Best Of 2014

Sanchez Ice House No. 1
819 S San Saba, (210) 223-0588

Yes, there are ice houses with a better beer selection or a nicer atmosphere, but we wanted to strip the ice house culture back down to its essentials: cheap, ice-cold beer (properly dressed with real lime and salt, please), friendly folks, a big-ass patio and a legit jukebox. On all these points, Sanchez delivers. Icy bottled beers come in singles ($2 for domestics, $2.50 for imports) or buckets (ridiculously cheap) and you can enjoy them on the expansive concrete slab. During summer days, try to score one of the picnic tables under the lone tree. Also, pump some of that money you’re saving on stupid-cheap Lone Stars into the Westside oldies-oriented jukebox and shake a tail feather on the dance floor. Located almost directly under I-35, Sanchez ain’t much to look at, but it doesn’t have to be; its appeal is in its unpretentious attitude, a sliver of real San Antonio we hope sticks around forever.

Arcade Midtown Kitchen
303 Pearl Pkwy, (210) 369-9664,

Surely you know this already: The best bar food (no, we’re not talking variations on a theme of pretzels and mixed nuts) isn’t necessarily at the best bar; the best bar food is at a very good bar with an equally good kitchen attached. Or vice-versa. We can all think of several at Pearl alone, but since one must be picked, Arcade is it. Bar manager Christopher Ware is an inventive cocktalian in his own right, but seasonal creations such as the Bamboo with fino sherry, Dolin dry and two bitters seem especially well-calibrated to go with plates like marinated Spanish olives with almonds and feta, and the chili and lime calamari can only be thought of as a perfect last wish before confronting the full-bore Mexican Firing Squad Special, fabricated of blanco tequila with lime, house grenadine, Angostura and soda.

2801 N St. Mary’s,

You may start off drinking alone, but by the night’s end, you’ll be sitting amongst a wild cast of regulars and service industry-types just out of work and ready to enjoy one of Jonny Yumol’s latest cocktail concoctions. Perhaps it’s because TBA strikes that perfect balance of neighborhood haunt-meets-cocktail bar that we tend to start the night by our lonesome and end it with new friends.

Andy Hack, Minnie’s Tavern & Rye House
328 E Josephine, (210) 220-1890,

The best bartender is not the one with the sexiest shake, the coolest vest or the baddest tattoos; the best ‘tender is the one who can read your mood, interpret your desires and deliver a drink to match: mixologist meets psychologist. Recently, several unsung youngsters have impressed—among them, Andy Hack. Hack, previously of that cocktail incubator Bohanan’s, has the enviable job of riffing on rye at Andrew Weissman’s latest restaurant (where he’s also required to know the food menu inside out). Tasked with taking off on a Negroni, he also delivered. Expect exotic bitters, such as the El Guapo Chicory Pecan that spikes the Chic-Choc Old Fashioned with Prichard’s Double Chocolate Bourbon. And, as Hack and a partner are also kickstarting an ice company to supply crystalline slabs, spheres, spears and big-ass cubes, expect to see that, too. This is only the beginning—including more inevitably cutsey drink names.

Arcade Midtown Kitchen
303 Pearl Pkwy, (210) 369-9664,

Does Arcade have great bar eats because they have great drinks, or is it the other way around? Regardless, Christopher Ware, formerly with Bohanan’s Bar, has crafted a noteworthy menu that boasts vintage libations, such as the Bumble Bee and Ramos Gin Fizz, along with modern creations that pay homage to the cocktail scene’s growth by featuring drinks created by other local bartenders including Jeret Peña, Steven Raul Martín and Matty Gee. And then there’s the fact that Ware managed to whip up a namesake cocktail for the restaurant that, while pink, makes it perfectly acceptable for dudes to sip some bubbles. We’ll drink to that.

Tucker’s Kozy Korner
1338 E Houston, (210) 320-2192,

Though the Eastside mainstay recently changed ownership, Tucker’s Kozy Korner hasn’t dropped its reputation as a dancer’s paradise. And with a roster of the best DJs spinning in SA, don’t expect any breaks to be dropped either. From DJ Pakman’s raucous hip-hop mixes to DJ Cortez and JJ Lopez’s deep, unruly and undeniable soul and disco cuts, trust Tucker’s DJs to bring a block party with the best music you’ve never heard.

126 W Rector,

Homework and weekend chores beware; with Slackers’ double threat as a sports and arcade bar, productivity takes a backseat to Sunday fun. Situated just behind North Star Mall, Slackers boasts a wall of TVs to catch each iteration of ESPN and a long list of old-school cabinet games to suck away spare quarters. Who needs sophomoric drinking games when there’s NBA Jam, Tekken, giant Jenga and mini-hoops? Games are free on Sunday, too. With a happy hour of $3 wells and $2.50 domestics until 9 p.m., Slackers is a great spot to laze away the Lord’s day.

El Milagrito Café
521 E Woodlawn, (210) 737-8646,

You’ll often find the previous night’s revelers holding their heads, sunglasses still on, sipping coffee and slowly eating the barbacoa plate or bean and chorizo tacos at this St. Mary’s Strip staple. The service is a bit on the sporadic side, but who cares? When the food finally arrives, it makes everything better. It’s also open super early on Saturday mornings, if you’re more interested in preventing, rather than dealing with, that hangover.

Fernet Branca
As tasted at Blue Box, 312 Pearl Pkwy,
(210) 227-2583,

It may be cheating to choose straight liquor, but trust us on this one: Skip the nonsense fruity shots and go straight for the Fernet Branca. This amaro is the perfect after dinner stomach settler, palate cleanser, taste bud awakener, breath freshener, bartender’s choice, miracle cure-all for what ails you, hipster Jäger and everything else in between. Fernet is increasingly found in many of the finer watering holes around town, but its food-happy digestif qualities point us toward the Pearl’s culinary compound, specifically Blue Box, though any nice, stocked bar near your next great meal will do.

The Brooklynite
516 Brooklyn, (210) 444-0707,

A pioneer of SA’s toddler-stage craft cocktail scene, The Brooklynite is now leading the pack as the premier host of a rotating schedule of zany and fun theme parties. Some of the creative ideas from The Brooklynite’s roster: Cross-Fit and Gym, Pajama, ’80s Cocktail, Tacky Sweater, Hawaiian Christmas and, for all those loners out there, an anti-Valentine’s Day party. Cheers to keeping things interesting.