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've already highlighted the best craft beer bars in downtown San Antonio. Now, we turn our attention to where to drink in Alamo City's northern neighborhoods.
There are the 32 taps at 502 Bar, most representing some of the best from microbreweries around the nation. The place also is known as a music venue, and those who come for the music have quickly made it a regular destination for beer and friendly staff.
Big Hops — Bitters
At its first location, San Antonio’s original growler station/beer bar introduced many people to craft beer in the northern part of Alamo Heights and neighborhoods along Loop 410 near the airport. In Big Hops’ relocation to Bitters Road and U.S. Highway 281, they have kept many of their old patrons and made new friends just north of the airport with an ever-changing tap selection and even more space than before.
The Growler Exchange
There was a built-in clientele for the Growler Exchange when it opened its doors in the shell of the original Big Hops on Broadway in early 2016. The place has a cozy feeling and well-curated tap list that represents Texas breweries well, but it's a little light on the local.
The Brass Tap
The Brass Tap may be a chain concept, but with local ownership and management that knows the beer scene, the location at The Rim at North Loop 1604 and Interstate 10 stands out from several other beer bar/restaurant chains in the vicinity. There is a heavy focus on offerings from local breweries among the 60 taps and numerous bottles and cans. Sours and the IPA category (particularly of the West Coast variety) also seem to be favorites. It can get loud, but on nice nights, the shaded patio seating area helps spread things out a bit.
The Hoppy Monk
In El Paso, The Hoppy Monk saved civilization, or at least some sort of beer culture, in that border city. They have now ventured into San Antonio at the major intersection of North Loop 1604 and U.S. Highway 281 and bring a much-needed sophistication to the beer bar scene in that part of town. The tap list of 44 is choosy, with something for every taste. Wine, cocktails, cigars, and a gastropub menu round out the experience. An outdoor patio suffers from too much pavement to reflect heat in the summer, but the tables are shaded.
Big Hops Huebner
This location is in a shopping center surrounded by more shopping centers, but it is on a well-traveled route between work and home for many. The interior is inviting, with a long bar and picnic tables from which to quaff the rotating 30 taps. It also has become a favorite spot for showdowns between local beer brands and tap takeovers. No food trucks here, but Big Hops Huebner is surrounded by restaurants that will serve it up to go.
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium
When Dallas-based Flying Saucer opened its San Antonio location 15 years ago, the city had little exposure to craft beer. The well-lit beer hall, comfortable patio under the shade of large Live Oak trees, and hundreds of beers have been influential in the making of a beer scene for the city. Most professional brewers, brewery owners, and beer bar owners in San Antonio spent some of their “research” time pondering the nature of great beer while sampling from among the 75 taps and nearly 200 bottles.
Hills & Dales Ice House
For nearly 50 years, Hills & Dales has been the "Center of the Universe," or at least that’s what the sign proclaims. For craft beer drinkers that certainly was once quite true. About 25 years ago, most of the selection on the 54 taps was imports, domestics, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Shiner Bock. Over time, the beer got fancier, although the plastic cups and the patron mix of leather-vested bikers, college students, business people, and thirsty blue collar workers stayed the same. The locale across from the main campus of the University of Texas at San Antonio was bought by the owners of Southtown’s Friendly Spot and revamped just enough to spiff things up (including the draft system and bottle coolers) without losing its ice house cachet.
The Point Park & Eats
In 2012, this mostly outdoor craft beer garden set up shop under the shade of trees on the edge of the Texas Hill Country in Leon Springs just off Interstate 10. Taps and cans are offered onsite while five or more food trucks set up shop around the inviting space. A playground rounds out the experience for those with kids.