La Picá de Clinton – Santiago, Chile - Gastro Obscura

Gastro Obscura

La Picá de Clinton

How a lunch counter in Chile became a shrine to the 42nd president of the United States 

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In April 1998, Chile hosted the second-ever Summit of the Americas. Presidents and prime ministers from throughout the Western hemisphere gathered to meet with their fellow leaders in Chile’s capital city of Santiago.

After one summit session held at Santiago’s Municipal Theater, the assembled leaders began climbing into their limousines to return to their hotels. However, American President Bill Clinton deviated from his schedule and surprised his aides by heading to a nearby restaurant instead.

The San Remo was a type of basic restaurant known in Chile as a picada (or picá), a simple place serving inexpensive dishes such as sandwiches and french fries. It had been a slow day for the restaurant, as the security barriers for the summit kept many of its regular customers away.

That changed in an instant when server María Ximena Provoste noticed the approach of Clinton, surrounded by a pack of reporters. She greeted the president and offered him a bottle of Diet Coke.

Clinton requested a glass, and Provoste brought one, quickly wiping it with a cloth. The president shook hands and signed autographs around the room while sipping his soda. After about 15 minutes, once he had met everyone, Clinton departed the quiet San Remo and returned to the world’s television screens and headlines.

After the president’s visit, the San Remo quickly rebranded with the name it still uses today: “La Picá de Clinton.” Clinton photographs and related news clippings adorn the walls, and the presidential Coke bottle and glass are displayed in a case above the counter. Even a “Clinton hot dog” has appeared on the menu, overloaded (as hot dogs always are in Chile) with toppings such as sauerkraut, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and mustard.

Years later, those who were present that day are still amazed that a world leader suddenly appeared in their humble establishment. They recall the presidential visit fondly—even though, as Provoste told reporters, “he didn’t leave a tip.”