Raise a Glass
Best new bars in San Antonio: Sizzling spots to check out right now
Cocktail culture in San Antonio continues the sustained shake and stir that was kick-started at Bohanan’s by debut consultant, the late Sasha Petraske. Veterans of that venture have gone on to manage and own new establishments, and they have been joined in city-wide expansion by long-time bar operators and freshly minted entrepreneurs alike.
One of the most anticipated fall openings will be that of the 100-seat Sternewirth at the Hotel Emma, destined to open November 9 at the Pearl. A recent hard-hat tour suggested that the stunning steampunk-meets-Texas-chic décor will raise the bar, as it were, for any new operation hoping to compete at a luxury level.
The most anticipated opening of the summer — not least because it was a year and 27 days in the coming, was Paramour. Perched atop the Phipps Building at Ninth Street and the river’s Museum Reach, this extravagant operation, equally impressive inside (think back-lit onyx) and out (the skyline and the nearby San Antonio Museum of Art have never looked better, especially at night).
Veteran bartender Chris Ware (he got his start at Bohanan’s) runs the show with aplomb from behind a custom-designed leather apron. His equally aproned ‘tenders are among the city’s most tested and can turn out any desired drink with admirable attention to detail; the printed list (with one exception all drinks are priced at $11) includes the likes of Marfa Rising with tequila, prickly pear cordial, and sparkling Vouvray and the Call Me Cait concocted of vodka, citrus juices, and Thai chilies. Champagnes are featured at a bar opening to the expansive terrace. Ware’s barrel-aged cocktails, liberated when his former haunt, Arcade, closed recently, are also well worth one’s attention, inside or out.
The Old Main Assoc.
Jeret Peña is another Bohanan’s alum who has been making waves since his departure from the incubator — notably at The Esquire Tavern, then at his own Brooklynite and The Last Word, the basement haunt that was last year’s hot, new bar. Now comes The Old Main Assoc., housed in a former restaurant and thus equipped with the kitchen that gives Peña his first chance to put together food and cocktail pairings. At first glance, the eclectic food menu seems to leave no avenue unexplored; there are such offerings as bangers and kraut with house-made bratwurst; roasted cauliflower with crispy pig’s ear; and a salad featuring octopus, grapefruit, and mint.
Crazily, the odd mix seems to work equally well with the old standard Aviation #2 and the sparkling French 75 and classics-in-the-making such as the Londinium with gin and Punt e Mes. Bartender Ben appears to have a different shake for each drink, making your OM experience also kinetic and visual, as tatts are apparently de rigueur among the staff. Happy hour is especially felicitous with some wines and all cocktails on the list at $5.
Andrew Goodman first came to our collective attention with the opening of Feast, his glitteringly contemporary bar/restaurant in Southtown. Having now taken over F&B operations at the venerable and newly renovated St. Anthony Hotel, Goodman has just launched Haunt, a streetside bar that follows in Feast’s decorative footsteps and ups the ante with zebra skin motifs, tufted settees, and low-slung lounge chairs.
In such company, the old trail drive mural that survives from the hotel’s halcyon days almost doesn’t stand a chance. But the bar itself can turn out an aw-shucks Old Fashioned without batting an eye. And if some bespoke cocktails such as The Crooked Wig could use a little tweaking for balance, others such as The Lavender Lady with lavender-infused gin, lavender bitters, and prosecco rise to the exotic environment with sass and flair. Once the hotel’s flagship restaurant, Rebelle, opens, food service in the bar becomes a distinct possibility.
Mezcaleria Mixtli is the recent offshoot of the ticket-only dining boxcar that is nearby Mixtli — a venue created by Diego Galicia and Rico Torres to feature the regional cuisines of Mexico in updated interpretations. The bar, helmed by veteran barman Jesse Torres, hews to a more traditional line with its staggering array of mezcales and tequilas, but is not shy about putting these venerable spirits in a contemporary cocktail context as well.
We suggest trying unfamiliar labels first in a tiny, clay copita, then moving on to larger shots or to drinks the likes of Chingos de Hongos, an unlikely sounding but remarkably appealing combination of chanterelle-infused mezcal with rainwater Madeira, mushroom demi-glace, and thyme tincture. No, really. To accompany your adventure in Mezcalandia, we suggest a small bowl of braised beef cheeks or the tinga de pollo — or maybe just the supremely simple chicharrones with hot sauce. We bet you can’t stop at one.
Brigid and Francis Bogside
Steve Mahoney’s first really big bar splash was with Blue Box at Pearl, but he quickly went on to expand his operations with George’s Keep at the Eilan Hotel on I10 West. Mahoney’s Irish heritage comes to the fore at his newest enterprise, the next-door siblings Brigid and Francis Bogside in Southtown/King William.
Brigid is basically a restaurant (Chef Chris Carlson, formerly of Pearl’s highly regarded Sandbar, is in charge) with a five-seat bar attached. But don’t let the bar’s size fool you. Anything from the printed list is not only safe but exceptional (consider the Haberdasher with Irish whiskey, ginger, apricot, dry vermouth, and more — or maybe a rye Manhattan with balsamic sweet vermouth gastrique), or just challenge the one man show behind the bar to create a drink to suit your mood. And if your mood might encompass a locally made spirit, consider the apricot-based Kinsman Rakia, a clear brandy from nearby Dorcol Distillery.
Adjacent Francis Bogside is the pure-bar play of the pair. Handsome light fixtures by British designer Thomas Dixon dominate and Irish whiskeys are much in evidence; a drink such as Beat Around the Bush features Bushmill’s 10-year in the company of apple brandy, China China amaro, and Lillet Rosé. But neither would we shrink from the William B. Ward with reposado tequila, citrus, and grenadine. To come full circle to the man that started it all — both here and in New York, we would be remiss in not mentioning The Business, a testimonial gin, lime, and honey “modern classic by Sashsa Petraske, Milk & Honey NYC.” Let’s all raise a glass.