Like many second cities around the world, San Antonio is upping their cocktail game, meaning you can find something more than just margaritas and Lone Star beer in this Texan town. We made a recent visit to wander the River Walk, score some puffy tacos and, of course, check out the local cocktail scene. If you’re heading there for a visit, here are some spots to sate your cocktail cravings:
Juniper Tar: Craft Cocktail Experience
Cocktail enthusiasts will love geeking out with Benjamin and the rest of this knowledgeable and experimental team who strive to incorporate unusual ingredients into the entire menu. The spirits selection is wide and the creativity is deep, so stop in for something bespoke, unusual or served in unique vessels. Cocktail enthusiasts will dig the decor here, too, with its dark sex appeal playing the perfect backdrop to your drink.
Esquire Tavern: Oldest Bar on the Riverwalk
On the scene since 1933, this dark, lovely, historic tavern scores points for being the oldest bar on the RiverWalk. But, wait, there’s more! They’ve got the longest bar in Texas (and that’s saying something because everything in Texas is BIG!) And they’re not slouches when it comes to their cocktails, having just been nominated (for a second time) for a James Beard award for Outstanding Bar Program. This classic is a must-visit when in San Antonio. Plus they make some killer fried pickles!
Downstairs at Esquire Tavern: Cool Classics on Hot Nights
While, technically, Downstairs is part of the Esquire Tavern, its separate river entrance, different vibe and limited food program means it merits its own entry. The proximity to the river is not only convenient, but also provides inspiration for the decor with taxidermied fish on prominent display. It’s a dark, loungey escape from hot Texas nights to sip cool cocktails. On our visit, classics like Vieux Carre or Old Fashioneds were the winning picks. Note the upstairs tavern has a full restaurant menu, but downstairs is more bar snacks. If you stop in, send our regards to head barman Hank!
The Last Word: Happy Hour Old Fashioneds
We stopped into the Last Word early, and it was already pretty loud, so I can only guess it just gets busier as the night goes on. But, an early stop is recommended to partake in the happy hour at this literary themed bar serving up cocktails, wine and beer. Though their original claim to fame was a long list of cocktails on tap, our visit proved that they are no longer serving these (for quality control reasons, which is really a good thing.) However, a round of $5, well made old-fashioned suited us just fine, thanks very much! Fun game: try and name all of the writers featured on the walls while you’re there. (We didn’t get very far…)
Paramour: Campy Rooftop Cocktails
It’s all kicky, kitschy colors and campy decor at this large rooftop stop, where guests and servers might be insouciantly tossing around a big beach ball (seems risky amongst so many martini glasses, but let’s live a little dangerously, shall we?) Based on just a few drink tests, the cocktails are fair to very nice (the latter being the punch made with Plantation Pineapple) And, ladies, don’t forget to pop into the powder room for a gander at the iconic Burt Reynold’s centerfold which celebrates the 70’s sex symbol in all his hirsute glory.
Sternewirth at Hotel Emma: Beautifully Repurposed Brewhouse
Housed in the old Pearl Brewhouse, Hotel Emma – and its bar – are pretty much a jaw-droppingly gorgeous blend of the brewery’s history and up to date elegance. Slip into Sternewirth and grab a seat in old beer vats reconditioned to serve as intimate little drinking nooks. So, what’s with the name? As they explain “the bar is named for the Sternewirth Privilege, which entitled employees of the 19th Century breweries to free beer during the workday. Prohibition killed the tradition, except at Pearl Brewery, where workers frequented the taproom until the 1990’s.” Nice work, if you can get it!
Overall, San Antonio offers up a surprising range of options – this isn’t a city that’s just setting up the cookie-cutter speakeasy style establishment. THey’re putting some personality into each place, and it’s a personality with some pluck! Of course, this list isn’t definite as we didn’t have the time or energy to taste test every place on our list. But it’s a great start for your own explorations. Happy travels!