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Photo courtesy of Carter Creek Winery Resort

When he’s a beer-loving outdoor enthusiast and she’s a wine-loving spa junkie, agreeing on plans for a quick Hill Country getaway can be tricky. My husband likes to spend the day climbing hills in state parks; I’d rather climb on and off a wine tour bus. He hunts down hoppy craft beer in town; I search for lavender bath products.

So a new(ish) Hill Country resort with our vacation trifecta - winery, brewery, and spa - beckoned to us for a weekend away. Carter Creek Winery, Resort & Spa stands high on a hill overlooking U.S. Hwy. 290, just off a swerve-fast-or-you’ll-miss-it exit outside Johnson City.

Thirty miles east of Fredericksburg, it’s along a stretch of the famous “Texas wine road” between Johnson City and Stonewall that’s become an attractive destination for a slightly more laid-back oenophile experience. (Locals are quick to make Napa-Sonoma comparisons.)

Carter Creek Family Winery has been bottling wines in the area since 2016, and they come with fine Texas pedigree: Head winemaker is Jon McPherson, son of Texas wine industry pioneer "Doc" McPherson and brother of renowned winemaker Kim McPherson. Jon McPherson has teamed up with winemaker Javier Flores to turn out award-winning Carter Creek wines for several years.

In December 2019, owners Jim and Dawn Carter opened Carter Creek Winery Resort in Johnson City as a sister property to their South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in Temecula, California. Knowing how much Texans like their beer, they say, they threw in a microbrewery, too. The Hill Country resort debuted with a winery and two tasting rooms, onsite brewery, restaurant, seasonal smokehouse, outdoor events center, and 78 luxe private villas.

Then COVID-19 hit weeks later and shut it all down.

As restrictions loosened and tourists came back to the area, the owners continued with their plans, finally adding a long-anticipated spa in summer 2022.

Carter Creek now has the only spa in the eastern section of the Hill Country. It’s also the only winery resort with a brewery in the area.

Rooms and brews
After a longer-than-usual drive from Fort Worth to Johnson City (who knew Marble Falls and Burnet had rush-hour traffic?), we checked into villa #2704, our own private palace: separate living room and bedroom, two 55-inch flat screen TVs and an electric fireplace, bathroom with double vanity, and porch with seating area.

We couldn’t help but compare this $209-per-night Hill Country castle to more high-profile Texas hotel-resorts - with tiny rooms - that cost double or triple as much. We were also thankful our quiet villa was one of the farthest back from the highway.

A (recommended) dinner reservation at the resort's Old 290 Brewery Restaurant awaited, just a short walk down a well-lit path across the property. “Old 290” refers to the road that runs along the resort - the actual old 290 road to Fredericksburg from Johnson City.

Here, head brewmeister Justin Zimmerman crafts award-winning small-batch light ales, medium-bodied pale ales, and stouts. Folks were buzzing about his Hell Raiser Bourbon Brown, aged for two months in nearby Garrison Brothers Bourbon Barrels, which won a coveted gold medal in the Fredericksburg Craft Beer Festival last summer. His El Bigote Mexican Lager took home a bronze.

The brewery’s adjacent Hill Country-fine dining restaurant serves the steaks, burgers, and CFS Texas diners demand, with some cheffy twists. The Old 290 Bison Burger, for instance, is topped with brie cheese, tomato bacon jam, horseradish pickles, and crispy onions on a pretzel bun. At a breakfast buffet, “Chef Trey” cooked eggs to order for every guest.

Over housemade garlic knots with tomato garlic compound butter, my husband sampled a flight of Old 290 beers - the IPA earned a rave from the self-proclaimed "hophead" - and I tried Carter Creek wine for the first time. (Tip: Take advantage of the free samples offered before committing to a glass.)

Without evening plans, we’d considered driving 30 miles to legendary Luckenbach to enjoy some live music. No need. A local musician entertained on the restaurant’s stage for hours. Outside, guests gathered around fire pits on the patio and played cornhole on the lush lawn that doubles as a wedding venue with beautiful vistas.

Spa with panache
The next morning, I arrived far too early for my facial and had the intimate spa all to myself. The 1,500-square-foot Carter Creek Spa might be small, but it’s got a mighty name behind it. Spa director Gülçin Johnson is a well-respected aesthetician with an eponymous skincare line called Gülçin Johnson Botanicals carried at top spas across the country.

Carter Creek Spa offers a variety of massages, body treatments, facials, and foot reflexology treatments for individuals or couples. A dry sauna, outdoor pool, and hot tub are just steps away. While priority is given to resort patrons, the spa welcomes day guests for appointments, too.

My refreshing, 50-minute Carter Creek Classic Facial - featuring some Eminence Organic products I've long loved - ended with a glass of crisp Muscat Canelli wine in the relaxation area. (So what if it was not quite 11 am?)

Wine time
An afternoon wine tasting revealed that, unlike other Hill Country wineries with lists as long as a Cheesecake Factory menu, Carter Creek zeroes in on a handful and does them well - currently, four whites, four reds, a rose, a sparkling, and two dessert wines.

The winemakers lean into European varietals, producing crisp whites such the popular Gloriosa ($24), a not-too-sweet blend of Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Muscat Canelli; and complex reds, such as the top-selling Maverick ($39), a Rhone-style blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Viognier.

Carter Creek also makes a Sparkling Peach ($35) that’s such a sensation, they have trouble keeping it in stock. It also has a fun backstory: When the Carters asked Jon McPherson - a master winemaker with special expertise in sparkling wines - to create a peach sparkler as a nod to the Hill Country, it took some arm-twisting. He wasn’t going to make some cloying hot-tub sipper, he told them; he would make it his way, as a “serious” wine.

A blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli, and Pinot Noir results in a lightly sweet, refreshingly crisp and only slightly “peachy” bubbly. It won Double Gold at the 2022 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, in fact.

We couldn’t resist purchasing a bottle, along with three other favorites. (Looking back, we should have joined the wine club on the spot and saved 25 percent; there was no pressure to do so.)

Outdoors and out-of-this-world
After spa-ing and sipping, it was time for an outdoor adventure together. Pedernales Falls State Park was just a picturesque, 30-minute drive away. We laced up our hiking boots and drove down hilly backroads to the park, where my husband’s handy Texas State Parks Pass got us in free.

On this sunny afternoon, a lot of other people had the same idea. We hiked out to the famous river rocks - mostly dry after a season with little rain. To break from the crowds, we sat for a spell in the bird blind and viewed bright red cardinals a chirpy finches darting around the trees.

At dusk, we drove up to the park’s star theater for a stargazing session led by a state park ranger. While we bundled up in a blanket and gazed up at the stars, “Ranger Steve” laser-pointed to constellations and recounted their humorous and harrowing origin stories.

Then, he paused and told us to look up at a blinking light streaking overhead. We waved hello to the International Space Station as it cruised by for four minutes, then disappeared among the million stars in the night sky.

We left the Hill Country, this time, having sampled a bit of everything we were craving - wine, beer, pampering, and nature.

Everything, that is, except bluebonnets. Now, to plan that spring wildflower excursion.

---

Carter Creek Winery, Resort & Spa, 4064 W. U.S. Highway 290, Johnson City. Rates start at $209, plus $19 per-night resort fees. Discounts available for AAA, AARP, and more. Family-friendly and pet-friendly. Check website for days and hours at tasting room, restaurant, and spa.

Carter Creek Winery, Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy of Carter Creek Winery Resort

Carter Creek Winery Resort opened in the just-before-covid month of December 2019.

Photo by David Morris on Unsplash

Where to see the once-in-recorded-history green comet approaching San Antonio

Seeing green

The world is buzzing with news of an approaching astronomical body, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), more often referred to in the news and social media as "the green comet." Its most recent appearance was 50,000 years ago — compared to the about 200,000 years since modern humans emerged.

"While the pictures of it have been impressive, its visual appearance differs greatly," explains Joe Wheelock, public program specialist at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin. "Currently you might glimpse it with the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch of light[,] but you would need to be away from city lights. Binoculars or a telescope would improve the view, and you might even glimpse a faint tail."

As tempting as it is — and as much fodder as its made on social media — this experience will not be easy for most Texans to photograph and share. "The pictures that have been posted on various websites were taken by experienced astrophotographers and in most cases cameras designed for astrophotography," Wheelock warns.

Some logistics to note when planning a viewing:

  • The comet will be closest to Earth (thus, likely the most visible) on February 1.
  • Wheelan says placement will also be good in late January and early February, and it will be best viewed after midnight. Since the new moon was on January 21, every day the moon will compete with it a little more.
  • The McDonald Observatory posts daily stargazing tips, so viewers will have a few chances at seeing something special, even if the comment doesn't work out.
  • Getting out of San Antonio is the best bet against light pollution.

Those who are willing to make a trip out of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity should consider their best chances at out running the city lights. The closest popular option to San Antonio proper is McAllister Park, which sometimes hosts stargazing events. For a more structured approach, the Curtis Vaughan Jr. Observatory at the University of Texas at San Antonio hosts first Friday stargazing nights after sunset. The McDonald Observatory, although it is an entity of the University of Texas at Austin, is in Fort Davis, about 400 miles from San Antonio.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) maintains records of some of the world's least light-polluted skies and works to protect them, ensuring that these places stay available for reliable stargazing retreats. There are four IDA-certified Dark Sky Parks in Texas: Enchanted Rock (90 miles from San Antonio), South Llano River (120 miles), Copper Breaks (370 miles), and Big Bend Ranch (490 miles).

In addition to the certified parks, there is a smaller group of Dark Sky Sanctuaries, which are especially dark and carefully protected. There are two in Texas: Devil's River State Natural Area (170 miles) and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (390 miles).

For more in-depth reading on the comet's trajectory and context, Wheelan suggests an article in Sky & TelescopeSky & Telescope.

Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash

Texas Wine Auction invites Texas chefs to compete for best paired dishes

Bids and bites

Going once, going twice; the Second Annual Texas Wine Auction by Texas Wine Revolution is back. This is more than an excuse to collect a few more bottles. The Fredericksburg auction on April 29 is accompanied by wine and food samples, and when buyers aren’t competing with each other, they’ll rate bites by competing chefs.

Not to be confused with the The Rare & Fine Wine Auction and Gala by the Wine & Food Foundation, this event is explicitly Texas-themed. The spirited night will raise funds for the health of Texas hospitality workers as well as research and development through Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Programs, while spreading the word about local wineries to watch.

The culinary competition is new in the auction’s second year, enhancing the theme by drawing inspiration from the wines present, all made entirely from Texas grapes. Each chef will be paired with a winery to help inform their flavors in a dish that should pair well with each glass. Guests will then vote on the best pairing and best overall dishes.

Two of the competing chefs — Amber Rebold and Krystyna Cibelli-Pettus — will be visiting from Austin, known respectively for being a contestant on Chef Gordon Ramsay’s Next Level Chef and a dedicated instructor to other chefs. They’re joined by Angie Ragan of Lubbock (also a competitor on Ramsay’s show), Roshni Gurnani of Houston, Matt Church of Fredericksburg, plus two unnamed chefs for a total of eight.

“As a proud native Texan who has always celebrated our big bold flavors in my cooking, developing a dish to pair with Texas-grown wine will be fun for me,” said Rebold.

Her two-time competitor, Ragan, adds, “As a former medical professional, I am honored to participate in an event that will help bring healthcare to my colleagues in the Texas hospitality industry. Everyone deserves access to health services and the money we raise from the auction will go directly toward improving the health of others.”

Some of 2023’s featured wineries include:

  • Inwood Estates and William Chris Vineyards (2023's featured wineries)
  • Ab Astris
  • Kalasi Cellars
  • Kerrville Hills Winery
  • Pedernales Cellars
  • Texas Heritage
  • Texas Wine Collective

Auctions will be both live and silent, and along with the food and wine, attendees can look forward to musical performances.

The Texas Wine Auction will be held on April 29 at Vista Oaks Event Center in Fredericksburg, Texas. Tickets ($175 for individuals, larger tables available) can be purchased at texaswineauction.com.

Courtesy of William Chris Vineyards

Acclaimed Hill Country winery pours onto list of the world's 100 best for 2022

Wine List

One Texas winery just landed on one of the most exclusive wine lists of them all. At an event held in Argentina's wine capital, Mendoza, the World’s Best Vineyards organization revealed this year’s top wine destinations for 2022. Texas' own William Chris Vineyards came in at No. 56, the only Texas vineyard on the list and one of only seven wineries from the U.S.

Founded in 2008 by Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon in Hye, Texas, the vineyard started out in the historic 1905 Dieke Farmhouse and has been rapidly expanding ever since. Now, the company partners with local farms to source the highest quality Texas fruit, utilizing a hands-off, low-intervention approach to allow the fruit's characteristics to shine through in the final product.

“It is such an honor to be included on the prestigious list of World’s Best Vineyards, especially as the first and only Texas winery,” said Brundrett in a release. “We’ve worked tirelessly to show the world that Texas has a place among the great wine destinations of the world, and we see this as a victory not just for William Chris Vineyards, but for the Texas wine industry as a whole. We’re excited to celebrate this with our partners and peers.”

Released annually, the World’s Best Vineyards list highlights the top must-visit vineyards globally, aiming to promote wine tourism around the world. 500 leading wine experts, sommeliers, and travel experts comprise the group's voting academy, submitting their nominations based on a wide range of criteria — from quality of overall experience to cuisine, value for money, and more. Submissions are voted on, and the collated results become the coveted World’s Best Vineyards list.

For a full list of 2022 winners, visit worldsbestvineyards.com.

Courtesy of Enchanted Springs Ranch

10 festive holiday happenings outside the San Antonio city limits

Holiday Happenings

Visiting the San Antonio area this holiday season, but want to see more than the River Walk lights? Or the Travis Park Christmas tree and the surrounding holiday wonderland?

Several suburbs and towns surrounding the Alamo City have their own Christmas events. Some are a few years old, others date back decades, but each offers a taste of the community's holiday spirit. Check out 10 holiday happenings outside the San Antonio city limits.

Boerne: Old West Christmas Light FestNow through December 24
Enchanted Springs Ranch in Boerne is the place to be as the ranch is transformed into an Old West town. Guests may come during most any evening now through December 24 and get into the holiday spirit, aided by millions of twinkling Christmas lights, live music, and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus. There's even a chance to see Santa’s herd of ... longhorns. Organizers said this year’s additions included extended Saturday hours, an interactive petting zoo, an inflatable jumping pad for children, and more illuminated tunnels through which to walk. Prices start at $20 for general admission before discounts.

Selma: The Light Park Now through January 1
Drive out to Selma’s Retama Park and ride around pathways, figures and structures lined with millions of Christmas lights, while enjoying festive holiday music. The Light Park has food and drinks, and is pet friendly. Prices start at $39 per car. Visit from 5:30-10 pm from Monday to Thursday; 5:30-11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Seguin: Lighted Holiday Parade December 1
Seguin’s annual Christmas parade features more than 70 entries around the city’s historic downtown. The parade starts at the intersection of Austin and College streets at 6:30 pm, and ends at Central Park, where the mayor will flip the switch and turn on the Christmas lights hung around downtown. Attendees may also get a photo with Santa Claus. Admission is free. Stick around for other holiday events in Seguin from December 2-4.

Hondo: A Night in BethlehemDecember 2 and 3
First Baptist Church of Hondo organizes a drive-through live nativity scene outside the church, with a 120-person cast and crew. The "story of Jesus Christ’s life" will be told with live animals and historically accurate costumes. The drive-through starts at 6 pm on both days at 2400 Avenue P. The event is free, and donations are appreciated.

Castroville: Old-Fashioned Christmas Celebration and Market December 2 and 3
Medina County’s biggest arts and craft show features artisan vendors from around South Texas, gathered in Houston Square from 6-10 pm on December 2, and 9 am to 4 pm on December 3. It offers a variety of handmade crafts, gift items, home decorations, candles, jewelry, and more. There will also be children’s activities, a visit with Santa Claus, and other entertainment. Admission is free.

Schertz: Holidazzle December 3
Holidazzle is Schertz’s annual day and evening of Christmas celebrations, starting with a breakfast with Santa, followed by the Kris Kringle Market featuring handmade crafts, specialty foods, and more. Then, the Holiday Hoopla offers snow, a temporary ice skating rink, entertainment, and a chance for fireside roasting and toasting of food for all ages. The Festival of Angels Parade, held at night, concludes the event as local schools, clubs, and merchants travel Schertz’s main roads between Pickerel Park and Community Circle Drive. All festivities take place between 8 am and 8 pm.

Windcrest: Light-Up — December 3
Windcrest’s annual holiday event is one of the more renowned activities of its kind in the San Antonio area. Dozens of households decorate their front windows, doors, porches, and lawns in fantastical ways with lights and elaborate designs according to each year’s theme; this year’s theme is Fiesta de Navidad. Members of the public are invited to use a map from the city showing them participating decorated homes and businesses to judge the best decorations. The December 3 kickoff ceremony includes entertainment, a market, and a visit from Santa. Anyone can drive through Windcrest and check out decorated, illuminate homes nightly through December 31, starting at 6 pm.

New Braunfels: Old Town Christmas Market — December 8
The New Braunfels Conservation Society puts on a market fundraiser at Conservation Plaza, filled with gift baskets, refreshments, and unique, handmade crafts and other products. The one-day event runs from 2-8 pm. Admission is free.

Helotes: Hill Country Christmas Parade — December 10
The Hill Country Christmas Parade includes many local individuals, businesses, schools, churches, and civic groups marching or traveling through “old town Helotes.” The procession starts at 13715 Riggs Road near Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church at 7:30 pm; it ends at First Baptist Church of Helotes. Admission is free.

Bandera: Sunday Funday Christmas Ride — December 18
Head out to Bandera in the Texas Hill Country, mount a rescued horse (or "mule/donkey/zebra/camel," according to the cheeky event description) and enjoy a Sunday Funday Christmas Ride by Major Hope Corral. Visitors may see Bandera’s historic downtown, hit the trails going through the city park and past Medina River, go to the Cowboy Bar, and return to the ranch; there they can gather around campfire with chili and mulled wine. The ride starts at 11 am at the corral and concludes at 4 pm.

Facebook Canyon Ranch

Premier wellness destination Canyon Ranch sets sights on the Hill Country for new resort

Canyon Ranch

An inspiring wellness destination brand has set its sight on the Texas Hill Country. Canyon Ranch is coming to the Austin-Hill Country area in 2025. The new resort is the third pending Texas outpost, coming on the heels of announcements for a Fort Worth club (projected for late 2023) and a Houston club (set for 2024).

With current locations in Tucson (Arizona), Lenox (Massachusetts), Woodside (California), and Las Vegas (Nevada), the resort-spa brand is in the process of introducing "urban-based clubs," such as those planned for Fort Worth and Houston, and "a digital app," in addition to the new Hill Country resort location, according to a release.

Canyon Ranch partnered with VICI Properties Inc. to secure up to $200 million in capital to develop the Austin-area resort, with construction set to start in 2023 for a projected 2025 opening.

“First and foremost, we exist to help people live better, longer. Expanding access to our resorts with the Austin location is just one part of a broader Canyon Ranch strategy to engage with our guests on a lifetime journey of wellbeing,” said Jeff Kuster, CEO of Canyon Ranch, in the release.

“Guests will soon be able to begin or continue their wellness experience at our new Canyon Ranch Clubs and be supported by our digital app. The Canyon Ranch ecosystem will surround you with insights, skills and the motivation needed to achieve true transformation. By meeting our guests where they are, Canyon Ranch can seamlessly support them no matter how or where they want to engage with us.”

The immersive, all-inclusive wellness destination brand takes a unique approach to wellbeing by prioritizing longterm solutions. Priori to a Canyon Ranch visit, guests consult with a dedicated Wellness Guide to discuss goals and intentions. The Wellness Guide then selects a personalized team of world-class advisors across a range of disciplines to introduce the guest to new practices and behaviors during their stay, all while enjoying the benefits of state-of-the-art fitness and spa facilities.

For more information on Canyon Ranch and to stay up to date for the new Texas Hill Country location, head to canyonranch.com.

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San Antonio rent prices increased 7 percent from 2022, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. San Antonio rent prices increased 7 percent from 2022, report finds. Despite rent increases showing small improvements month-over-month, overall prices in the San Antonio area are still on the high side from the previous year.

2. Popular San Antonio doggy daycare opens new location in Alamo Ranch. The award-winning Dogtopia has gained so much love from the local community thanks to its thoughtful design approach and programming.

3. Bask in local artistry with the inaugural San Marcos Studio Tour in April. The inaugural, self-guided San Marcos Studio Tour will feature more than 50 artists all across San Marcos and the surrounding area.

4. Own a piece of Utopia with this Hill Country riverfront retreat listed for $2.5M. This secluded, tree-filled, riverfront estate boasts nine guest cabins and "the Fortress," a historic lodge that can sleep 12 guests.

5. Blockbuster Western art exhibition and sale stampedes into San Antonio. The Briscoe Western Art Museum's annual Night of Artists Exhibition and Sale returns to San Antonio March 24 through 25.

These 6 San Antonio brunch spots are worth a return visit (or two)

brunch hunches

Anyone who says magic doesn't exist clearly hasn't snagged a coveted reservation at the Box Street Social for brunch. It's one of the local spots that nails that sacred ritual, brunch with the besties: a magical experience where Monday doesn't exist and stress is forbidden.

Here are some of our top local brunch spots that'll leave both your appetite and your soul satiated (even when Monday actually hits.)

Box St. All Day
Not only does Box St. All Day look like the dreams that Instagram reels are made of, it's got a high quality menu to match, courtesy of chef and co-owner Edward Garcia III. The all-day brunch restaurant (at 623 Hemisfair Blvd, Ste 108) offers hearty options like strawberry cheesecake French toast, steak-eggs and frites (the fries alone are dangerously delicious), the Box St. Brekky sandwich made with house-made bread, and more. Pair your meal with one of its cute coffees, cocktails, or zero-proof cocktails, and save room for plenty of pictures with your brunch buddies before you leave — the details in the decor have a sophisticated feminine flair, thanks to Box Street's innovative creative director Caroline Garcia-Bowman. Reserve on Toast.

Full Belly
Tucked away in its own cozy corner of the world in the Stone Oak/1604 area is Full Belly Cafe + Bar. Where else can you order a plate of pecan pie French toast while gazing at an incredible hand-painted mural of classic animated characters like Jessica Rabbit, Marvin Martian, Stewie Griffin and more brunching together? Executive chef James Moore also serves up plenty of savory brunch options if you don't have a sweet tooth, like the pork belly benny or a baked eggs and toast plate with roasted garlic and thyme cream. Reserve at fullbellysa.com.

Ocho
Did you know that Chef Kirk of Ocho, Hotel Havana's in-house restaurant, is the only local chef to win an episode of Food Network's Chopped? Brunch at Ocho is also a photo-worthy experience, where brunch items like pan de platano (banana bread), plantain cakes con carnitas (plantain pancakes), and more are served up to guests with a side of San Antonio sunlight, given that Ocho is located in a beautiful (and air-conditioned!) glass conservatory. Reserve on Resy.

The Hayden
The Smoke Shack might be the best spot to get your brisket fix on Broadway, but The Hayden is the spot to be for brunch. You can't miss The Hayden's classic retro sign right in the center of The Boardwalk on Broadway. The interior lives up to the welcoming feel of a Jewish deli, complete with menu options from executive chef Bill Corbett like fried chicken and latke waffles, or a bagel and lox. And don't worry — if you're craving the comfort of pancakes, The Hayden's got you covered with The Hayden pancake stack, among other options. Reserve at buzztable.com.

Vegan Avenue on Main
Chef Griselda Muñoz's entirely vegan menu will make believers even out of the most dedicated meat eaters. The cinnamon roll "bettermilk" pancakes have to be tasted to be believed. (Yes, even the sweet cream in the pancake is dairy free!) If you're missing a classic breakfast sandwich but trying to stay meat-free, try Vegan Avenue's "Honee-Butter Chick'n sandwich" with vegan eggs and crispy, fried plant-based chicken. If you're not near Vegan Avenue but craving its vegan breakfast tacos, you can also get your fix at Vegan Avenue's sister restaurant on TPC Parkway, Plantology. Reserve at squareup.com.

Barbaro
One of the best hair-of-the-dog cocktails in town is Barbaro's delicious Garibaldi, a simple concoction of Campari and orange juice, but you can't go wrong with the "Keep It Coming" Bloody Mary bar and Mimosas: For $15, you can alternate between the two until you've had your fill. Soak up Saturday night with eggs Barbaro (two poached eggs on homemade focaccia, Benton's country ham, hollandaise, and spinach) or dive into a skillet pancake (whipped lemon ricotta and seasonal berries, plus extra fine bacon, ricotta salata, and maple syrup).


The 8 best bars in San Antonio have the right mix

MEET THE TASTEMAKERS

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.

Amor Eterno
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.

Bar Loretta
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.

George's Keep
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.

La Ruina
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.

Pastiche
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.

Amor Eterno San Antonio

Photo by TX Troublemaker

It's all about love at Amor Eterno