San Antonio’s cocktail scene has something for everyone – particularly if you like your drinks strong and served with a helping of history. Whether you’re craving a margarita in the sun or a fiery concoction in a basement speakeasy, Culture Trip has just the place for you.
Opened the day after Prohibition ended in December 1933, the Esquire Tavern has been going strong – and serving its drinks even stronger – ever since. Famed for its 100-foot (30-meter) mahogany bar, the longest in the state, it also boasts an excellent selection of snacks to help soak up the house cocktails. Look out for the popular live jazz and burlesque nights – and for the famed San Antonio River Walk right outside the back door downstairs.
The Hotel Emma, situated inside San Antonio’s converted Pearl Brewery, is a decidedly urban boutique bolthole that celebrates the building’s heritage to great effect. And its renowned Sternewirth Tavern and Clubroom is no different. High, vaulted ceilings, raw concrete pillars and repurposed machinery combine with soft textiles and dark leather for a warm industrial-meets-elegant aesthetic. The bar is named for the Sternewirth Privilege, which entitled employees of 19th-century breweries to free beer during working hours. Thankfully, this rule no longer applies, so you can guarantee the concoctions are poured with precision.
Like the Sternewirth, Jazz TX is situated on the sprawling site of the converted Pearl Brewery, just north of downtown. This intimate club can be found at basement level, beneath the Pearl’s renovated Bottling House. Low lighting and the table-for-two set-up make this a great date spot. You can sip on craft cocktails or sample the array of Texan beers on tap. And the all-night kitchen menu and schedule of live music and dancing – from jazz and blues to swing and salsa across two shows a night – mean you can continue into the early hours.
One of San Antonio’s best-kept secrets, George’s Keep is a trendy cocktail den with a comfortable neighborhood feel, located on the edge of the ritzy Eilan Hotel & Spa. To enter the bar, hidden in plain sight (and yet without a sign) at terrace level, you’ll duck through a hobbit-size door to discover a sophisticated, Mad Men-style lounge serving solid crafted classics alongside a rolling menu of inspired recipes.
Supposedly one of the most haunted spots in San Antonio, this lounge bar at the St Anthony Hotel is committed to “paying homage to spirits of the past.” And yes, that means classic cocktails and ghost stories, served under the classic artwork and glittering chandeliers of this glamorous old hotel. Order one of the specialty cocktails if you dare – each is dedicated to one of the hotel’s resident specters.
A Japanese gastropub, Hanzo serves adventurous cocktails, a comprehensive sake selection and fragrant fare including gyoza, sashimi and ramen. The brainchild of successful local entrepreneur Steve Mahoney, it’s relatively hard to find (just north of Alamo Heights), which means it’s firmly out of the general tourist orbit.
Another River Walk favorite, Dorrego’s boasts a fantastic wine list and an extensive cocktail menu to match. Based in the lively – and surprisingly affordable – Hotel Valencia, it’s also renowned for its Argentine cuisine. The place is named after the historic Plaza Dorrego in Buenos Aires, and is designed with a tasteful South American flair.