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Concrete Jungle, 1628 S Presa, (210) 373-9907
South-Southtown's latest bar (and yes, there will be more coming soon) opened this December with a string of classic tiki 'tails. Does San Anto crave tiki that strongly to warrant a whole bar? Will the neighborhood embrace the joint that tossed island fixtures into the former El Sauzeno and hoped for the best? Those are queries only time can answer, but, in the meantime, I won't turn my nose up at the toothsome and absinthe-laced Cobra's Fang, a Don the Beachcomber creation I paired with avocado-crab rangoons from Tapa Tapa Truck.
Hot Joy, 1014 S Alamo, (210) 368-9324, hotjoysa.com
It's not that we didn't trust Jeret Peña and Karah Carmack to create a solid cocktail for Hot Joy's opening, but they had to hit a pretty specific mark using extremely new ingredients to the San Antonio set. First the drink had to pack a wallop (obviously), be sweet to balance out the heat from the kitchen (chef Quealy Watson loves his spices) and tart to cut through some of that rich deliciousness known as twice-fried crab fat chicken wings. The bar scored on all notes with several, including the Mak Mak and El Diablo, but we drank summer away with the popular Curse of the South Paw made with gin, maple, coconut and ginger beer.
NAO, 312 Pearl Pkwy, (210) 554-6484, naorestaurant.com
Timothy Bryand has become a master at turning out Latin cocktails designed to match dinners at NAO, the Culinary Institute of America's teaching restaurant. But he's also on top of the base boozes that spring from points south—the Caribbean included. Earlier in the year he concocted an Old Fashioned that subbed Trinidadian Zaya Gran Reserva 12-year-old rum for the usual rye or bourbon, and the result was eye-opening. Recently, we evaluated some other rums for their OF potential. Papa's Pilar, aged solera-style in the U.S., Ron Zacapa from first-press cane and the 18-year Nicaraguan Flor de Caña, whose woodiness we felt might play best with bitters. We say try 'em all.
Park Social, 224 E Olmos, (210) 822-0100, park-social.com
Call it the little bar that could—and yes, Park Social really is that "intimate." The space, carved out of the old Ciao Lavanderia to include sister eateries Folc and Alumina (coming this spring), is a playground for head bartender David Naylor (one of two Olaf Harmel prodigies) who opened the bar fresh off a brief apprenticeship at Chicago's The Aviary. Armed with all this booze-knowledge, Naylor's slowly adding new cocktails to the mix, but we couldn't help but fall in love with the Caramello, quite possibly the first on his menu. The whiskey-based concoction uses bitters, a pinch of salt and a house-made caramel syrup that's scorched, smoked in Folc's wood-fired oven and cooled for use. It's a smoky, sweet and handsome take on the Old Fashioned.
TBA, 2801 N St. Mary's, (210) 320-1753
Not content with simply pouring booze out of a bottle anybody can buy, today's barkeeps are big into making or modifying their own concoctions. Josh Brock, the new hooch honcho at TBA, now supervises the making of an allspice dram for use in the So Long Johnson, an Old Fashioned variation with rye, Laphroaig 10 and a splash of said dram; now off the menu, it's still in the memory banks.
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