1. In a Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain; set aside. In the butter, saute celery, leek, onion in the drippings until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Stir in the potatoes, broth, clam juice, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
2. In a small bowl, combine flour and 1 cup half-and-half until smooth. Gradually stir into the soup. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened.
3. Stir in clams and remaining half-and-half; heat through (do not boil); turn down to low heat; add the bay leaf. Add 4 strips of bacon (crumbled).
4. Crumble the reserved 2 strips of bacon. Garnish chowder with crumbled bacon and fresh chopped chives.