Top 10 bars in San Antonio, Texas
June 23, 2013
The Friendly Spot
An open-air bar in the Texas icehouse tradition, the Friendly Spot is a neighbourhood anchor of the Southtown arts and King William historic districts. Before refrigeration, icehouses were ice-cooled neighbourhood cold-storage centres. Perishables were stored, and beer, too. When technology made them irrelevant, the beer and the name were kept, and the icehouses evolved to become local bars. The Friendly Spot serves over 180 mostly craft brands, with 25 Texas brews on tap, and a kitchen featuring Mexican and pub food. Like all icehouses, it’s family and dog friendly.
• 943 South Alamo Street, +1 210 224 2337, thefriendlyspot.com. Open Mon-Fri 3pm-midnight, Sat-Sun 11am-midnight
Mi Tierra Café y Panadería
Open 24 hours a day in Market Square, with a Mexican bakery, strolling musicians, and some of the best Tex-Mex in San Antonio, Mi Tierra is also home to the carved-oak Mariachi Bar with an accomplished selection of margaritas and over 150 varieties of tequila. A favourite with tourists, who can find Mexican and south-west crafts at nearby shops in the converted old mercado, Mi Tierra is frequented by locals, too. Founded in 1941 as a three-table cafe, and now seating over 500, it is a San Antonio emblem of Latino heritage and pride.
• 218 Produce Row, +1 210 225 1262, mitierracafe.com. Mi Tierra Mariachi bar open to 2am daily
The Esquire Tavern
Cool, dark and swank, the Esquire was opened in 1933 to celebrate the end of prohibition. The oldest drinking establishment on the Walk river, this downtown classic attracts a diverse crowd, from hipsters to politicians, and boasts the longest bar top in Texas: over 100ft. Named one of the Best Bars in America 2013 by Esquire Magazine and acknowledged by the James Beard Foundation for its award-winning cocktails, the Esquire also features local craft beers and American pub food, such as fried pickles and bison burgers.
• 155 East Commerce Street, +1 210 222 2521, esquiretavern-sa.com. Sun-Wed 11.30am-midnight, Thurs-Sat 11.30-2am
Located in Hotel Havana, just south of the San Antonio Museum of Art, Ocho is one of the most pleasant spots on the Walk river to wile away an afternoon. Upstairs, a vaulted glass and steel conservatory houses a light-filled room done in tropical decor with a small, but competent, bar. Tables spill out to an outdoor patio that features live music at weekends. Downstairs, a candle-lit bar filled with deep leather club chairs provides more extensive service, and an array of fine spirits. The kitchen features traditional Latin fare, with an emphasis on Caribbean dishes.
• 1015 Navarro Street, +1 210 222 2008, havanasanantonio.com. Ocho Lounge hours, Sun-Thurs 7am-10pm, Fri-Sat 7am-midnight
Opened in 2012 by award-winning bartender Jeret Peña, the Brooklynite is the epicentre of San Antonio’s cocktail culture. This new hot spot near the river was designed with the antique appointments of a prohibition speakeasy and attracts the savviest mixologists in town. Constant innovation is firmly based on tradition. The recipe of the drink you are offered may have been concocted yesterday, but the elements are always studiously proportioned.
• 516 Brooklyn Avenue, +1 210 444 0707, thebrooklynitesa.com. Open daily 5pm-2am
La Tuna Ice House
La Tuna, named after the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, is an old-school icehouse near the Southtown district. The large yard shaded by trees is paved with bottle caps that crunch under your feet like seashells. Picnic tables in abundance provide seating and space to spread out roast lamb, rib eye, or veggie sandwiches priced low from the grill, and a thrifty collection of beer at yesterday’s prices. A favoured destination for thirsty groups arriving on motorcycles and bicycles; music at weekends.
• 100 Probandt Street, +1 210 212 5727, latunagrill.com. Open Mon-Fri 11am-2.30pm (lunch), Mon-Sat 5pm-8.30pm (dinner)
A cocktail-centric bar located in the Blue Star Arts Complex, 1919 has the largest collection of whiskies in San Antonio. House-style tends towards the flamboyant, with prices of rarer spirits to match. Late night at the weekends, the bar (along with the rest of the complex) is overrun with twentysomethings, but weeknights and afternoons afford some quiet to explore the abundance of fine malts, with help from knowledgeable staff. Bar food is imported cheeses, charcuterie, and other like specialties.
• 116 Blue Star, +1 210 227 1420, no website. Open daily 2pm-2am
The Granary ‘Cue and Brew
In the opinion of many San Antonio’s most accomplished brewpub, the Granary is equally acclaimed for its innovative barbecue made from meats sourced from local, sustainably reared livestock. A project of chef Timothy and brewmaster Alex Rattray, the brothers founded the Granary in a cooper’s house at the old Pearl Brewery – now adapted as a retail and residential centre on the north end of the Walk river’s Mission Reach. Pearl and Lone Star have ceased production in San Antonio, but with beer of the quality of Alex Rattray’s crafted brews, that’s fine with us.
• 602 Avenue A, +1 210 228 0124, thegranarysa.com. Open Tues-Sat 11am-2pm (lunch), Tues-Thurs 6pm-10pm, Fri-Sat 6pm-11pm
If you like western music, go where the cowgirls and cowboys go. Big as a barn, Cowboys is a rodeo of country fun teeming with bars, dancefloors, and a mechanical bull. Drinks “specials” abound, and for those new to the Texas two-step, dance lessons are available. Cover charges vary with the entertainment, which runs from live country music, to cage fighting, and Sunday nights for teens. Beer is priced moderately, but be warned: this being Texas, it flows in abundance with many a rebel yell, and sometimes a yodel, or two.
• 3030 NE Loop 410, +1 210 646 9378, cowboysdancehall.com. Check listings for times
The Bonham Exchange
The heart of San Antonio’s LGBT scene, the Bonham Exchange has been tripping the light fantastic since 1981 when the Turner Halle, a century-old German athletic centre, was transformed into the downtown’s most extravagant nightclub. Bette Midler, RuPaul, and Dennis Rodman have strutted their stuff on the Bonham’s dancefloors; drag shows and cast parties for travelling Broadway shows ensure regular celebrity sightings. But, for all the pageantry, the Bonham is still a locals’ hotspot where all are encouraged to let loose – regardless of race, sex, age, or sexual preference.
• 411 Bonham, +1 210 271 3811, bonhamexchange.com. Check listings for times
Scott Andrews is the arts and culture editor of Current, San Antonio’s weekly magazine