Photo courtesy of Victoria's Black Swan Inn

There's something in the San Antonio air as the seasons change. Be it spirits or just a much needed cold front, one spooky inn is making sure locals get to revel in it. The San Antonio Paranormal Fest has crept in on the fog once again at Victoria's Black Swan Inn, for a weekend of festivities from September 15-17.

A fall festival at an inn may sound quaint until attendees see the long list of offerings organized in partnership with Curious Twins Paranormal & Ghost Tours: Tours of the haunted inn with resident psychic readings; an artisan market, open bar, snacks, and food trucks; onsite photography and photo booth; fire performers, speakers, and more spellcasting goodness.

This event will be a real who's-who of paranormal life in San Antonio — not just people who love a gothy aesthetic, but people who have devoted time and expertise to learning more about these otherwordly phenomena. Jo Ann Marks-Rivera, who both owns and lives in the house, shares stories with the community about the house's history and the strange things she's seen there.

"I always look forward to bringing as many people together as I can to share experiences regarding all of the mysteries of the Paranormal field," Marks-Rivera writes in to CultureMap. "Death and what happens to us after has long been an interest to people. I have the privilege to be a part of what has now become a full fledged field of investigation, not just a shadowy question of the impossible."

Speakers at the festival (as listed on the event's Facebook page) include:

  • Producer, Author & Paranormal Investigator, Ryan Buell: Host of the TV A&E show Paranormal State and executive producer for the feature film, American Ghost Hunter
  • Psychic Medium Sarah Lemos: Featured on Ghosts of Morgan City, The Ghost Town Terror, and Portals To Hell
  • Cryptozoologist & Author Ken Gearhart (@therealkengerhard): Featured on Ancient Aliens, Legend Hunters, The Unexplained Files, True Monsters, and more
  • Demonologist & Paranormal Investigator, James Annito
  • Ghost Box Experts & Owners of Magick Moon Metaphysical, Chris & Dee Moon (@mooniepix & @deeparanormal321)
  • Afterlife Connection Specialist & Intuitive, Tracy St. Croi: Host of The Haunted Road Trips Show with Tracy St. Croi
  • Paranormal Putas Podcast (@paranormal.putas)
  • Women in the Paranormal Panel

This event is obviously geared toward visitors who enjoy the inquisitive side of paranormal topics. But according to Marks, this is actually a great place for skeptics to explore. The many experts and enthusiasts onsite will bring experience "from the field," and can answer questions — either with sincere answers, or assurances that other people are wondering the same things. Topics with an academic bent will include quantum physics, folklore, aliens, and historical accounts.

"The biggest tip is to not be afraid to question things," says Marks-Rivera. "This is the perfect sort of place to walk among like-minded and curious people, [and] experience a moment in time when everything is possible. If this is a person's first time to the property, I suggest they take time to wander, explore, and experience the energy of the property. The chance to meet so many others with similar questions and experiences but no judgment is really empowering."

When these visitors are exploring the property, they are encouraged to reflect upon the Battle of Salado Creek, which Marks-Rivera says took place on the property. Fought on September 18, 1842, this battle was plagued by heavy rains and untamed river crossings. Despite these challenges, a Texan militia of barely more than 200 prevailed against a Mexican army of 1,600, and drove French-Mexican commander General Adrián Woll to retreat to Mexico.

The Paranormal Fest at Victoria's Black Swan Inn is held as a tradition as close to the anniversary, and honors soldiers who died in the struggle, including Steven Jett, who was reportedly the only Texan to die. The property acknowledges the souls that are tied to the land.

Online pre-sale tickets are sold out, but there will still be tickets available at the door if visitors don't mind a wait. There will be plenty more opportunities to visit the inn year-round. Coming up next are opportunities to book vow exchanges at the inn (October 13), a "dark circus" (October 21), and the Festival of the Dead Masquerade (November 4).

"I find it fascinating when people are willing to openly share their experiences, and I especially enjoy meeting new people that have been touched, in one way or another, by the paranormal side of life," says Marks-Rivera. "It is wonderful to see the movement towards acceptance of the possibility of Life after Death. We have been very arrogant in our belief that we are walking our paths alone."

She concludes, "Events such as our annual Paranormal Fest help open doors to these topics, conversations, and ideas that there is absolutely more to our world than just us...."

A schedule of events from September 15-17 is available on Facebook.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Famed Hill Country barbecue spot smokes out new location in Fredericksburg


A storied Central Texas barbecue joint is heading for the hills. Driftwood institution the Salt Lick BBQ is set to open a new outpost in Fredericksburg along the Highway 290 Wine Trail. Although an exact timeline has yet to be announced, day trippers can look forward to sopping up the restaurant’s signature vinegar-based sauce by the end of 2025.

Though the business lends its name to two satellites at the Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin airports, the upcoming outpost will only be the third full-sized eatery in the mini-chain. The current Dell Diamond Salt Lick in Round Rock replaced a shuttered Capital of Texas Highway location, but a planned restaurant in Grapevine was never executed.

According to a release, the 9,000-square-foot eatery will feature all the classic menu items of the flagship, including sandwiches, sides, and meats by the pound. There’s no word yet on whether diners will be able to take advantage of the popular family style option featuring all-you-can-eat brisket, sausage, and pork ribs.

Photo by Mackenzie Smith Kelley

The rambling restaurant will be part of an upcoming mixed-used development, The Sycamore. The 117-acre plot will cluster retail and hospitality concepts around a large central promenade, The Ellipse. The football field-sized stretch will flaunt landscaping, creek beds, and a bandstand to be used for seasonal programming.

Rendering courtesy of SA Partnership and Norris Design

Most tenants will be announced closer to the opening date, but developers promise a range of food and beverage options and retailers selling hats, boots, clothing, and jewelry. The Salt Lick will be joined by Salt Lick Cellars —a tasting room for The Salt Lick’s wine portfolio — and a still unannounced new concept from Salt Lick owner and pitmaster Scott Roberts.

“We could not think of a better place to plant our roots than in Fredericksburg,” said Roberts via the release. “We have found the perfect partner in The Sycamore and can’t wait to see the whole project come to fruition.”

2 downtown San Antonio bars deck the halls for festive Christmas pop-ups


First order of business: Rehearse saying, "Let's circle back to that in the new year." Or, if your work schedule doesn't allow such seasonal procrastination, start punctuating your speech with the odd "cough, cough." Everyone deserves to get lost in the indeterminate haze of the holiday season for at least one day.

For those who need a little help shedding workaday stress, two Christmas pop-up bars will do the trick. Miracle is returning to Downstairs at the Esquire Tavern for a second year, while tropical-themed Sippin' Santa will debut at Hugman's Oasis. Both concepts opened November 24 and run through December 31.

Miracle has been a Yuletide tradition since first popping up in New York City in 2014. Since then, the pop-up has grown into a seasonal franchise with over a hundred international bars. The San Antonio edition debuted at defunct bar Jet-Setter in 2019 before hopping over to Esquire in 2022.

Guests can look forward to gloriously gaudy decorations and kitschy glassware filled with seasonal flavors. Signature sips this year include the Carol Barrel, a fizzy koala-garnished quaff with Applejack, banana liqueur, and navy-strength rum; and the Snowball Old Fashioned, a gingerbread take on the classic served with round ice.

Companion concept Sippin' Santa is new to San Antonio. Though it started in 2015, the pop-up has gained steam since partnering with tiki legend Jeff "Beachbum" Berry in 2018. Now, the series boasts over 50 annual locations in North America.

While still Christmas-themed, Sippin' Santa adds a touch of island exotica, festooning palms with holiday baubles. The drinks keep the spirit with novelty mugs shaped like sharks, coconut shells, and hot tub-soaking Saint Nick.

Highlights include the North Pole Bowl, a potent mix of rhum agricole and Jamaican rum; the Holiday on Ice with vodka, cold brew, and ancho chile liqueur; and the Ho Ho Hot Buttered Rum with spiced honey.

The festivities occur during both bars' normal operating hours, but reservations are gobbled up quickly. Locals can book Miracle here and Sippin' Santa here.

National restaurant magazine meticulously chooses San Antonio's best rising chefs

in good taste

Another week in San Antonio, another opportunity to celebrate chefs. But this time, it's insider praise, and trying their specialty dishes may lead to prizes.

Restaurant industry magazine StarChefs has named its 2023 Austin-San Antonio Rising Stars, which will appear in a print issue coming out in December. It promises "recipes, industry trends, business intel, beverage knowledge, new techniques, and a fresh dose of culinary inspiration," and features a frame-worthy Texas-themed cover.

To celebrate, it is also hosting Rising Stars Restaurant Week from December 1-15. Among this year's winners are 23 food and beverage professionals, making up the third class in Austin and San Antonio, and the 84th class nationally. Restaurant Weeks participants who order one of their featured dishes and post on social media may win a $100 gift certificate. There will also be a fan-voted plating competition between award winners.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps it's because CultureMap has a category of the same name in our annual Tastemaker Awards. CultureMap's Rising Star Chefs are usually sous and executive chefs who don't yet own their own restaurant but might soon; for StarChefs, it seems more like a blanket term for chefs who are very active in any stage of their careers. Kareem El-Ghayesh made both lists, but the rest are unique.

To ensure a careful choice, these awards are based less on StarChefs staff's memory of their cooking, but in a series of tastings and interviews with more than 100 professionals. The judges also take characteristics like food philosophy and leadership in the industry into account.

“In both Austin and San Antonio, we saw cities experiencing immense growth—with food and beverage professionals hustling to keep pace, matching the new energy with eagerness and innovation," said StarChefs managing partner Will Blunt in a press release. "And, more importantly, the Central Texas hospitality [industry] seems to be managing to ride the wave of rapid evolution while staying anchored in the community and true to the best version of itself.”

StarChefs coverThe print issue features cute grackles enjoying a plate of Texas barbecue.starchefs.com

The winners are divided into several categories. The primary category is "Chefs," dominated by Austin chefs: Kareem El-Ghayesh of KG BBQ, Geoff Ellis of Mum Foods Smokehouse and Delicatessen, Rich Reimbolt of Better Half Coffee & Cocktails, Keith Rzepecki of Hestia, and Amanda Turner of Olamaie. San Antonio was represented by a single winner: Emil Oliva of Leche de Tigre.

Arjav Ezekiel and Tracy Malechek-Ezekiel of Birdie’s (in Austin) are frequently included in best-of lists, and this time is no different. The couple was selected as "Game Changers," presented by S.Pellegrino, meaning that their efforts have an innovative twist. Here's what the click-through bio says on the official winners list:

"Their relaxed counter service model, along with the caliber of their wine program — and the execution and hyper-fixation on seasonality in the food program — serves as a bastion for a new way of thinking about elevated service. Tracy and Arjav are able to offer their employees [livable] wages, extensive paid time off, and a number of other benefits due to their commitment to their reimagined business model."

San Antonio turned the tides in the "Restaurateurs" category, presented by Jade Range. All three winners were from San Antonio: Nicola Blaque of The Jerk Shack and Mi Roti; and Andrew Ho and Sean Wen of Curry Boys BBQ, Pinch Boil House, and Wurst Behavior. Individual chefs can't be two places at once, but these powerful players have demonstrated that their ideas will keep contributing to the local scene as they build them out.

"You know, we never really like to call ourselves restaurateurs, or any sort of title, cause we never feel like we deserve that sort of title," wrote Ho and Wen on Instagram in response to the win. "So, instead, we just gonna send a huge shoutout to everyone that comes by and supports our restaurants (@pinchboilhouse, @wurstbehaviortx, @curryboysbbq)! We genuinely appreciate the love we get from y’all. We spend our lives tirelessly thinking about how we can give the community badass, unique experiences and these are the moments that it makes us realize it mayyyy be worth it 🫠😉!"

Both cities shared the spotlight in the "Community" category, presented by Resy. According to the release, it "Recognizes professionals who are deeply connected to the local hospitality community, dedicate their time to community outreach, and are ultimately catalysts for involving members of the culinary community in important initiatives." The award went to Dustin Baker of Roadmap Brewing Co., and Edgar Rico of Nixta Taqueria.

The rest of the categories contained only Austin professionals:

  • Concept: Brian Batch and Ryan McElroy of Bird Bird Biscuit
  • Pastry Chefs: Derrick Flynn of Este and Suerte; and Casandra Perez-Martinez of Comedor
  • Bartender: Erin Ashford of Holiday
  • Sommeliers: Alex Wheatley Bell of Aviary Wine & Kitchen; and Rania Zayyat of Bufalina
  • Artisans: Ben and Phoebe Hollander of Casper Fermentables; and Will Jaquiss of Meanwhile Brewing Co.
  • Mentor (cohort voted): Fiore Tedesco of L'Oca D'Oro.

Even if a restaurant is not on your list to visit, it's worth it to check out the interactive winners list for recipes. Find those and order the 2023 Austin-San Antonio print issue ($5) at starchefs.com.