WINNER: The Bang Bang Bar
119 El Mio Drive • (210) 320-1187
In this day and age, it says a lot about an establishment when they don't claim to want to "revolutionize the city's nightlife experience" or be an exclusive, VIP-only lounge, catering to Spurs, their wives and their sides. As San Antonio continues to grow and evolve, it seems important to the city, as it should, that we grow "the right way." Now, what could possibly be the right way? That's subjective, of course, but we tend to lean toward the image of a bar or venue that pulls from the strengths of the city, the culture and beauty that is already here, rather than become part of the "gentrifical force" that is sweeping through the "realest" neighborhoods in the United States. The Bang Bang Bar never imported their fine antiquities, from the TV frames holding the liquor behind the bar — collected from locals — to the records spanning the bartop — given by the owners' mothers — and the crushed red velvet loveseats, antique coffee tables and skee-ball machine, yes, skee-ball machine, all collected via Craigslist browsing and/or local dealers. With a daily six-hour-long happy hour in which only oldies are played, you're not exactly begging for the trendiest "tastemakers" to barrage your spot, bedazzled selfie sticks in hand. The three owners, Jenn Alva, Jamie Hoppe and Phanie Diaz, want a San Antonio bar that caters to San Antonians, spares you the omnipresent Top 40 tripe and is a welcoming and inclusive place for anyone who wants a taste of proud, honest, sincere San Antonio.
WINNER: The PigPen
106 Pershing Ave., (210) 267-9136
Leave it to the guy behind the Smoke Shack's Big Dog, which combines a link of sausage, brisket, pulled pork and two barbecue sauces all topped with vinegar slaw and enveloped in a fresh hoagie, to create our new favorite michelada. Unlike micheladas around town that load up on tomato juice, Worcestershire, black pepper or a combination of all three, The Pig Pen's iteration, created by owner Chris Conger, is an exercise in restraint. Though we're not ones to ask for secret recipes, The Pig Pen's michelada mix ( also used for their bloody marys) delicately combines tomato juice, a hint of Worcestershire and a hint of pickle or olive juice or both as paired with either a Modelo Especial or Corona Extra. It doesn't stop there. This michelada comes topped with a slice of Smoke Shack's house brisket — the bar goes through half a pound on weekdays, and several pounds worth on weekends — which adds a layer of umami and smoke you didn't know you needed.
WINNER: Liberty Bar
1111 S. Alamo St. - (210) 227-1187
Whether it's the airy setting, unpretentious vibe or ironic allure of recuperating (and/or retoxing) in a former convent, Southtown favorite Liberty Bar proves an ideal destination to comb through the hair of the dog that bit you. During its bustling brunch (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday), the salmon-colored melting pot adds chilaquiles norteños and other eggy concoctions to its menu of "serious food" — which includes both straightforward American fare, pizza, pasta and dishes inspired by classic Mexican recipes. Pulling in an additional win in our readers' poll, Liberty's perfectly spiced bloody marys (crafted with a house-made mix) have been known to assist in the recovery process. Scratch-made desserts like coconut custard and Virginia Green's famous chocolate cake only sweeten the deal.
PLACE TO NURSE A HANGOVER
2. Theory Coffee
2347 Nacogdoches Road • (512) 507-3025
126 W. Rector St., Suite 136 •(210) 286-6208
155 E. Commerce St. • (210) 222-2521
3. The Pig Pen
106 Pershing Ave. • (210) 267-9136
136 E. Grayson St. • (210) 448-8300
We know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but it's hard not to fall for Sternewirth's dazzle the minute you step into the space. Cloaked in Hotel Emma's signature scent and filled with supple leather couches and a collection of artwork and tchotchkes from yesteryear, Sternewirth (named for free workday beer San Antonio Brewing Company employees were allowed during their shift, or "the Sternewirth Privilege") sets the stage for high-class wind downs. The interiors, designed by Roman and Williams, a Manhattan-based firm, serve as the bucolic setting for bartenders in uniform chef's coats and dark jeans and cocktails the likes of The Three Emmas, a gin-based, booze-fueled drink based on an even juicier story of Otto Koehler, three, well, Emmas, illicit affairs and (cue the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit bong here) murder. The bar's opening menu was a hit with regulars, but expect a new rum-filled menu to land within the next few weeks. And don't make this a weekend hang either; you'll want to enjoy Sternewirth's every nook and cubby (the metal fermentation tanks that are now filled with cozy seating and innumerable throw pillows) on weekday afternoons when the relative calm of the boutique hotel and a cold cocktail in hand can help you soak in Emma's rich history.