I had preconceived notions about The Bar. Trust me — whatever you make of it before heading in will be wrong. Created by the cocktail-savvy minds behind Bar 1919, The Bar might have the worst name for SEO purposes, but I doubt they care about that and, frankly, neither should you.
The Bar (hard not to be repetitive with name use, apologies) sits inside the Riverwalk Plaza Hotel on Villita Street. Similar to its sister location — a difficult-to-find speakeasy — it has a certain blink-and-you-missed-it appeal. I drove around the block after missing it the first time but actually lucked out with free street parking, a rarity for downtown visits.
The scene was tame during our stop last Wednesday evening. Devoid of any major conferences (bartender Corey Farmer said we missed out on some loud Irish drinkers) or weekend debauchery, the space was admirable. Exposed brick walls line the well-lit space intimate enough for quiet conversations along the cement-lined bar or chatty happy hours on the tall four-top tables. The home of the former Bar-Salona has dropped any notions of Spanish soccer jerseys, flags or toro-themed knick-knacks. Instead, you'll find a barebones but elegant bar ready to entertain.
In place of happy hour, The Bar hosts a "Bar Review" as Farmer and co. have themed it — an ode to law school professors, who take students on much-needed pub crawls under the guise of studying for the bar exam. If you do care to pick up some reading material, The Bar is decorated using 200-year-old Texas Digest law books found inside one of the hotel's several conference rooms. The academic touch certainly helps finish the space's theme.
Because this is a Don Marsh bar, the wares are fittingly billed as "uncompromising craft cocktails." The menu, which Farmer hopes to showcase on news print in the near future, is broken into multiple sections. Bar-goers will find cocktails under "light and bright," "floral and feisty," "complex and ambitious" and "big and boozy." I chose El Diablo, under floral and feisty, for my first drink with the joint's signature spicy tequila, infused reposado that soaks in Serrano, poblano, red and yellow bell peppers for a hot minute before gracing the cocktail. It's rounded out with ginger, sweet black currant liqueur and fresh lime juice.
As far as snacks go, The Bar carries an interesting array of menu items that range from sweet Thai peanut wings to charcuterie as created by executive chef Alfredo Barrios. My co-worker and I settled on the wings (naturally) and an order of three Gulf Oysters with cucumber Champagne sorbet at $3 each. Served on separate granite tiles, the bites pair well with the drinks on hand, and the hotel kitchen even supplies warm towels to wipe away any sticky wing residue. The wings were sweet and delicately spicy, though I would have preferred a little more crunch, and the oysters could have used an extra kick or maybe just a hint of lemon? Still, they were plenty enjoyable, and the presentation was definitely picture-worthy.
Though our bar mates were quiet tourists, wrapping up their San Antonio visit over several Moscow Mules, Farmer warned that weekends are picking up steam with River Walk industry personnel and out-of-town party-hoppers dropping in. To accommodate the surge of bodies, The Bar occupies the hotel's new dining concept, De Novo, also helmed by Barrios. Though table service isn't available, guests often trickle into the adjoining space at will.
Unlike Bar 1919, The Bar is more accessible to the masses while still doling out serious cocktails, both signature and classic. Beer drinkers can quench their thirst with a handful of craft beers on tap including, Chimay, Stone IPA, Real Ale's Hans Pils, Breckenridge Brewery's 471 IPA, Bud Light, Lone Star, Lone Star Light and a sole Mexican offering, Bohemia.
A tab for two did get into the $50 territory, but drink prices vary from $7 to $12 and the massive list of whiskeys, varying from single malt Scotch to Canadian options, also varied in price — prepare to pay $35 for Bruichladdich Octomore and $5 for Seagram's 7.
We left after enjoying a tasty and bright Q Cum Cocktail, their version of the spicy cucumber with a ginger twist and a Christy's Cocktail (ask about why the drink is now referred to as Sticky Fingers), with a commanding pour of St. Elder's elderflower liqueur. Maybe once business picks up, Downtown Diner across the street will stay open past 8 p.m. (I could have really gone for a burger), but it's nice to know tourists are getting a taste of SA's growing cocktail scene. The Bar joins Bohanan's, SoHo Wine & Martini Bar, The Esquire and Lüke in providing a high-class option for downtown visitors.
100 Villita St., 225-1234, 3pm-2am daily, www.facebook.com/thebarsa
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