In the bottom of a Dutch oven, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove bacon from pan, drain on paper towels, then crumble. Set aside.
Remove all but 1 Tablespoon bacon drippings from the pan.
With the burner on medium-high heat, add the onion, celery, and garlic to the hot bacon grease. Cook until onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
Add 1 cup of white wine to the pan, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 4-5 minutes, until most of the alcohol smell has dissipated.
Add the clams to the pan at this time. If you prefer to use canned clams, see Gr8 Substitution below.
Cover and cook over medium-high heat for about 7 minutes, until clams open. (This could take longer depending on your clams.)
Using a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the clams to a bowl. I remove the clams as they open so they don't overcook.
Discard any clams that haven't opened. (Hopefully this will be just one or two.) Set the bowl of clams aside to cool.
Add the clam juice, chicken broth, cubed potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, and pepper to the pan and bring to a boil.
Turn the heat down and simmer, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
While the potatoes are cooking, remove the clam meat from the shells.
Chop the clams, reserving the extra juice that is released. Set aside.
When the potatoes are done blend ¾ of this mixture using either an immersion blender (one of my favorite kitchen tools) or transfer ½ of the mixture to a blender and blend in batches. (Take care to leave the hole in the blender top semi-open or you will have an explosion!) You want to leave some of the potatoes in chunks.
Add the milk and bring to simmer. Use more or less milk depending on the thickness desired.
Add the chopped clams and any reserved juice and cook for about 5 minutes until clams are heated up.
Serve with the crumbled bacon sprinkled on top.