|Best of '06||PLACES – part 1|
It grows on you
For transplants and natives alike, the city is full of slowly unfolding surprises
Best Place to See the Fiesta Parade Without Tickets:
Best Video/DVD Store
Best Yoga Studio
Best Kid-Friendly Park
Best Hair Salon
Best Sex Store
Best Gay Bar/Club
Best Lesbian Bar/Club
Best Sports Bar
Best Tattoo Shop
Best Street to Hit a Pothole
Best Pickup Spot
Best Car Dealership (New or Used)
Most Missed Place of the Last 20 Years
My first impression of San Antonio, years ago, was not a great one. I was in the middle of 7th grade in Ft. Myers, Florida, and I had just told schoolmates that my family and I would be relocating to the Alamo City. Following the requisite (and now that I’ve traveled as a Texan, lamentably familiar) chorus of uniquely Tex-ist jibes and admonitions — “You’re gonna ride a horse to school,” “You’re gonna bed your sister and relentlessly persecute gay people” — class was business as usual until best-friend Brady, swallowing a cackle, handed me a small, folded parcel: a portentous bit of mildly crinkled notebook paper. Opened, it revealed a crudely etched outline of the Lone Star State — a makeshift map, complete with compass and legend. Somewhere near the center, just north of the penciled panhandle, was a tiny box-and-triangle number labeled “Brian’s House,” to be my representative on this rough-and-ready Mead landscape.
Surrounding it were three distinct and menacing swarms of frenzied graphite marks, each enormous, all seemingly advancing upon my stand-in. The first group was identified via legend as “Gangs.” The second, “Killer bees.” (Remember the big Africanized-killer-bee scare back in the early ’90s? I do. I was in the 7th grade, being informed that it was one of the frontrunners in the candidacy to be the swift, Texas-size death of me, presumably running on the popular “sting a dude’s face until he asphyxiates” platform.) The third scourge, honestly, escapes me. Coyotes, maybe. Or scorpions. Something Texas-y.
At any rate, I was a bit unsure about the move. I knew next to nothing about the city. The only real point of interest, as I was (and am) a rather rabid basketball fan, was that it housed the NBA’s Spurs. But they were a bit dull and hadn’t ever won a championship — how great could that be?
Fast forward a good number of years, and my feelings about this city have certainly changed, mostly for the better. San Antonio, any way you slice it, is a family town. Warm, simple, and rich in tradition and culture on its better days, it does have the capacity to be somewhat dull on others. There are places and things to love: everything about the Blue Star Arts Complex; the giggly kid stuff at the Witte; Spurs games and the atmosphere that grips this place come playoffs (they did all right for themselves, turns out); spring rolls at Viet Nam; dirt-cheap, darn-good egg foo young at the Pearl Inn down the street; the newly sprung-up Freebirds and Ruta Maya; and lotsa laughs at the Rivercenter Comedy Club.
There are things to wish for: more independently owned, quirky selections like the Bijou; a nightlife that doesn’t prominently involve the River Walk and dodging hordes of tourists. I have a warm spot in my heart for San Antonio, and it’s not just because it hasn’t yet shot, stung, or whatever-ed me to death as promised so long ago. Sure, it’s spread-out. Sure, familiarity breeds contempt, or at least occasional boredom. But there are certain pockets and alcoves in this town that, once found, can remind you how much you love it here. Herewith, a few of those.
- Brian Villalobos
Best Reasonably Priced, Mystifyingly All-Purpose, Faceless Manufacturing Maven
Hill Country Fare (H-E-B)
I’ve neither seen nor been to the hub/principal factory/clandestine command center of H-E-B über-producer and convenience colossus Hill Country Fare. I’m not even sure there is one. Here’s what I imagine, though: a massive, isolated, roughly village-sized compound west of the city, spilling disparate and sundry structures for miles upon miles, with perhaps the odd spire or smokestack twisting heavenward — a sprawling, Seussian study in concrete, conveyor belts, and glittering aluminum, complete with bustling, Keebler-esque cadres of workers versed in good cheer and diligence. Sort of like Wonka’s set-up, maybe, but far more diversified, and with the occasional armadillo or tumbleweed.
BEST OF 2006
How else, really, to explain the staggering, well nigh-encyclopedic output proffered by HCF? From diapers to detergent, from glass cleaner to gummy worms, if there’s a product to which the name and ubiquitous blue wagon haven’t been affixed (spoiler: there are a few), you’ll exert a bit of effort in summoning it. Envelopes? Check. Beef jerky? Ditto. Toothbrushes? 13 varieties. And food well, they make a lot of food.
Of particular note are the scads of markedly cheaper clones of brand-name vittles, often quite comparable in taste (not to mention packaging) to the originals. For an inexpensive source of (admittedly mild) entertainment, head down to the cereal and snack aisles at your local H-E-B to peruse the clunky translations from progenitor to knock-off; they’re ticklingly akin to unwieldy foreign takes on American movie titles. `Corn` Pops, f’r’instance, become “Golden Corn Nuggets”; Triscuits are “Woven Wheats.”
At 40 fewer cents per box, though, I’ll buy Crap Flakes, if they taste the same as Wheaties. For value-priced, variegated vendibles, few top the wagon, and the list is ever expanding. Would you buy HCF beer? Motor oil? Condoms? Short of a hysterical Charlton Heston tearing down the River Walk with crying that Hill Country Fare is, indeed, made of people PEOPLE , there’s no end in sight. And I, for one, am not complaining. Yet.
Best place to cure a hangover
112 College St., 518-1063
I’m not kidding when I say that Paloma Blanca saved my life one Sunday afternoon. A wine hangover had blurred straight into a caffeine-deprivation headache. My skull felt, I thought, Anna Karenina-like. A guillotine would have been welcome. Somehow, through the train derailment in my head, I heard a muffled suggestion: the patio at Paloma Blanca.
There among the flowering vines and burbling fountains, I was revived by their Bloody Mary — a concoction as salty as any primordial sea. Lo, I slid into it barely able to amble, and emerged again a walking, talking, Darwinian masterpiece. The bartender does in fact get a little too enthusiastic with the celery salt at times, a fault you can address by switching to the Michelada Mexicana. The combination of icy glass, salt, and Tabasco will perk you up like a blood transfusion.
Fat, of course, is the appropriate complement to a hair of the dog, and Paloma Blanca’s Botanas Chicas appetizer plate contains a medically miraculous combination of protein, cheese, and fried things. The quesadillas and chicken flautas are especially fortifying, but watch those deep-fried jalapeños or you’ll need Rx of a different sort altogether.
Best gay bar Bar/club
On a Saturday night, the line into the Bonham Exchange, this year’s Best Gay Bar/Club, will wend nearly to the Alamo. Don’t let the wait deter you: This is where the city’s best dancers are hanging out, the paid ones in their boxer briefs, the rest letting Madonna and J.Lo whip them into a frothy frenzy on the dance floor.
Best place for infants to swim
San Antonio Swim Academy
Opinions differ on the best time for children to start swimming, but if you’re eager to acclimate your baby to the water, you can’t go wrong with the San Antonio Swim Academy. In small classes with plenty of individual instruction, they manage to make the frequently intimidating swimming experience a series of lighthearted games: “B is for Bubbles” is a song parents use to demonstrate the concept of breathing underwater; “Hickory Dickory Dock” is a nursery rhyme adapted for bringing the baby’s body into the water; and the classic “cookie pan” simulates the motion of gathering cookies from a pan as a way of teaching a rudimentary version of the breast stroke. Best of all, these instructors are smart enough to know that the best way to motivate diaper-clad water bugs is to put a rubber duck in their sights and let them swim to it.
The San Antonio Swim Academy operates out of two locations: 2250 Thousand Oaks (404-2782) at Dive World Scuba, and 9240 Guilbeau (875-0213) at the Spectrum. They offer a wide range of times for their 30-minute spring and fall classes, and their accelerated summer schedule can make your child a certified baby swimmer in only four weeks.
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