Though it's easy to quaff a decent cocktail almost anywhere in Texas, San Antonio's watering holes offer a little something special. Maybe it's the friendliness of the patrons trading rounds with complete strangers. Maybe it's the prescience of the bartenders who know hundreds of regulars' orders. That generosity of spirit is found at almost every spot in town.
But the best of the best mix in something extra — inventive flavor profiles, enveloping atmosphere, and an "it" factor that is hard to define. But we know it when we drink it — we've seen it in all the nominees CultureMap Tastemaker Award for Bar of the Year perhaps too many times.
So, we salute the unassuming dive bars, the swanky lounges, and happy hour haunts. Alamo City wouldn't be half as fun without them. Join us in raising a glass to our finalists below, then pop a cork as we name the winner at the Jack Guenther Pavilion at the Briscoe Museum on May 18. Buy tickets now before they sell out.
It's there in the name. This Southtown lounge delivers everlasting romance courtesy of velvet curtains, fuchsia lighting, and orchids languishing on the edge of coupes. The atmosphere gets a little steamier after a couple Bella Noche shots. Suddenly, disco thumps through the speakers, inamoratos file in, and the back booth becomes the most inviting spot in Alamo City.
At many upscale restaurants, the cocktail menu is an afterthought. List a serviceable Old Fashioned, add a martini, and call it a day. Not so at this endearing Southtown spot. Though guests can certainly swan with a Gatsby-era Mint Julep, the originals really bring the fireworks. A Lucinda Williams homage, Junebug vs. Hurricane, balances strawberries with Peychaud's bitters. Mariachi Static burns the house down with a dash (or three) of hot sauce.
The three-martini lunch may be a thing of the past, but still, the Éilan Hotel's resident bar knows how to get down to business. Leather banquettes and hunter-green wainscoting set the scene for some hard bargaining of what patrons will order next. Heady tipples like George's signature mix of VSOP Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon keep the deals flowing, even if they are just on Ameritrade.
Hotel Havana - Havana Bar and Ocho
This artfully designed downtown property knows a thing or two about chiaroscuro. The darkness comes from the dimly lit basement at Havana Bar, where peccadillos slink into the shadows. Blazing light illuminates Ocho upstairs, refracted through the turquoise accented panes of a glass conservatory. All revelers have to do is follow their mood.
In a tequila-obsessed town, this East Side hideaway has made a name by focusing on rum. Former Modernist owners Gerry Shirley and Olaf Harmel stir up a vacation's worth of concoctions, from tiki classics like Mai Tais to Brazilian bombshells like Caipirinhas. Steal the tropically wallpapered booth if you can get it. Rum was meant for languor.
Don't be surprised if you see the occasional cat slumbering at this louche East Side bar. Felines know a thing or two about posh surrounds. Guests will purr just as loudly over co-owner Benjamin Krick's sly barcraft. The back bar is an apothecary stocked with hard-to-find European spirits, cordials, and fortified wines — all used in some of the most unexpected cocktails in the city.
The Moon's Daughters
Perched atop the glittering Thompson Hotel, this rooftop lounge is usually recommended for the breathtaking downtown view. The interior offers just as much scenery. San Antonio's see-and-be-seen set sprawl on the luxe furniture, sipping CBD-infused cocktails and nibbling Mediterranean bites. The hospitality program isn't all just for show, of course, but it never hurts to gild the lily.
Three Star Bar
As much fun as it is to clink Baccarat, most days, we'd rather crush cans. For a weekday drink, it's hard to beat the wood-paneled slump of a neighborhood bar. This Grayson Street dive lets guests loosen their belts over craft beers and shots. The new ownership — Los Angeles-based Pouring With Heart — tinkered a bit with the drink menu but kept the meat and potatoes.