Best Of 2017

OUR PICK: Jazz, TX, 312 Pearl Pkwy., (210) 332-9386,

A lot goes into the making of a great cocktail bar. For starters, the bar itself should have attitude — not necessarily in-your-face, but, at the very least, a theme should emerge. Then there are the servers: both reasonably cordial and exceptionally well-versed in the classics. A selection of creative cocktails is a definite plus. And then there’s the music — for this imbiber, also not so in-your-face. Unless that music is at Jazz TX, a basement boîte at Pearl inspired and run by Doc Watkins and his Texas Swing band. If your tastes run to Ella and Earl, then this is your Texas-accented jive; a recent no-cover piano-bass-drums trio expertly rendered tunes such as “Body and Soul”, a ‘tender turned out a swingin’ Fall Back (applejack, rye, Carpano Antica, Amaro Nonino…) ode to Sasha Petraske — and later, a credible Caña Brava daiquiri. (Manager Jake Corney has the boys well-trained.) Fried pickled mushrooms happily kept hunger at bay
Our Pick: Cured, 306 Pearl Pkwy., Suite 101, (210) 314-3929,

Most of us know where to head if we just want a great cocktail: Bohanan’s, Brooklynite, Paramour, 1919…But what if you include dinner, or at least more than marinated olives, in the equation? To further up the ante, let’s also assume that the food menu and the cocktails should be on, er, intimate terms. Enter the chef-driven restaurant where the chef is also really into drinks — from well-selected wines to small-batch and barreled beers and seasonally adjusted cocktails. Enter, with a bang, Cured. Spring seems like a good time to go for the Young Gun Hit at this Pearl stalwart helmed by James Beard nominee Steven McHugh. It’s made with a pear-infused Oregon gin with lavender undertones, St. Germain, lemon and muddled and strained Sungold tomatoes. Or maybe La Adormidera with organic Grand Poppy (a rum-ish CA bitter liqueur), tangerine and chamomile bitters. Your Oaxacan spiced quail will thank you.

OUR PICK: Low Country, 318 Martinez St., (210) 560-2224,

Now, before anyone gets their chaps in a bunch, we understand fully that Lowcountry, the quaint and relatively new watering hole on Martinez Street, is not a country bar in the overblown sense of Cowboys or Midnight Rodeo. But, in a manner that’s somehow a touch more refined and rustic all at once, Lowcountry hits the sweet spot with its potent drink selection, its Southern snacks (i.e. pickled eggs and boiled peanuts), its Americana house music, and its modest, warm décor, which looks a bit like the way I imagine my great aunt’s house in Goliad must have looked — potted plants, dusty knickknacks, a porch made for reverie. Of course, the place is a bit hipster, but all that means to us is that maybe it’s finally hip to be a kicker again in Texas. The spot also offers occasional live music of the consistently excellent variety and a pleasantly laid-back mood. Hell, during happy hour (4-7pm), you can snag a beer/shot combo (“A Shot and a Wash”) for four bucks. In the immortal words of outlaw country firebrand David Allan Coe: “If that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your ass.”

OUR PICK: Brass Monkey, 2702 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 480-4722,

 A frequent winner of this category, Brass Monkey owns its dance club status. There’s never a cover, drink specials are never more than $3 a pop (oh, and 75 cent wells on Thursday nights), and the groove parties can’t stop, won’t stop. Events include the fourth annual Selena Thurzgayz Tribute held every April, prom nights, ’80s new wave, a 50 Shades Masquerade party, Beyonce’s Baby Shower and the latest must-attend night, Jimmy Eat Wednesday, held every last Wednesday of the month complete with collectable pins and all the early-2000s emo your sad, little heart can handle. The pit — yes, there’s a pit — gets lit. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Our Pick: Rod Dog’s Saloon, 2617 Wagon Wheel St., (210) 828-2582,

There is so much to love about Rod Dog’s Saloon that makes it the best dive bar in San Antonio: the real dart boards (not the electronic type), the book collection by the bathroom that features a solid Tom Clancy collection, the interior design that looks somewhat like a motel lodging area, and of course, Rod Dog’s mascot — a drunken, droopy dog. Whether you’re looking for a place to drink alone or you happen upon Rod Dog’s Saloon during a dive bar tour with friends, this place has every part of the equation for a great night. Count on cheap drinks, good vibes, friendly bar staff and a scenic view of Loop 410 from the bar’s front patio. And, like every reliable dive bar, you’ll find a pool table, a popcorn machine and if you’re lucky, you’ll run into someone selling delicious tamales in the parking lot.

OUR PICK: Pegasus, 1402 N. Main Ave., (210) 299-4222,

You might not hear many LGBT bar-hoppers call Pegasus their favorite watering hole, but most will confess it’s a regular stop on their crawl back and forth along the Main Strip — and there are several good reasons why. Divey, cruisey, unpretentious and unpredictable, the longtime outpost regularly attracts all walks, ages and persuasions with a winning mix of impossibly cheap drinks (served from 2 p.m.-2 a.m., 365 days a year), diverse musical offerings (country in the back, dance remixes in the video-equipped main bar) and outdoor drag shows featuring the talents of Beyoncé D. Mykels, Layla Larue, Sasha Andrews and many more. But the crowning glory of this diamond in the rough arrives in the form of no-holds-barred karaoke on the boozy back patio, where guests can shamelessly channel anyone from Morrissey to Selena or grab a seat and play judge to an impromptu episode of San Antonio’s Got Talent.

OUR PICK: South Flores Market H-E-B, 516 Flores St., (210) 444-1879,

Full disclosure: H-E-B doesn’t sell liquor, so you won’t be tossing back any cheap wells during this happy hour (and we can blame Texas’ arcane alcohol laws for that). But what you will find at H-E-B’s Downtown is $10 pizza from 4 to 7 p.m. daily with two complimentary pints of Alamo beer. Grab your giant pie (available in cheese, pepperoni, supreme, spicy Hawaiian, and Tuscan kale), two pints, and take a seat on the cute patio that offers diners a different view of the Tower Life Building, Tower of the Americas and Southtown. It’s one of the best values in town and won’t blow your budget.

OUR PICK: (TIE) Ocho at Hotel Havana, 1015 Navarro St., (210) 222-2008,; Sternewirth at Hotel Emma, 136 E. Grayson St., (210) 448-8300,

> Although it’s only natural that two of San Antonio’s coolest hotels also have super-stylish bars, it’s a welcome surprise that Sternewirth (in Hotel Emma) and Ocho (in Hotel Havana) are both incredibly comfortable, vintage-inspired spaces ideal for lounging. From the giant fermentation tanks converted into surprisingly intimate seating cubbies to arrangements of massive leather sofas and a bar whose top was fashioned from a preserved tree trunk, there’s not a bad seat at Sternewirth to sit and enjoy a potent La Babia Margarita or the signature Three Emmas. While some might argue that the dimly lit, cinematically chic Havana Bar (formerly Club Cohiba) is technically Hotel Havana’s bar, it functions and feels like a basement extension to Ocho — a glass-encased restaurant/lounge that overlooks the River Walk and opens up onto a breezy patio perfect for sipping micheladas and mojitos. To properly experience the vibes that make us love these two spots, it’s important to time your visit wisely: Sternewirth is most enjoyable on weeknights in the early evening; and while the same is true of Ocho, it often gets packed and noisy an hour or two before big shows at the nearby Tobin Center, so check the schedule.

Our pick: Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, 4834 Whirlwind Drive, (210) 775-2099,

Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling was started by three beer-loving and business-minded dudes back in 2010. The company, which places admirable emphasis on sourcing local ingredients and championing local food that pairs well with its products, has steadily won us over with each new beer and (to a lesser extent, because this pick is about the brewery side of things) whisky. Among our favorites are the toasty and nutty Oatmeal Pale Ale, the heavy yet sharp Red Headed Stranger IPA, and the Mesquite Smoked Porter, which is as gnarly and full of flavor as every Texan’s favorite barbecuing wood. Ranger Creek, the only “brewstillery” in Texas, hosts tours on Saturdays from 2-4 p.m. and tasting hours Fridays and Saturdays from 5-9 p.m. In a move that, to be honest, really puts Ranger Creek over the top for us, the place is now also hosting a monthly brunch, the next installment of which will be on Sunday, April 30 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

OUR PICK: Chisme, 2403 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 530-4236,

Since opening last fall, Chisme’s gained a solid following. It could have something to do with its superb happy hour offerings or perhaps its delightful brunch, or we could point to the micheladas available for both of these time slots. Created by bar manager Esteban Medina who has been with the Empty Stomach Group since 2015, the michelada is citrusy without being too tart, spicy without destroying your sinuses and it’s a great value at $8 for 32 ounces. The restaurant goes through so much Modelo on draft, they land as No. 2 for the entire city when it comes to selling the imported brew. Though he won’t disclose his secret recipe, Medina pointed to the use of umami-filled ingredients in his balanced “michi” that’ll have you reaching for another. At $5 a pop during happy hour daily from 4 to 6 p.m. (and all night on Tuesdays), you can reach for another without breaking the bank.