In the last decade, the San Antonio "beer bar" has gone from cheap icehouses to mega-tap chains and back again. While chains are still coming in, local establishments are making their way into the neighborhoods of San Antonio for thirsty residents to enjoy a curated selection.
Some beer bars offer rotating local taps, Texas standouts, imports, and perhaps even a few rare "whales," but the best finds are rooted in the traditional San Antonio icehouse experience, where $8 snifters of bourbon barrel-aged doppelbocks share the table with cheap Lone Star tallboys at weathered picnic tables or kicked back in a creaky metal chair.
We focused in on the best central spots that are bringing the Alamo City a little closer to beer nirvana. Here is a sampling of 11 beer bar standouts in and around downtown San Antonio.
Big Hops — The Bridge
Big Hops Growler Station opened its third location in an Austin Street building once occupied by another beer bar that was perhaps a little before its time. But once Alamo Beer opened its new brewery and biergarten on the east side of downtown, the area around the restored, historic Hays Street Bridge became a magnet for thirsty newbies. Big Hops is one such place where intrepid beer hunters can enjoy a craft pint or fill up a growler to-go.
Burleson Yard Beer Garden
When it opened in March, Burleson Yard became the latest entry to the burgeoning nightlife scene on the Near East Side. The massive outdoor space, with some interior refuge, has an eclectic tap selection that includes local beers. Depending on the evening, the atmosphere can be tranquil (except for when trains come and go from the adjacent rail yard) or boisterous with food trucks, music, and vendors selling wares.
Much has been said about The Cove since its early days as a place for good fish tacos, lamb burgers, and a nice bottled beer selection. But even after being featured on the Food Network for its sustainable eats, The Cove's beer has been playing more of a leading role. Besides the original indoor bar, the addition of the outdoor Texas Bar featuring 50 taps of in-state beer has made the sprawling beer garden even more popular.
Tucked away in a Tobin Hill neighborhood just off North Saint Mary's Street is a tribute to beer, wings, and friends. The ever-changing taps often feature rare offerings and wing creations bringing the sweet, the heat, or both to make surprisingly good pairings.
Filling Station Tap Room
There are a growing number of beer-centric joints in Southtown, but this one can boast being the smallest at 300 square feet. The former gas station is still pumping out big and bold beers to patrons in the six-seat indoor space and an always laid-back outdoor patio.
The Friendly Spot
Although it wasn't the first beer bar in Southtown, The Friendly Spot is the place that inspired many more in the area and across the city. The gravel and dust beer garden is expansive. Up front is a rotating array of taps and tons of bottled beers, while the newer back bar has 50 taps. A fenced-in playground onsite makes this a popular place for families.
This spot on the ground floor of an apartment complex was the first to bring the growler concept to the hopping Lower Broadway area. The staff does a good job of featuring a mix of new beers, with plenty of seasonally appropriate and session beers on hand. A refreshingly affordable gourmet sandwich shop was recently added, and the patio is the perfect place to unwind and be glad you're not in traffic on the freeway that swoops overhead.
Repurposed shipping containers house the bar and kitchen for The Luxury, a laid-back beer and eats concept from notable chef and serial entrepreneur Andrew Weissman. After a two-month remodeling in early 2016, the number of drafts, bottles, and cans total more than 150, and the addition of more shade and swings overlooking the San Antonio River make it a better place to chill.
Just off Broadway Street on the edge of Mahncke Park is one of the newest additions to the beer garden scene. The tap, bottle, and can selection isn't huge — about 35 in all — but it is mostly populated with local, regional, and Texas beers. It is hard to resist drinking a good beer at a place that always smells like barbecue thanks to the pit serving up nachos, tacos, burgers, and grilled cheese that all star brisket.
Stella Public House
Located in the thriving Blue Star Complex in Southtown, just two doors down from the oldest surviving Texas brewpub, Blue Star Brewing Co., Stella Public House brings casual and fancy together. Taps rotate frequently and a bottle program offers some rare quaffs, while beer cocktails provide a twist to the usual beer-bar selections. Notable is The Beer's Knees, made with wheat beer and locally made Kinsman apricot rakia from Dorcol Distilling. Artisanal pizza and other gastropub items make it popular for parties that need both beer and food.
This popular gathering brings local artists, musicians, and poets together with 90 beers and a view of the San Antonio River. The storied past dates back to 1965, until the 2005 murder of the owner and an employee closed it. New owners brought joy — and food options — back to Viva Tacoland, even as the Pearl entertainment district grew up around it.
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