Best Of 2016

WINNER: Hays Street Bridge

> First erected in 1910, the Hays Street Bridge has watched modern-day SA grow into what it is today. The Countdown City has gradually spread out and grown taller in front of the bridge's East Side perch between Cherry and Austin Streets, so it makes sense that the span is the best view in the entire city.

Standing on the elevated expanse provides a full view of the central city. It gives us a sense of how San Antonio is arranged — from the Alamodome in the east, to the Tower of the Americas, then moving toward the Tower Life Building and the rest of Downtown. It's a complete view from a seldom-seen angle. From the bridge's vantage point, the buildings almost look like models or toys, a view that's reinforced by the vehicles whirring along US 281 in front of the panorama.

But the longer you remain on the bridge, and the farther along you walk, the more the city reveals itself to you. North of Downtown, you can see the Pearl and the tower at Trinity University. Temple Beth-El's orange dome looms over the trees in the distance. While you're up there, turn around and inspect each angle it has to offer. You can see how the space is changing, the clearest evidence of which is right underneath the bridge itself. It's all part of taking in the view and of thinking about what San Antonio is becoming.

WINNER: San Antonio River

> There are few things more relaxing than floating down a lazy river, all of the worries of the world drifting away like leaves in a stream. And, if you're not one of the THC-anxiety afflicted, there are few more easy-going and safe places to take a little toke than kayaking on the San Antonio River. The calm, slow-moving pace of the stream makes it the perfect waterway for a leisurely drift. With numerous San Antonio River Authority-approved vendors offering equipment rentals, you can save a little of that kayak or canoe money and spend it on some sticky icky.

Of course, if you want to go in for your own kayak or canoe, there's nothing wrong with repeat trips blowing smoke signals. Letting the weight of the world melt off you with each pull from your favorite little pocket pipe is sure to be rewarding.

As the river has recently undergone restoration, particularly south of Downtown on the Mission Reach, which extends for a full eight miles from South Alamo Street past Mission Espada, there is plenty of open water to relax and enjoy a bowl or two without running into too much traffic, the park police or otherwise. And for those that are apprehensive about breaking the law, particularly with a substance that has a tendency to distinctly stink, just pop an edible and think about the rapidly approaching days of legal weed.

WINNER: Donkey Lady

> Honk if you've heard this one before — if you dare.

There are multiple variations of a South Side legend about the bridge over Elm Creek by Applewhite and W. Jett Roads, including honking or calling upon the Donkey Lady to have a truly terrifying experience. While methods of contacting the Donkey Lady can be different — there was a phone number people used to be able to call to hear her hee-haw before the clippity-clop of her evil hooves drew closer — depending on who the storyteller is, one common thread is fire.

As the story goes, a young woman promised her first child to the priesthood but eventually changed her mind. Then her house caught fire, killing her children and severely disfiguring her with sagging skin and leaving the woman nubs for limbs, hence the Donkey Lady moniker. That tale is from When Darkness Falls, a book of San Anto paranormal stories that classifies the Donkey Lady as a La Llorona, a weeping female spirit (a common piece of lore throughout Texas and Mexico). Or, as another telling goes, a family offended a wealthy man who was abusing their donkey. For revenge, the man brought a mob, locked the family in their house and burned them all to death, or so they thought. Instead, a fiery figure bounded out of the fire and hurled itself into Elm Creek, never to be seen again, according to one author who shared the story told to him when he was young on the Texas Cryptid Hunter blog.

You know the rest: a terrifying figure barrels toward a car, smashing its windshield while moving at unworldly speeds. But who knows? The only way to find out is to head down to Elm Creek and find out for yourself.

WINNER: The Pig Stand

1508 Broadway • (210) 222-9923

> Not only are they equipped to satisfy the modern listener, the tabletop nickelodeons possessing such topical fare as witty, Anglo-soul balladeer Adele and the latest in Nashville's could-never-walk-the-same-line-as-Cash country stars, but the quarter-a-song table DJs and the solitary jukebox situated in the middle of the greasy spoon also contain the pink and black archetypes of the AM dial of yesteryear. These formidable classics — Etta James, Marty Robbins, Bobby Darin, The Shirelles and Roy Orbison — still come streaming from the speakers in The Pig Stand, just below the ribbons of highways 35 and 281 several stories above, like poltergeists of string-sheened emotion, ghosts of popular music's past, sonic stories of session players picking and crooners crooning, their guitar solos and tin-can vocals picking, snapping and clapping for generations of diner-goers.

Since they first filled a malt shop with their grandiose appeals to "Put your head on my shoulder" or "Be my baby," the jukebox has been a teacher, collaborator and co-conspirator for horny youths, lovesick fools, heady hipsters and smitten kittens. The pay-to-play DJ was invented in 1928, when player piano manufacturer Justus P. Seeburg rigged an electrostatic loudspeaker to a coin-operated record player. The first prototype held only eight songs, a number that has since been healthily surpassed with the inclusion of compact discs into the format, the solitary box at The Pig Stand being a perfect example as the whirling discuses in the upper display case dash refracted neons across the Naugahyde and two-toned linoleum for all to enjoy a little spin down memory lane.

WINNER: Tony's Bar

206 Brooklyn Ave. • (210) 227-4551

> It worries us that a write-up on our favorite little family bar to watch Spurs games at a spot just northeast of Downtown and a stone's throw from a certain new brewery and increasingly yuppiefied area of town, will wrench it from our grasp, make it a tourist spot for folks looking for "authentic culture" ... for a night. The catch? That we wish nothing but the best for Tony and the "Historical Landmark."

WINNER: Blue Star Coloring

With just a little more than a year in existence, Blue Star Coloring, which is based in San Antonio and Portland, Oregon, has made a splash in the wide-open frontier of adult coloring. Founded in March 2015, the coloring book company is consistently knocking out bestsellers on Amazon.

Through partnerships with artists all over the country, including San Antonio's own Abe Vasquez, who illustrated an anatomy coloring book called Form, Blue Star Coloring creates an array of subject matter, from Steampunk Ocean to Art Nouveau Birds to Gothic Halloween. Blue Star Coloring sets itself apart from competitors by publishing designs that are all hand-drawn by independent artists, as artist recruiter Brenna Dominguez explained earlier this year.

"We have one in Corpus Christi, one in San Antonio, one in Dallas," Dominguez said, rattling off the locations of Blue Star Coloring's Texas-based artists.

However, Camden Hendricks, CEO and one of three founders, is quick to point out that the company is not reinventing the wheel by any means.

"It was already a thing. We didn't invent it," Hendricks said of adult coloring for stress relief.

He said the company's success has been a mix of hard work and luck.

"There's a lot of people who are extremely talented writers, artists and publishers who never get that milestone," Hendricks said, remarking on a near-steady presence on Amazon's bestseller list. "So, yeah, it was really cool, but it's also humbling in a lot of ways."

WINNER: The Shops at La Cantera

15900 La Cantera Pkwy.

(210) 582-6255

How do we put this delicately? There are all kinds of interesting people at The Shops at La Cantera. Not just the cat-faced plastic surgery disasters and their Chihuahuas; cosmetic surgery is merely a venture in pursuit of our ideal self, something of which we all partake. It's not only the folks hailing from Monterrey, their collars eternally popped, cologne only perceptible if it can overpower the 100-yard-radius capabilities of their closest countryman's Axe scent, their SUVs gargantuan, children beautiful and manners non-existent; for we are all products of our environment and such prejudice would border on Trumpism.

It's not even the housewives hailing from Shavano, the Dominion, Boerne or Helotes, their Juicy Couture track suits, Pilate-d physiques, cultivated aloofness and self-importance – a la Stepford Wives meets the Dallas reboot with a sprinkling of Susan G. Komen do-gooder enthusiasm. It's not even their scrubbed-pink, scotch-on-the-rocks hubbies: contractors, land men in real estate or construction. For the allowances made when in the company of New Money often pale in comparison to the total ignorance and detachedness found amongst Yellow Dog Democrats from '09. Everyone's path is different. What good does it do to hate the rich for their opulent, material trappings, anyway?

It is all of these wonderful humans, every single beautiful, terrible one of them that makes whatever painful reason I have to visit the North-Star-wasn't-good-enough shopping center not so completely intolerable. Thank you, La Cantera. You're the real MVP.