A few weeks ago, at a hard-hat preview of Jazz, TX
, Brent “Doc” Watkins, looking all of 18 (OK, maybe 21), explained his vision for the basement venue beneath the reconstructed Pearl Bottling Department. “Locavore” music, he called it, with bands from within a 100-mile radius balanced with some “carefully curated” modern jazz. (San Antonio’s taste for the hard stuff apparently has yet to be tested.) Bigger names might be brought in later, he explained (Lyle Lovett was bandied about), there would be an early happy hour with no cover, and the real action would start around 8:30.
As a jazz chaser, there would of course be booze. Conceived by general manager and veteran bar whisperer Jake Corney, and carried out by head ‘tender Derik Cortez, the drinks menu would be composed of user-friendly classic cocktails — drinks that wouldn’t have to be explained in competition with the music.
The approach to the food was similar: lots of San Antonio but with a twist that included brisket and foie gras tacos, buckets of quail and “an awesome pickle program,” according the chef Lorenzo Morales, who, working out of a very small kitchen, was being careful to offer plates not available elsewhere at Pearl. Cured was mentioned.
Come soft-opening Saturday, the space we had seen in skeleton form was fully fitted out. The reclaimed long leaf pine floors were ready to begin the boot burnishing that Texas dance halls acquire over time, the Hill Country wallpaper backdrop to the bandstand exerted its nostalgic pull, the recycled wooden bar top, some holes plugged with shell casings, was already covered with drinks … and “Doc” himself, dark-suited and black-booted, emerged as the fully mature keyboardist, crooner, bandleader and more that he is. He and his tightly-tuned band of 10 kicked off the evening with a lively rendition of the Bob Wills classic, “My Home in San Antone,” setting the tone for the kind of music and professionalism we can expect. Willie, watch out.
A limited menu of four drinks were being served, and it was naturally my obligation to try them all. From a sturdy Old Fashioned served over a single, glorious cube, to an ethereal martini made with fennel-infused gin, each was better than the next. The bar program has hit the ground running. The kitchen has a little catching up to do, due to problems in both conception and execution with plates such as a tough flatiron steak, some deconstructed chilaquiles with a fried egg, and those tacos with a Serrano slaw obliterating any trace of foie. Give them time. Clamor for pickles.
And in the meantime, join the crowd that on this night ranged from slit-skirted sirens to clean-jeaned gentlemen. Sing along, discretely, to “Just in Time.” And start burnishing that floor.
Tickets ($50) for Jazz, TX's opening week (August 23-27) are available at jazztx.com.