City Guide: Essential San Antonio bars & venues for 2011

The Aquifer

Although it’s less than a year old, Aquifer has already established itself as Stone Oak’s hip, upscale hotspot. DJ Koma, DJ Silver, and Josh Stone are regulars on the decks, and VIP bottle service caters to those who crave downtown ambience on the Northside. The line for Party Rock Saturdays forms earlier every week, but you better be dressed to the nines — Aquifer is a place to see and be seen. 19178 Blanco Rd, Ste. 201, (210) 455-0048,

Backstage Live

An urban outpost on the east side of downtown, Backstage Live has become a destination for mid-level national touring acts and notable local gigs. Expect them to be open on show nights only, but don’t forget to check the online calendar for upcoming acts. NOFX nearly sold out the 800-plus warehouse-style venue in January, and we predict the same for hot shows like Lords of Acid (March 20). 1305 E Houston, (210) 698-2856,

Beethoven Maennerchor Halle und Garten

Each year, this King William area halle und garten hosts a series of outdoor Gartenkonzerts and festivals (starting with Fiesta Gartenfest and ending with Oktoberfest). But Tuesday through Saturday year-round, the stately Club House of “one of the oldest German singing societies in Texas” graciously serves beer and wine to non-members. In the warmer months, expect anything from choral practice to indie-rock to soundtrack your Spaten/Bitburger/Hefeweizen guzzling experience in the unofficial Lodge of Southtown. 422 Pereida, (210) 222-1521,

Bermuda Triangle

Even though they don’t serve food, the gals at Bermuda Triangle launched a campaign to win Best Puffy Tacos in our Best of SA readers’ poll a few years back. And they claim no responsibility for “lost or stolen lovers.” These are but two of the reasons we love the perennial Best Lesbian Bar in SA. A few things to consider (regardless of orientation): On weekend nights (and especially during their steamy foam parties) women move through the line more quickly than men, and owner Jill Gapinski can spot a “ guy-creep” from a mile away. 10127 Coachlight, (210) 342-2276,


A new Southside beer-and-art bar inspired in part by the new Mission Reach hike-and-bike trail, Boneshakers hosts local music showcases and draws a crowd of laid-back regulars. Flats fixed on site (sometimes as late as 2 a.m.), live jazz on Mondays, hoppin’ DJ parties, singer-songwriter nights, and occasional surprise eats are but a few things that make this place one of our favorite destinations. 116 W Mitchell,

Carmen’s de la Calle Café

Named after three Carmens of stage and screen (singer/actress/traveling fruit stand Carmen Miranda, Bizet’s 19th-century gypsy Carmen, and Carmen Jones, a seductive parachute maker with the nickname “heatwave”), this hidden gem just off the St. Mary’s Strip packs a truly bohemian punch. Expect cozy atmosphere, excellent sangria, killer tapas, and a global mélange of live music you won’t find anywhere else in town: acoustic singer/songwriters on Wednesdays, straight up jazz on Thursdays, flamenco on Fridays, and world music on Saturdays. 720 E Mistletoe, (210) 737-8272,

The Cove

Laundromat, beer garden, restaurant, live music venue, car wash, and perennial Best of SA favorite, the Cove features everything from raucous rock to blazing bluegrass to barroom tearjerkers. Where else can you listen to music, drink a beer, eat super-fresh, organic fare (try the Cove’s famous fish tacos), and wash your clothes at the same time? Celebrity-approved: While filming his Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives at the Cove, Guy Fieri inhaled the “best lamb burger” he’d ever eaten. 606 W Cypress, (210) 227-2683,

The Green Lantern

Just last year, this modern day speakeasy landed on The New York Times’ short list of places not to miss in its travel feature “36 Hours in San Antonio.” With no sign and a walk-down entrance, the Green Lantern charms with dimly lit, Capone-era appeal and meticulously crafted, classic libations like Between the Sheets and Sazeracs. 20626 Stone Oak Pkwy, (210) 497-3722

Gruene Hall

Built in 1871, Gruene Hall is billed as the “oldest continuously run dance hall in Texas.” What was a ghost town in the ’50s is now a thriving (and remarkably still charming) tourist destination on the banks of the Guadalupe, with Gruene Hall as its undisputed anchor. Live music seven days a week — with no shortage of free shows — may sound like a tall order. But as a birthplace of sorts for such greats as Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, and Robert Earl Keen, playing Gruene Hall is a rite of passage for many of Americana’s rising stars. 1281 Gruene Rd, New Braunfels, (830) 606-1281,

IVY Rooftop

SA’s first hotel-style rooftop lounge turned a year old in December 2010 — it’s an official must-see for partiers under 30. You might have to wait in line on a Friday or Saturday night, but weeknights are less of a cattle call. Thursday specials ($1 domestics, $2 wells) are a steal. Consider arriving early for an outdoor weekend cocktail; if it feels like a good fit, you’ll be in position for a rotating cast of DJs and people watching of the ego-fueled variety. Luxe outdoor furnishings give IVY a slick South Beach vibe, while drink prices fortunately remain within this time zone. Bottle service available. 4553 N Loop 1604 W, (210) 393-0511

Jack’s Bar

A move last year hasn’t slowed Jack’s down one bit. Expect to see music lovers of all ages drawn in by Jack’s laid-back appeal, no-nonsense cocktails, and live performances by quality local acts like Girl in a Coma, Pop Pistol, and Blowing Trees. Doubling as a neighborhood bar, there’s always a no-cover option on the venue’s flipside: Monday karaoke and Tuesday Pint Night help drown your sorrows. 3030 Thousand Oaks, (210) 494-2309,

John T. Floore’s Country Store

Since opening its doors in 1946, John T. Floore’s Country Store has attracted some of the biggest names in the biz: Elvis, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Little Richard, and Bob Dylan have all played this “Texcentric” honky tonk. Although Willie Nelson no longer has time to play Floore’s every Saturday night (as the vintage signs suggest), a steady stream of local and touring Americana, blues, country, and rock acts do. And as for the drive to the edge of the Texas Hill Country, you’ll think nothing of it once you’re sipping a cold one in one of the most storied venues in Texas. 14492 Old Bandera, Helotes, (210) 695-8827,


Located just outside Helotes off Bandera Road (yes, it’s farther out than Floore’s — designated driver recommended), Josabi’s offers two full-service bars, a large patio, and an outdoor stage. The indoor bar is a neighborhood establishment during the week, but a stop by Ghostland Observatory proved that Josabi’s aims high in regards to booking. A hearty buzz already surrounds upcoming dates for Interpol (April 22) and Minus The Bear (June 4). 17200 Hwy 16 N, Helotes, (210) 372-9100,

The Korova

A gritty new addition to SA’s evolving River Walk scene, the former Ruta Maya is back from the dead with a hardcore case of the punks. High ceilings and lots of windows make Korova a prime spot for local work of the street-art variety, and scattered couches bolster the vibe. For a true taste of the underground scene, hang downstairs with your favorite droog — a DJ spinning vintage New Order caught our attention. High-octane live music attracts a mixed alternative crowd on certain nights, and shows like Genitorturers with Hanzel und Gretyl remind us that Korova is on top of their game. 107 E Martin, (210) 707-4521,

Limelight Music + Drinks

“Living in the Limelight” may not be the “universal dream” that Rush’s Geddy Lee claims it is, but it’s practically modus operandi for a lot of downtown scenesters. Themed DJ nights — like Limelight’s longest running dance party, Velcro Underground with Bartron and Smartypants — pack the place on weeknights ($2 wells and tallboys), and Fridays and Saturdays offer some of the best local and regional acts San Antonio can muster. Regulars have very little reason to branch out, so arrive early if you expect to snag one of the barstools. 2718 N St. Mary’s, (210) 735-7775,

Luna Fine Music Club

With everything from psychedelic jazz to R&B and neo-soul on its weekly live music schedule, Luna attracts a refreshingly mixed crowd for drinking and dancing in a sophisticated, smoke-free environment. Big enough to regularly host the Austin-based Latin funk ensemble Brownout!, but small enough to feel cozy and intimate, Luna is easily one of the chicest date-night destinations in SA. 6740 San Pedro, (210) 804-2433,

The Martini Club

You probably won’t happen upon this Vegas-worthy time capsule by accident, and that’s likely why it’s still one of SA’s best-kept secrets. Nestled in a strip mall in the shadow of North Star Mall, The Martini Club caters to a faithful crew of lounge lizards, karaoke aficionados, and regulars who put the all-day happy hour (from 2 p.m. Monday-Thursday) to the test. On Friday and Saturday nights, don’t be surprised to see owner Wayne Harper take the stage to perform charismatic covers of everything from Rat Pack standards to ’70s pop songs. 8507 McCullough, (210) 344-4747

Nightrocker Live

At times, this noisy, multi-purpose space spills out into the parking lot, where you might see the SA version of Sid and Nancy taking a breather on a leather sofa or a bit of “non-stop, high-flying midget mania,” courtesy of the Micro Wrestling Federation. With a creative approach to nightlife, Nightrocker does anything but bore with local and touring acts, comedy nights, film screenings, art openings in its Night Gallery, and reliable hangover food in its waking hours counterpart, Dayrocker Deli. 605 San Pedro, (210) 256-3573,

The Phoenix Saloon

This eclectic, forward-thinking music venue and chili parlor transcends time and place while staying true to the location’s unmistakably Texan history. Established in 1871, the Phoenix Saloon was reportedly the first bar in Texas to serve women — from a beer garden next to an alligator pit. With ungovernable music tendencies (outlaw country, rock, honky-tonk, blues, Americana, punk, Tex-Mex, etc.) and live shows nearly every night of the week, the Phoenix makes for a perfect pit stop or date night in old New Braunfels. 193 W San Antonio St, New Braunfels, (830) 643-1400,

The Reggae Bar

Cold cheap beer, Jamaican music videos, and beachy atmosphere create an invitingly casual oasis on an impersonal strip of Austin Highway. As host to 2010’s San Antonio Reggae Fest, the Reggae Bar imported such top-notch acts as Capleton, Romain Virgo, and Kulcha Knox for four days of island-style revelry. Weekly DJs, good vibes, and surprises like free Jamaican food on the patio make the Reggae Bar one of our favorite places to sneak a late-afternoon Red Stripe. 2016 Austin Hwy, (210)

Saluté International Bar

With a pink exterior and neon lights, Saluté — without a doubt the most storied and charming time capsule on the St. Mary’s Strip — beckons. While its impeccably dressed patron saint, Esteban “Steve” Jordan (aka “El Parche” as well as “The Jimi Hendrix of the accordion”) rests in peace, the music venue he helped make famous bravely marches on. DJ Plata’s BYOV is back on the decks; come armed with your own vinyl and he’ll spin it on Thursdays. Regulars like The Spiders Jazz Ensemble, Snowbyrd, and Los #3 Dinners round out the schedule. 2801 N St. Mary’s, (210) 732-5307

Sam’s Burger Joint

Week after week, Sam’s packs in an honest crowd of music-lovers for swing (learn new moves from the San Antonio Swing Dance Society every Monday at 7 p.m.), blues (the San Antonio Blues Society practically lives there), and a little bit of everything else. Whether they’re hosting an intimate seated show or throwing a raucous CD release party, Sam’s compliments SA’s live music scene with a top-notch sound system and an unpretentious vibe. 330 E Grayson, (210) 223-2830,

San Antone Café & Concerts

Fortunately, not much has changed since Casbeers at the Church changed its name to San Antone Café & Concerts early this year. The famous enchiladas are still on the menu — even during the monthly Gospel Brunch with Miss Neesie and the Easy Lutherans (aka the Ear Food Orchestra). But for a truly religious experience, head upstairs to the church, where a beer-guzzling congregation gets treated to live blues, jazz, folk, rock, and Americana in Southtown’s finest listening room. 1150 S Alamo, (210) 271-7791,

Sparky’s Pub

Ye olde tyme Gayrish pub your uncle warned you about has finally materialized, replete with historic community photos, cocktails served in pint glasses ($2 till 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday), danceable, non-stop music videos, and a snazzy back patio “straight” out of West Hollywood. Designed by Main Strip makeover team Randy Cunniff and Peter Becker, Sparky’s is sparkling clean, smoke-free, and the straight-friendliest gay bar in town. 1416 N Main, (210) 320-5111,

The Ten Eleven

This all-ages venue usually hosts shows of the various fist-swinging varieties: hardcore, punk, and other assorted noisemakers. But it’s also well equipped to host national touring acts like the Thermals, Awesome Color, and Japanther. Uber cheap beer complements the cozy shoebox’s vibe (you can escape the sweat fumes on the back porch), but we never balk at the reasonable cover — these guys support local musicians more than we do. 1011 Avenue B, (210) 320-9080,

White Rabbit

The Jefferson Airplane song of the same name might fool you into thinking this place is a hippie joint, but usually what you’ll find waiting down this rabbit hole is a big old-fashioned mosh pit. Bands compete on the main and backroom stages to see whose music is louder and most violent, so odds are you won’t even hear what that damn doormouse said, but the pizza shop next door is a viable option should all the shoving give you an urge to feed your head. 2410 N St. Mary’s, (210) 737-2221,

Read more from our 2011 City Guide here.