WINNER: Sam's Burger Joint
330 E. Grayson St. • (210) 223-2830
Perhaps most well-known as the go-to Americana spot in San Antonio, Sam's Burger Joint is far more. The things these walls have seen. The instances of cultural advocacy, from conjunto forebears to rock 'n' roll icons, the evenings of drunken revelry — begging the gods, wine glass sloshing in hand, for an answer to the eternal, burning question "Hey baby, qué pasó?" The ever-rotating, often returning cast of blue-collar bands playing Monday through Sunday, grinding for a little piece of that sweet pie called regional success. Sam's is a haven for local legends and a springboard for those that hope to be. From its early days as a punk club, hosting some of the first Girl in a Coma gigs alongside the UK Subs, The Undead and other local, national and international notables, Sam's has provided San Antonio with one of the most sincere mid-level venues in the region. Clearly, y'all agree.
104 N. St. Mary's St. • (210) 812-4355
3. Paper Tiger
2410 N. St. Mary's St.
WINNER: La Gloria
100 E. Grayson St. • (210) 267-9040
Frozen or on the rocks? It's a question that has plagued indiscriminate margarita enthusiasts for decades. If you find yourself at La Gloria for happy hour craving one of the fresh Mexican cocktails, the correct answer is both. The popular restaurant at the Pearl might be best known for its south-of-the-border street eats, but, seriously, what are you supposed to wash all of chef Johnny Hernandez's tacos al pastor down with anyway? La Gloria's menu features three classic margaritas, all of which contain El Jimador Reposado tequila, Patrón Citrónge and lime juice: Margarita de la Casa (includes lime zest), Margarita La Gloria (includes blue Curaçao) and the Prickly Pear Margarita (includes prickly pear and lime zest). On a recent trip to the restaurant around noon, there were quite a few blue concoctions with salty rims getting tipped back by guests. We're not jealous or anything, but don't you people have jobs!?
3. La Fogata
2427 Vance Jackson Road • (210) 340-1337
WINNER: Top Golf
5539 North Loop 1604 W. • (210) 202-2694
Top Golf has taken the Alamo City by storm in only its second year of operation. The multi-level driving range/bar/restaurant/game room in far northwest San Antonio is nothing short of a blast. While non-golfers might shy away from trying their hand at driving a few balls at the range, the family-friendly venue erases any anxiety through a mix of helpful staff, fantastic eats and an enormous variety of drinks. There are three levels at Top Golf with 100-plus hitting bays for groups. Top Golf, however, brings a twist to the driving range with 11 targets between 20 and 240 yards. Each ball has a microchip that tracks accuracy and distance. To mix it up, there are also a number of games to challenge even the most experienced golfers.
126 W. Rector St., Suite 136 • (210) 286-6208
WINNER: The Ticket Sports Pub
420 E. Houston St. • (210) 222-9722
Who doesn't love to hang out with some friends, grab a few cold beers and watch Los Spurs put another beatdown on a hapless team and enjoy all of these in a cool place? A spot located smack dab in the heart of Downtown is the bar you're looking for. Occupying a prime space on the corner of Houston and Losoya, the Ticket Sports Pub has been a hit with fans for a long time. Devoted patrons can watch every NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB game and pretty much everything else on more than a dozen high-def TVs. Hungry? The Ticket's got pizza, wings, nachos and more ... whatever your sports belly is begging for. Thirsty? You can get shots such as Picklebacks, Purple Geckos, Irish Car Bombs or cocktails like the Roadrunner or the Red Rocket. Oh, yeah, and there's beer. Lots and lots of beer. The Ticket has a great atmosphere and is just a short saunter from the River Walk.
126 W. Rector St., Suite 136•(210) 286-6208
3. Twin Peaks
WINNER: Bobby Sanchez (Liberty Bar)
1111 S. Alamo St. • (210) 227-1187
Eight years ago in his hometown of Laredo, Bobby Sanchez boasted to a bar owner that he could do a better job bartending than anyone working there. Although he was bluffing, he learned quickly and has never looked back. Since moving to San Antonio in 2010 and landing a job at Liberty Bar, Sanchez has beefed up his knowledge of spirits, wine and beer while building a faithful following of Southtown barflies. Inspired in part by San Antonio's expanding cocktail culture, Sanchez worked with manager Katie McKee to create a cocktail program featuring drinks that are intentionally approachable and easily produced. Now three years old, the program includes original concoctions and takes on classics (the potent Pepe's Last Word combines Centinela Añejo Tequila, Génépy des Alpes Luxardo Maraschino Liquer, fresh serrano pepper and lime). If you've yet to see Sanchez in action, hit him up during one of LB's two daily happy hours (5-7 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight), when well drinks, drafts (all local brews) and house wines are all $2 off.
1402 N. Main Ave.
2720 McCullough Ave. • (210) 320-2261
WINNER: The Brooklynite
516 Brooklyn Ave. • (210) 444-0707
The Brooklynite (or BKSA) was one of the city's first truly crafty craft bars, and it would be easy for them to rest on their obscure herbal bitters and arcane boozes. Not so. Though the staff behind the bar may change (stalwart Rob Gourlay has just moved on to one of founder Jeret Peña's newest ventures, Rumble on St. Mary's), the drinks are ever-inventive. Many of them are named by Stephan Mendez, who holds out at another Peña enterprise, The Last Word, but don't consider them simply clever. Mezcalculated consists of a beautiful blend of, yes, mezcal, rum, baked apple bitters and honey; Cross My Heart and Hope for Rye takes spicy rye and smoky mezcal and pairs them with a house pecan cordial, sweet vermouth and another specialty bitters; and Pearl Snaps and Beard Oil starts with reposado tequila and a rinse of potent Douglas Fir liqueur. Tiki Tuesday is about to get reinvigorated with a menu that concentrates on traditional tiki and today's take on it. Put on a sassy floral shirt and sashay on down.
102 9th St., Suite 400 • (210) 340-9880
219 E. Houston St. • (210) 472-2600
102 9th St., Suite 400 • (210) 340-9880
Mistress, lover, sideboo. Paramour might hearken thoughts of illicit affairs, but San Antonio has decidedly made its latest rooftop bar its main squeeze. Housed on the fourth floor of The Phipps and loftily sitting atop several attorney law offices, Paramour took long enough to open (something like 10 months since it was first announced), but the wait was more than worth it. It's not all in the bougie view, sprawling patio and plush seating, sharply dressed bartenders (most of which you'll recognize from Bohanan's and other area cocktail bars), wino's wet dream wine list or the exquisite people-watching (seriously, who GOES here?), either. The cocktails, created by a handful of managers and all bearing cheeky monikers such as the Insignificant Other, Forever Single or No New Friends, are the perfect accessory for rooftop sipping. Cuddle up to your paramour on one of the neon leather couches, sip a barrel-aged offering (all aged at least a year) and toast to SA's Best Cocktail Bar of 2016.
155 E. Commerce St. • (210) 222-2521
516 Brooklyn Ave. • (210) 444-0707
WINNER: Texas T Pub
121 Broadway • (210) 271-1058
OK, so, maybe, occasionally, while draining a tallboy or tossing back a tequila shot you might get a little whiff of poo. If that's a problem for you ... don't let the door hit ya on your way out of the lime-piss-green bar on Broadway. Positioned next to a haberdashery (that's distinguished) and just down the street from its sister-in-squalor, the Traveler's Hotel, the Texas T Pub has cheap drinks, a big-screen TV, a digital one-armed bandit, peanuts and chips, pool tables and an internet jukebox. What more do you want from a local dive? Unfortunately, the $30-a-night Traveler's Hotel was recently purchased and will soon be "upgraded" to a luxury hotel, so what better way to say goodbye to the infamous flophouse that you most likely never stayed in (and say hello to Downtown gentrification) than lamenting its departure with some seriously economical drinks and a friendly bar staff ... at 9 a.m.?
2417 N. St. Mary's St. • (210) 733-9573
621 E. Dewey Pl.
WINNER: Francis Bogside
803 S. St. Mary's St., (210) 988-3093
Since opening last September, the Steve Mahoney-produced joint has won hearts over not just within our ranks, but across the city's core with its varied and inventive menu. And don't you dare call it grub. Sure, you'll find the cheesy Bogside Burger ($10) for those serious appetites, but that's where the usual bar snacks come to a grinding halt. Where else can you find scratch-made a fried chicken sandwich, steak sandwich, green curry and lustful poutine to go with your Guinness or Irish Old Fashivoned? But the kitchen (which pulls double duty as Brigid, Francis' fine dining sister restaurant) likes to play it fast and loose with a globe-trotting menu. Nosh on cabrito one day, crawfish boil the next and Nawlins-inspired étouffée on the third day — you're likely to find a new favorite regardless of the time of day. At Franky Bogs, the food comes dangerously close to surpassing the cocktail program for best reason to visit.
When it comes to their happy hour offerings, Francis Bogside throws caution to the wind with specials all day Monday, and Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. with $1 wells, drafts, domestic bottles and $4 Jameson shots. The deals get even sweeter from 10 pm. to 2 a.m. with $5 classics.