Every Texas city has its cast of beloved bars, but Alamo City’s best watering holes just hit different. Maybe it’s because bartenders remember guests’ drink orders, even if they’re not regulars. Perhaps it’s the Spurs games playing at even the fanciest spots. Or maybe it’s just that someone in the crowd is always up for a shot.
There are more than a few drinking traditions in this city with more than 300 years under its belt. And each of our CultureMap Tastemakers Awards Bar of the Year nominees for 2022 knows them well. They prove that a bar isn’t just about mixing a well-balanced drink but also creating a well-balanced community.
Read about them below, and make sure you tip them well. Then, join us on April 26 at The Espee for the Tastemaker Awards, when we will announce the winner in this category and more. Tickets to the fabulous tasting event and awards ceremony are on sale now at Early Bird pricing.
With craft cocktails now being slung from New York City to Waco, finding an expertly built drink is no longer rare, but it is exceedingly unusual to find a bar with a sense of place. With this Southtown hot spot, industry veterans Aaron Peña (Squeezebox) and Brian Correa (Bar America) relish in all the particulars of puro San Antonio culture. The daiquiris are made for slamming, the oldies are made for swooning, and the vibe is made for celebrating that there’s nothing like being home.
There’s a reason barkeeps keep returning to the heady days around Prohibition. It was a time when cocktails had nuance before being assaulted with a riot of technicolor booze. Drink like a grownup at this Blue Star Arts Complex speakeasy where original creations hold up to the tried-and-true concoctions of yore. And bask in the soigné atmosphere — a reminder that imbibing used to be a more elegant experience.
An excellent restaurant in its own right — with a James Beard Award-nominated chef at the helm — this Southtown eatery never forgets the “bar” part of its name. The cocktail menu impresses with sections for artfully crafted Manhattans, innovative mules, and curated classics. A bar could easily take itself too seriously with all that rigorous mixology. Still, Bar Loretta never forgets that drinking should be fun. Check out the Buc-ee’s cocktails with goofy (but tasty) experiments like a Sazerac made with Big Red bitters and a mezcal sipper fat-washed with beef jerky.
Sometimes a bar’s environment upstages the drinks. At this River Walk tiki bar, hanging lanterns sway in a mysterious breeze while skulls menace the entrance. There’s even a working waterfall for easing tropical malaise. Still, Hugman’s bells and whistles never overwhelm what’s in the mug. Each cocktail can only be described as paradise, from pitch-perfect Painkillers to the tiki-in-the-desert Oaxacan Dead.
Fancy a martini that would make James Bond lose his cool? Or a hot toddy fit for a mountain chalet? The bartenders at this Government Hill standby can make almost any tipple, each tailored to guests’ preference for sweet, sour, or bitter. Drinking here is like being invited to the swankiest of midcentury soirees — only you won’t have to suffer through any Jello molds.
Rock and Rye
Craft cocktail choices can be slim the closer one gets to La Cantera. But Bar 1919 proprietor Don Marsh thankfully is busting the paradigm. Opened in the Rim shopping center in early 2021, Rock and Rye provides the area with a better way to drink. From its gentlemanly assortment of whiskies and Scotch to hefty lists of amari, absinthes, and cordials, the spirits here cater to the most refined palate. Northern San Antonians may never have to suffer through a too-sweet margarita again.
Three Star Bar
Break out a threadbare concert T-shirt and dust off those corduroy OP shorts. With touches like wood paneling, faux Tiffany lamps, and comfy barstools, Jeret Peña’s Government Hill upstart caters to the most rad of dads — or at least the dad in all of us. Like its spiritual predecessor Stay Golden, Three Star has easy conviviality at its core. One doesn’t have to grow a mullet to enjoy tequila with a Tecate chaser.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That seemed to be Andy Palacios’ mantra when he took the keys to this downtown spot. After all, under previous owner Tony Lopez, it was everything a good dive bar should be — welcoming, unassuming, and cheap. Sure, Palacios added an Instagrammable neon sign, washed the walls with fresh paint, and created a contemporary cocktail menu. Yes, reggaeton or hip-hop is as likely to be heard as the “Tejano, merengue, oldies, and country” advertised on the sign. But the deft team has ensured that this new take on a classic remains a neighborhood institution.