This past holiday season, San Antonio's Hemisfair area welcomed 4 million visitors to Yanaguana Garden since opening the public playground and meeting area in 2015. And in exciting news for the year ahead, more amenities and events are expected to open the coming months.

According to a press release, 2023 holds plenty of arrivals at Hemisfair in the form of new restaurants, new additions to Yanaguana Garden, more special activities, and the opening of Civic Park Phase I. Hemisfair officials shared news of four more restaurants coming to the redeveloping public park area: Kunstler Tap and Brat-Haus, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Jerk Shack, and Kusch Fair.

Kunstler Tap and Brat-Haus comes from the owners of Kunstler Brewing Co. in the Lone Star neighborhood. Bombay Bicycle Club is developed by the owners of the same popular Brackenridge Park-area eatery. The Jerk Shack (one of our 2022 Tastemakers) is created by the owners of a renowned far west side Caribbean restaurant. Kusch Faire is the newest concept by those responsible for DASHI Sichuan Kitchen + Bar.

Each new restaurant will restore and occupy a 19th century home within Hemisfair, adding even more diverse culinary options to reflect the global optimism exhibited at the 1968 World’s Fair — the original reason for Hemisfair’s rebirth.

“It’s important for us to welcome a diverse group of tenants because that's who our city is,” Hemisfair CEO Andres Andujar said in the release.

Hemisfair officials also plan to expand Yanaguana Garden’s playground area by starting construction this month on a toddler play area on the Bank of America Promenade near The Box Street Social. With five climbable vignettes that mimic a garden atop the existing squishy play surface, the toddler play area is slated to open in early spring.

Hemisfair Conservancy Executive Director Anne Krause said individual donors and major gifts from an anonymous foundation and the Jeanie Rabke Wyatt Family Foundation made possible development of the toddler play area. Philanthropic contributions backed public and private funding to build Civic Park Phase I, including a seven-figure gift from the Mays Family Foundation for the Peggy Mays Gardens, which will open to the public in 2023.

“We take 'Hemisfair is for all' very seriously here and this space helps us achieve that notion,” Krause said.

Additionally, Hemisfair will continue to play host to some of major cultural gatherings, such as Muertos Fest, Diwali, and Lymphoma Leukemia Light the Night, and Celebrate SA — as well as the weekly story time and the monthly Super Fun Saturday.

Hemisfair officials said the opening of the first phase of Civic Park this fall will accommodate a larger number of significant events. Located along Market Street and supported with $27 million in city of San Antonio bond proceeds, Civic Park Phase I will encompass five acres of public parkland, including a shaded promenade, “the springs” water features and a great lawn for large events for up to 15,000 people in concert mode.

Andujar said Hemisfair’s Civic Park will help boost San Antonio’s portfolio of public gathering spaces with the creation of a space worthy of luring thousands of residents and visitors to enjoy a variety of happenings. A second phase of Civic Park, including the grand Source Plaza entrance adjacent to the Torch of Friendship, and a zocalo with a built-in terrace for community performances, is estimated for completion in late 2024.

“It’s very rare that urban downtowns receive this significant of a park and gathering setting after the city has been well-established,” Andujar said.

Courtesy of Hemisfair

New 29-story residential tower coming to San Antonio's Hemisfair Park

Hemisfair Park

Hemisfair Park is growing, growing, growing. Hot on the heels of a recent hotel announcement, slated for 2025, and under the same $340 million redevelopment plan approved earlier this year, the City of San Antonio Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) released sneak peeks of a 29-story residential tower and three-story retail building coming soon to the area.

Proposed by Post Lake Capital Partners in a public/private partnership (P3s) with the Hemisfair Park Area Redevelopment Corporation (HPARC), the new tower will land on Market Street, situated on roughly 2.14 acres and steps from downtown San Antonio attractions. Post Lake Capital Partners will develop the property in conjunction with FitzGerald Associates Architects.

“Residential development in the Hemisfair District is key as we prepare for San Antonio’s population growth,” said Andres Andujar, Hemisfair CEO, in a release. “We are replacing the density of the population that lived in the District before HemisFair ’68 to bring back the neighborhood and the vitality that comes from people living next to open spaces. Neighbors use the park daily and bring a sense of security to the area.”

With sweeping views of the San Antonio skyline, the 29-story residential tower will feature a mix of studio, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom apartments, as well as an amenities deck and parking for residents and the public. The second building will become one of the largest retail concentrations in downtown San Antonio, connecting Civic Park to the River Walk and the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

“We need to increase residential density in our downtown and we need boots on the ground to improve and create that neighborhood that we want,” Lori Houston, assistant manager of the City of San Antonio said in the release. “The great thing about Hemisfair is that we had time and patience, and we’ve been planning and executing for a decade.”

Construction of the mixed-use property is expected to begin in early 2023, with a goal to open the ground-floor retail spaces of each property in time for the 2025 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

Revitalization of the area started in 2015 with the Yanaguana Garden, which has since welcomed over 3.7 million visitors, the majority of whom are San Antonio locals. Civic Park is currently under construction, slated to open in early 2023 as part of the next revitalization phase to make the area an urban destination for locals and visitors alike.

“We are grateful to the City of San Antonio and our private partners for joining in the vision to create one of the ‘World’s Great Public Places,’” said Andres Andujar, Hemisfair CEO, in the release.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Sneak peek inside San Antonio chef Steve McHugh's new Austin restaurant

Officially cured

Bucking the recent (and growing) trend of Austinites moving to San Antonio, chef Steve McHugh just debuted his first concept in Austin. The eagerly-awaited Luminaire opened February 1 at the new Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue Austin, along with a second concept, Las Bis.

Located at 721 Congress Avenue, details of the new hotel and its restaurants were released in fall 2022, sparking excitement from anyone already familiar with McHugh's work at Cured and Landrace. For the initial announcement, CultureMap connected with the six-time James Beard finalist to hear what to expect at the new outpost, while an updated announcement this week revealed that McHugh has enlisted chef Greg Driver as executive chef at the new concepts.

“We’re thrilled to finally lift the curtain and bring in guests to dine with us,” says Chef Steve McHugh in a release. “Chef Driver and I work really well together, and I have no doubt that Luminaire and Las Bis will shine under his leadership.”

Previously the interim executive chef at Austin's Westwood Country Club, Driver will carry out McHugh's vision at the restaurants. Both new concepts and the hotel itself will no doubt be a welcome addition to downtown Austin, padding out the list of pre- and post-theatre dining options for entertainment at the city's historic Paramount and State theatres next door.

Luminaire occupies the entire ground floor of the hotel, including an expansive patio stretching both sides of the corner along Congress Avenue and 8th Street. Much like its San Antonio counterparts, the full-service restaurant will feature the seasonal, local Texas fare and charcuterie well-known (and well-loved) by McHugh devotees. Along with specially curated meat boards (hello, 24-month jamon), the menu will also showcase a heavy Spanish influence, featuring a variety of delicious breakfast empanadas, chicken a la plancha, the Angus beef Luminaire burger, and more.

The all-day restaurant will be an ideal pre-curtain-time destination, while the upstairs Las Bis will take over for post-show nightcaps. Located on the eighth floor of the hotel, the terrace bar and lounge shares space with the hotel’s lobby and will feature craft cocktails, natural and biodynamic wines. Snacks will include an assortment of playfully plated conservas, both domestic and imported, which McHugh shared the story behind in our previous coverage.

“Our team put many thoughtful hours into the menu creation for Luminaire and Las Bis, blending familiar flavors with plenty of discovery,” says McHugh in this week's latest release. “And for those without much experience in cured meats and conservas, we made sure to include plenty of must-try items to introduce folks the right way.”

In addition to the two new concepts, McHugh’s team and executive chef Driver will provide room service for guests, as well as catering for the hotel’s four meeting and event spaces. Starting February 1, Luminaire will be open Monday through Sunday from 6 am to 11 pm, while Las Bis will open Sunday through Thursday, 4 pm to midnight, and noon to midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Photo by Mary Whitten

A sneak peak at Luminaire.

Historic San Antonio venue chugs ahead with new owners and all-day music festival


Music will soon be back in the air at one of San Antonio's most historic venues. Ambassador Theatre Group, the company behind the Majestic and Empire Theatres, has taken over The Espee in St. Paul's Square and is celebrating with an all-day music festival.

The move is the latest chapter for the Spanish Mission Revival complex, built in 1902 by the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 2019, a development group redubbed the site The Espee as a nod to the former train route's abbreviation, "The SP." 2021 saw the depot transformed into the swanky 1902 Nightclub.

Ambassador has gussied up the venue with enhanced sound and lighting, renovated artist accommodations, a tour production office, satellite bar areas, landscaping, and refreshed restrooms. The improvements gel with St. Paul Square's vision of bringing more entertainment and nightlife to the district without compromising its history or architecture.

Guests can check out the revamped space during All Aboard on March 4, a daylong party featuring The Head and The Heart, Danielle Ponder, Grupo Fantasma, UPSAHL, Golden Dawn Arkestra, Mike and The Moonpies, and DJ sets from Bartees Strange. Doors open at 2:30 pm, with performances starting at 3 pm.

Tickets are on sale now and partially benefit local nonprofit San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE), which champions investments that improve the quality of life for individuals, families, neighborhoods, and businesses in the area.

The show is only the first experience the revived venue is set to deliver. "Vicious" hitmaker Sabrina Carpenter is set to bring her Emails I Can't Send Tour to the Espee on March 25. The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum will hold its Fiesta Family Blues festival on April 28. More programming will be announced throughout the year.

"The Espee is the perfect addition to San Antonio's growing entertainment landscape – from venues and musical performances to community gatherings and everything in between," said Emily Smith, Ambassador general manager, via a release. "This unique, beautiful, and historic space will bring even more creative experiences to San Antonio for the entire community to enjoy."

6 San Antonio exhibits to warm your heart and soul this February

State of the Arts

All you need is art this month in Alamo City with fresh and fearless exhibits: Some will tickle your fancy; others, your psyche. Explore JooYoung Choi’s imaginary world at The Contemporary, or immerse yourself in the history of the Mexican-American War of 1848 with representations from various artists at the Centro Cultural Aztlan. Guy Blair brings San Antonio’s unhoused population into careful focus with painted portraits at the Semmes Gallery, while the San Antonio Museum of Art transports viewers into “Roman Landscapes” providing birds-eye perspectives and fantastical views. There's something for everyone this February.

Centro Cultural Aztlan

“Segundo de Febrero: Chicana/Chicano Reunion” — Now through February 24
February 2 marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The landmark treaty ended the Mexican-American War, redistributed the border, and created a new bicultural population. In this exhibition, a group of celebrated artists will explore the impact of broken treaties, new borders, and their effects on Latino, Chicano, and indigenous history and culture.

The Contemporary at Blue Star

“JooYoung Choi: Songs of Resilience from the Tapestry of Faith” — February 3 through May 7
Through painting, video, sculpture, animation, music ,and installation art, multidisciplinary world-builder JooYoung Choi documents the interconnecting narratives of a highly structured, expansive, fictional land she calls the "Cosmic Womb." Her work explores issues of identity, belonging, trauma, and resilience through the sci-fi/fantasy genre. This exhibition introduces the Cosmic Womb multiverse and highlights some of its key characters and narratives. In creating a world that explores loss, healing, and growth based upon a connective web of belief and faith in oneself, Choi expresses human resiliency and the strength that can be found through the power of storytelling.

Centro de Artes

“Soy de Tejas: A Statewide Survey of Latinx Art” — February 9 through July 2
Soy de Tejas presents the works of 40 native Texan and Texas-based contemporary artists who reflect the diverse and beautiful complexity of Latinx identities. The more than 100 artworks forge new connections and explore intersections from a nexus of artists who ambitiously blaze a trail of contemporary artmaking, presenting fresh Latinx perspectives and experiences while amplifying the voices of a segment of Texas' most inspiring established and emerging artists. “The exhibit explores themes ranging from race, class, and gender to migration, mythmaking, displacement, and indigeneity," says curator Rigoberto Luna on the gallery's website. "In contrast, many works center on celebrating joyful customs, culture, and traditions that unite and sustain our communities in the face of a multitude of challenges."

Semmes Gallery - University of the Incarnate Word

“Homeless in San Antonio” — February 17 through March 17
Guy Blair is largely self-taught as an artist in the medium of pastels and watercolor. He always wanted “to do” art but was devoted to his ministry as a priest. For the past 40 years as a Catholic priest, he has ministered to both the deaf and homeless communities. In the past eight years, he has seriously paid attention to his desire to paint. This exhibit is a blending of his service to the homeless as well as his interest in art. “As we walk by homeless people on the streets of San Antonio, most people tend to look through them or judge them as perhaps deserving of the situation they are in,” Blair said in an artist statement. “This attitude allows people to build an emotional barrier, giving them permission not to connect with the homeless as destitute people whose suffering and tears are as real as our own.”

The Carver Cultural Community Center

“Alain Gakwaya"— February 23 through April 14
Alain Gakwaya hails from Rwanda and is a self-described, “activist, artist, and adventurer.” His love for art began in the 3rd grade, when his teacher requested that he draw for his entire class. Specializing in portraiture, Gakwaya paints to tell his story and the stories of his homeland. Though he's now based in San Antonio, he draws inspiration from everyday life in Africa and specifically his home country of Rwanda.

San Antonio Museum of Art

Courtesy of the Carver Cultural Community Center

Alain-Gakwaya's work is coming to the Carver Cultural Community Center this month.

“Roman Landscapes: Visions of Nature and Myth from Rome and Pompeii” — February 24 through May 21
The exhibition features 65 wall paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and cameo glass and silver vessels created in Roman Italy between 100 BC and AD 250. “Roman Landscapes” introduces visitors to the cultural and archaeological contexts of Roman landscapes, beginning with mural paintings and relief sculptures that depict coastal villas and rustic shrines. These works display the imaginary aspects of Roman images of the natural world, connecting the genre’s appearance to the political and social upheaval of the late Republic and early Empire. Fantastical views of Egypt and Greece reflect ancient fascination with these celebrated lands incorporated into the Roman Empire. Mythological paintings then reveal landscape scenes as settings for hazardous encounters between humans and the gods.