Vital San Antonio bar shutters amidst "city inaction"
Throughout the process, city officials sounded positive — sometimes even chipper. Update after update painted a picture of progress as the once-thriving businesses on the St. Mary’s Strip hung by a thread. Rancor over noise ordinances and parking restrictions erupted during ill-conceived community meetings, but the messaging assured that it was all just a blip.
There was always bound to be a casualty.
After braving Covid-19 and two years of disruptive construction, Strip mainstay Squeezebox will shutter at the end of July, ending its seven-year run. In a stinging rebuke, owner Aaron Peña didn’t bandy words in naming the culprit.
“In the end, the two years of construction and prolonged city inaction was the final death blow,” he wrote via Instagram, “and the losses sustained were just far too great to recover from.”
It’s not sure if San Antonio will recover, either. The Strip has always catered to a crowd rarely celebrated by a city in flux. Its nondescript buildings are never plastered on brochures nor beautified by Centro planters. Still, in a city that endlessly fawns over ambling tourists, it is something that locals could call their own.
In its waning days, the feeling of “us” remains strong at Squeezebox. Pulsing with everything from reggaeton to oldies, it always sounds like San Antonio. On Sundays, when fajitas sizzle in the summer heat, the patio feels like a backyard pachanga. It’s where I — and I suspect many other transplants — found community.
Peña alluded to that sense of home in his elegiac post.
“To me, this bar will forever be how I met the world and how many of you came into my life as friends and became family,” he wrote. “I saw people get engaged here, have baby showers, conceive children after partying here…and it will forever hold the ultimate place in my heart for allowing me to learn, grow, and later thrive in business in the city I am proudly from.”
That rhythm of living doesn’t happen at transient properties like the Hard Rock Café. The heart of the city will never be found at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Yet, Squeezebox and the Strip are still regarded as an afterthought.
The thing is that spots like Squeezebox give a reason for locals to remain home — to celebrate here, to dream here, to invest in the city’s future. The sense of identity is a magnetic pull. As beige condos crowd the skyline, they resolutely give a sense of place. That’s something any city should hold dear.
Seven years ago, a visionary young bartender saw the potential in the oft-maligned Strip. Now that Peña has been driven out, it’s time for the city to catch up.