The Bar Tab 

The eyes of Texas — or at least those of Texan drinkers — are upon you, San Antonio. From the observation deck of the 750-feet-tall Tower of the Americas in HemisFair Park, drunkards and teetotalers alike can contemplate your wide expanses of asphalt, your thinning tree cover, your West- and Southside masses yearning to breathe free. Come to think of it, the Tower restaurant and bar might just be the new speakeasy for Skinny Kenny, Bill Kaufman, and the other development powerbrokers. Where better to contemplate tomorrow’s Zoning-Commission conquest than in a bar with $10 drinks and a 10-minute (or more) elevator queue? Won’t find many environmentalists up there.

Unless, of course, they’re on a Bar Tab outing for the Current, in which case they’ll be expensing the Storm Cloud, an elegant tornado-gray cocktail made with Chopin Vodka, Chambord Raspberry Liqueur, and Blue Curacao ($9.50, but what’s a few clams when you’re contemplating a riverside condo development?). Austere berry flavor against a sweet but fleeting vodka backdrop? It makes you want to say “yes” to the future of San Antonio.

Certainly the view — of the East Side (under construction, as is much of lower Broadway), the Balcones Heights rising toward the new Northwest jackpot, Ed Cross’s extensive downtown holdings, Toyota to the south — is inspiring, and ought to be on the agenda for anyone you’re wooing in the corporate, if not the romantic, sense. For the latter purpose, a distinct and unmistakable aroma at the base of the Tower may be disconcerting. A mysterious drop fell upon my drinking companion’s head as we made our way to the pleasingly ’50s-postcard entry at the base, reminding me of a 2001 bike ride through HemisFair, when a foul-smelling stream of water was pouring from the top of the ’68 World’s Fair landmark.

But we assume that some of the $8 million Tilman Fertitta dropped on upstairs renovations was spent on the plumbing, as well as on the Kandinsky-esque carpet, gold bubble-glass walls, salmon frosted-glass privy doors, and elevators (two of three are in order; the third is still “under renovation”). The resurfaced surfaces are sleek, from the camel-colored leather armchairs to the backlit marble panels of the bar, and well worth the 1-minute ride in the elevator — Vertigo flashbacks free! It’s a decided departure from the style of original Tower architect O’Neil Ford, but not a travesty (except for the glass bath-room tile).

On the weekday night that we ventured up, a handful of tourists were settled in the lounge’s corners, and mismatched couples were enjoying the sunset in the dining room, which still revolves slowly over the San Antonio skyline. With a receipt, the elevator operator will take you up to the observation deck, fitted with educational panels and a snack bar. Or you can sneak up the service stairs by the restrooms, and see original granite flooring and smell authentic dirty-restaurant-linen smells. (Which go surprisingly well with a straight-up vodka martini with a twist — served cold enough to lubricate a 40-minute conversation — more than enough time to sell that condo project to the councilmember’s aide.)

As I admired the skyline (was that smog or elysian haze bending the rays to a pleasing pink-gold?), drinking companion quizzed the barkeep about emergency-evacuation procedures. There was a false alarm two weeks ago, the tender said, and while customers asked frantically to pay their tabs, staff realized they hadn’t been trained for evacuation. But no problem, we were assured, it’s only a thousand or so steps to the base. Bottoms up!



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