In theory, a themed dining or drinking establishment conjures emotions akin to apprehension. Usually decor and bartenders are pretentious or kitschy and patrons are overzealous or desperately trying to decode the menu (think Magic Time Machine, aka my worst nightmare, for an extreme example). On a dusty road leading away from Downtown, however, Concrete Jungle stands as a stark exception to the rule.
The place is owned by Rudolfo Martinez, owner of the Tapa Tapa Truck and run by beverage director Roy Guerrero, a former Esquire Tavern bartender. The pair wanted to create an atmosphere centered on the idea of escape. The vision was to create another world unlike anything in San Antonio, filled with fruity drinks and fancy food while not alienating those patrons who just want some whiskey.
It's both just near enough and just far enough from Downtown for its location to be considered ideal. At 1628 S Presa, it is snuggled against Freetail Brewing and Sweet Wreckage in Southtown, as well as some pretty beat-up buildings one can only lovingly refer to as 'hood beautiful.'
Guerrero notes the location was one of the major selling points. The area is up and coming, but the rent is cheaper than that of buildings closer to the heavy First Friday foot traffic in Southtown proper. Drinks range in price from $8 to $11, which is insanely cheap given the level of work that goes into these bad boys. Guerrero has expertly crafted each one of the menu items from countless hours of research and drinking. A lot of drinking.
The staff at Concrete Jungle takes pride in making everything they possibly can in house, ranging from fresh-squeezed juices to syrups. If it can't be done in house, it's local. The coffee used in the Flaming Coffee Grog, for example, is purchased from Brown Coffee Company. All of that effort and prices are still lower than most options at other joints across town. "I know what I could charge—I choose not to," said Guerrero.
A dive bar with a heart of gold and nature-themed TV programming, Concrete Jungle feels a bit like Bottom Bracket Social Club went on vacation, came back with a Caribbean mixologist, a copy of "Cast Away" and went all in on the palm leaf budget. That is to say, Concrete Jungle combines the best of a whole bunch of different worlds. Bartenders wear Hawaiian button downs with TLC undershirts, the music is on a shuffle of epic proportions varying from hardcore to Latin jazz to '90s R&B and patrons are allowed to bring their pups.
Adorning the majority of the interior walls is a free flowing cohesive design resembling a river. The exterior features neutral-toned elements, including tiki masks created by local graffiti artist Deleted. There are two-person booths resembling little huts and liquor shelving on bamboo-esque material. There is a small porch out back for smoking, but the boys hope to open up the outer area during the summer and add some picnic table seating.
The drink menu is the real star of this show, though. It doesn't list the liquor ingredients in the fruitfully christened cocktails, but it does feature some adorable illustrations credited to one of the truck cooks named Mark. Guerrero noted the menu was intentionally ambiguous. It is an homage to classic tiki bars, in which everything was kept secret.
Try the Bali Bali, priced at $11. It is concocted from Jamaican rum, Virgin Island rum, gin, cognac, pineapple juice, orange juice, lime juice, house-made passion fruit syrup, house-made falernum and simple syrup, and includes a pineapple leaf and a little drink umbrella, of course. It's worth noting the daiquiris are the best I've had in town. You should sample the Zombie. The description reads, "Nursing a hangover? Feeling like death? Let this drink take you out of that and put you right back in." The tiki version of a Long Island ice tea, the Zombie is basically a whole bunch of flavors and alcohol dumped into a glass and given an ominous name.
"I'm at a tiki bar. I can have fun with my booze," said Guerrero.
The pair intends to get some deals going, including painkiller specials on Saturday and a 9 to 11 p.m. red-eye happy hour.
Deemed "Grub Grub," the food selection isn't extensive, but it is scrumptious. Try out the crab rangoons or the grilled banana bread during Sunday brunch (conveniently extended until 4 p.m. for the late-risers).
Concrete Jungle is the kind of place you don't want to wear shoes to, but have to out of hygienic obligation. Its laid-back atmosphere is unassuming but endearing ... like Cheers in a jungle (sans Norm in a loincloth).
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