine, and numerous botanas served with a single beer, I think the last thing the malecon in Progeso needs is another mediocre restaurant serving the same. exact. takes. on whole fried fish, ceviche, and shrimp cocktail served in a hot fudge sundae glass. There are the tastes of home that I miss: cheesesteaks, bagels, and a properly-executed buffalo wing being at the top of the list.

We also have zero issue with the ethics of dining at such a restaurant. Eating in a place catering to Americans or Canadians makes the rest of my experience here no less “authentic” or rich, particularly as we continue to enjoy other local restaurants with more traditional cuisine. The idea that if you are an American and eat where other Americans eat, you are somehow not enjoying life in Mexico properly, is absurd. After all, since immigration to any country began, it’s been seen that the first thing any new immigrant population does is set up their supply chain: a place to meet, to enjoy old favorites, and to have a touch of the old and the comfortable in a land so filled with the new. There is absolutley nothing wrong with that, provided it’s not your exclusive dining-out experience.

It is with a certain level of excitement, then, that we finally got to check out Amigo’s Bar and Grill in Progreso. The menu, prominently displayed on their website, as well as the other features of the place, made it seem like, finally, someone had figured out how to make an expat bar that I would want to go to. The menu is straightforward, and calls to mind a menu that you would find in the Florida Keys, rather than in Mexico. Decent burgers, made with real meat rather than frozen hockey-puck patties with an excess of smoke flavoring. “Grouper on a Bun,” the fish sandwich of my dreams. BBQ ribs, beer-battered shrimp, steaks, chili, and yes, buffalo wings. The crafters of the menu clearly take pride in a few of their key items that they make well, and decided to open a restaurant around those items. And, as it turns out, that’s precisely how great “comfort food” restaurants are started.

The restaurant is on the smallish side, with a large bar in the back and a few tables in the front. The owners resisted the temptation to accept the free “Sol” chairs, opting instead for comfortable, attractive chairs appropriate to the vibe of the restaurant. Flags of different countries adorn the walls, as well as posters that have been signed by visitors from around the world. The attitude is clear, the English is clear, and the staff is a delight; friendly without being overbearing, attentive but not sitting in your lap.

Jillian ordered the Fish and Chips, a wonder of flaky, flavorful grouper deep fried in the crispiest, lightest batter I have ever had, paired with french fries and honest-to-goodness tartar sauce and cole slaw. I ordered 12 buffalo wings, and chose the “hot” sauce. The wings were perfectly cooked, and the sauce was that dead-on combination of tomato and vinegar, with just the right amount of heat. I thought, initially, that Amigo’s website claim of “The Best Wings in Mexico” was a pretty bold statement. Thus far, they are exactly right.

If I have to voice one concern, it is over the tobacco smell present in the restaurant. Because it is sealed to the outside, and sweet, sweet mama air conditioning is cranking, the smoke from the bar tends to kind of “cling” to the walls. Smokers will find the smell utterly disappears after being inside for 30 seconds; non-smokers may be a little less than appetized by it. My hope is that Amigo’s will invest in a heavy-duty ventilation system (this is preferable to making it a non-smoking establishment, since I firmly believe that “smoking” and “drinking” are best friends who should never, ever be forced to part), and this will be resolved.

In addition to the food being presented and tasting exactly the way you want it to, Amigo’s seems interested in building community and drawing people into the restaurant. With free wireless internet access, NFL and NHL Sunday Ticket games, and a Vonage line for phone calls back to the States or Canada, there is plenty to do while you nurse a beer or wait for your hot roast beef sandwich to be ready.

The prices were competitive, as well. Our two meals weighed in at just over 200 pesos, for two beers and two entrees. You can certainly have a less expensive meal in Progreso, but you are not going to find the dishes available at Amigo’s, and you certainly are not going to find them executed as well. We will be back, without question, any time we need our pub-food fix.

Amigo’s Bar and Grill is located on Calle 78, between 25 and 27, in Progreso. They are currently serving lunch and dinner (c’mon guys…I beg you for breakfast) and are open daily from 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM. Full disclosure: Studio Yucatan is currently working on a redesign of the Amigo’s website.

There Are 10 Responses So Far. »

  1. Interestingly enough, the expat bars here in Playa, the one’s that have stayed the test of time, really run the gamut. We’ve got a sports bar owned by a Scot (recently aquired by a group of Canucks and other gringos, but that’s another story) a caribbean beer shack owned by a foul mouthed, infantile disc jockey from Texas, a hotel/lounge owned an operated by a lovely swede and his unpredictable and insufferably drunk wife and an old school beach bar with a “Jimmy Buffett Style” house band serving up buckets of beer to sunburnt “40 somethings”. They are all rather shabby and each has its own following. One this is for certain: NONE of them remind me of “home”. Thank goodness.

  2. Great, honest review, Malcolm. We will definitely try this out.

  3. My favorite there is the BLT and those french fries were to die for…the real thing…not those frozen crinkle cut things in a bag!!

  4. Hmmmmm…they were definitely of the frozen crinkle-cut variety on the night we were there…but it was early, so maybe they hadn’t fired off the real ones, yet.

  5. [...] Dropped in (Malcolm and Jillian) on “ex-pat bars”: [...]

  6. Amigo’s is currently for sale I was thinking of purchasing it but making it a coffee bar and bakery (that served breakfast).

  7. We love Progresso beach, but if you have kids don’t go to Amigos Bar and Grill. it’s the unfriendliest place we have ever been. The owners were so rude to our little 4 year old daughter for putting her feet on their plastic chair, she starting crying. Of course we left and will be letting everyone we know about the old crabby US expats that own amigos.

  8. Amigos is owned by Canadians. I was in Progreso in February,stopped in to Amigos for a beer.The bar was empty. We sat at the bar, ordered a beer and then had to listen to the owner threaten to fire his Mexican worker. When he was finished with his employee he crapped on Mexicans in general from their work ethics to their construction abilities and
    overall cleanliness. When he was finished with all the Mexicans he began his racist remarks about foriegners in Canada. Girlfriend and i
    looked at each other and said ” We’re outta here!! ”

  9. We had nearly the same experience, after being a semi-regular for some time. I don’t need attitude from my own kind. Too bad. I hope people don’t judge all of us Canucks based on one bone-head. Twenty years in service industry tells me: Nice place. Not enough seats to be profitable, unless you are always full. Poor attitude. Refused to cater to locals.(us and them syndrome). Great food. Too expensive for here. Many dream of owning an estabishment, few know the risks. People skills, perseverence, hard work, and humility are key. Build a name, don’t profess it. Just because you think you know, does not mean it is true.

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