As San Antonio denizens, we all live in fear of it. It usually happens around the holidays, or in the dastardly drought that is summer. We avoid it. But it’s always there, waiting: the Alamo.
It’s not that we hate the Alamo, per se (really DRT, we don’t, please don’t sic your flying monkeys on us), but we’ve all been forced to take the tour like 17 times before. Every relative and out-of-town guest needs to see it, if only to say they’ve been. Then it’s into the unworldly cheer of the River Walk.
What to do? Chloroform the aunt? Fake an illness? The answer is simple: drop her ass off at that long line to the Alamo and park yourself on a bar stool. There are dozens of places to take in a tasty libation in downtown, and not all of ’em are irredeemable tourist traps. … Really.
Here are some of our picks. — Lauren W. Madrid
Biga on the Banks
203 S St. Mary’s
Your best bet here is to occupy a seat at the curvy bar itself. Peruse the wine list, as it’s one of the best you’ll find at a bar anywhere on the river (though the one at Boudros is also no slouch). Bronson, the regular bartender, can help guide you to a wine or a cocktail that will work with the bar snacks — also among the best anywhere on the banks. Game packets, pot stickers, chicken-fried oysters… it’s all good and will be properly served with assorted very good breads — almost reason alone to go. — RB
219 E Houston, Ste 275
Texas is beer country, but cocktail culture is alive and well at the bar at Bohanan’s, located off the River Walk by the Majestic Theatre. No wonder, the barmen have been trained by one of the best — famed New York mixologist Sasha Petraske, who makes frequent trips to SA to impart his expertise of pre-Prohibition recipes. Take a seat in a club chair and try the Last Word with Rye, a whiskey variant on the classic, made with green chartreuse, or The Left Hand Cocktail, with bourbon, campari, sweet vermouth, and chocolate bitters. Bar food is eclectic, too, offering Spanish Serrano ham, Akaushi meatballs, and savory-sweet candied jalapenos. — SA
Omni Mansión del Rio
112 College St (210) 518-1000
El Colegio occupies the former library of St. Mary’s College. It has a comfy atmosphere with clubby sofas and chairs clustered around a fireplace, and the bar top is of worn marble that speaks of age and tradition. True, the new drinks list is corporate affair, but it does offer trendy cocktails such as the Indian Summer with Hendrick’s Gin, organic elderflower liqueur, and lime juice, and a very good Smoky Patron with the namesake tequila, agave syrup, lime juice, and a splash of Del Maguey Mezcal. Yes, these drinks bumped some long-time classics off the menu — “We’ve been famous for our margaritas for a long time,” remarked Harold. But he can still make you the Las Canarias model if asked. Bar snacks such as a braised beef quesadilla or country fried Lockhart quail would likely work with any of the margs — or a stout single malt. — RB
The Esquire Tavern
155 E Commerce
Opened in 1933, the Esquire is the oldest drinks establishment on the River Walk, offering both an expansive collection of beers on tap and some of the best-crafted cocktails in SA. Though by city law cigars are no longer tolerated along the 108-foot-long bar rail, the back balcony still commands a calming view of the waters as unreconstructed patrons puff and drink. The kitchen provides bar classics like boiled peanuts, deviled eggs (which go nicely with the house-made ginger beer), and one of the best bison burgers in the city. Best off all — no damn sound system. — SA
Moses Rose’s Hideout
518 E Houston St
One hundred and seventy-five years after Moses Rose (allegedly) opted out of the Battle of the Alamo (and certain death), the cleverly named Moses Rose’s Hideout has sprung up right around the corner from Alamo Plaza, catering to locals and tourists alike. In stark contrast to the Alamo’s commercialized reverence, Moses Rose’s offers tongue-in-cheek quirkiness along with its decent selection of brews and functioning grill. For instance, patrons must “enter through the gift shop,” leading to a not-so-secret door that requires a password. If you don’t know it, expect to do some kind of embarrassing act (hula hooping, dancing, etc.). Are you brave enough? — CK
Naked Iguana Lounge
421 E Commerce
Even if you aren’t waiting for a table upstairs at Rio Rio Cantina ― the Tex-Mex sister of Paesanos and Zuni Grill ― the Naked Iguana Lounge is still worthy of a visit. On a bustling stretch of the River Walk, this compact lounge is easily missed. With a glowing iguana skeleton (created by the late artist Kevin Stephens) mounted to the wall and a color scheme reminiscent of a blacklight poster, the place gives off a midnight vibe — even at noon. Reverse happy hour (11 p.m.-close Friday-Saturday and 10 p.m.-close Sunday-Thursday) makes having an after-dinner drink here a no-brainer, but choosing between the 16 margarita varieties (including a skinny one made with Austin-based Dulce Vida Tequila, $9) requires an executive decision. — BR
Both physically and aesthetically, Ocho Lounge, part of the newly-revived Hotel Havana, is separated from everything on the River Walk that makes you cringe, far removed from the Hard Rock Cafe-types, the tourists furiously snapping photos and the vendors hawking coon-skin caps. This street-level bar, cased in a glass and steel conservatory-like structure, is upscale but intimate, laid back and loungey. And their outdoor patio overlooking the river tends to kill it with great live music. Hide away here, sipping on a Santiago Painkiller, a Hemingway Daiquiri, or Martinique Punch. — MB
SoHo Wine & Martini Bar
214 W Crockett
I tend to do my “challenging” drinking at home. Saytown is full of Cheers-esque bars that are good for dry martinis, shots, and beers, but seldom reliable for a solid Manhattan or classic Side Car. At SoHo, you can sip brisket-infused bourbon or have a bloody mary garnished with freshly torched bacon. I recommend you ask bartender Ibis to prepare you an Old Fashioned with rye, sugar, Angostura bitters, and fire-zested orange (with a cherry). You’ll want to thank me, but, really, the credit goes to her and SoHo’s cadre of expert, accommodating barkeeps. — AVC
The Texan II
Located right around the corner from Travis Park, The Texan II (a fully stocked spin-off of the Texan I off West Ave) is a quaint place for locals who want to kick back and have a few drinks and avoid the hubbub of the River Walk tourist traps. The Texan II houses a diverse crowd who go for daily specials after a hard day/night of work. During the week the Texan II plays host to a variety of events ranging from karaoke, open-mic, and live music. Try the bartender-recommended specialty shot, the Starfucker, made with watermelon rum. — VS
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