16 Drinking Spots to Check Out in San Antonio Right Now
Most modern domestic drinking cities first earned their stripes as culinary meccas before garnering recognition for their bar programs. But San Antonio did things a little differently. Mark Bohanan opened his eponymous downtown steakhouse and cocktail lounge in 2008, when the River Walk was a bonafied tourist attraction featuring mainly Tex-Mex and chain restaurants. And when he boldly brought in the late cocktail guru Sasha Petraske (Milk & Honey, Dutch Kills, The Varnish) to consult on his eponymous bar and train the staff, he kickstarted a citywide cocktail revolution.
By the time Bohanan launched the San Antonio Cocktail Conference in 2012, his original barkeepers could be found shaking things up at new spots all over town. And as the bar network continues to grow against the canvas of a revitalized downtown, so does San Antonio’s culinary scene. Next time you visit the Alamo City, be sure to raise a glass at these top spots.
Enter Bohanan’s and be transported to a time when respectable barkeeps wore jackets and dates dressed to the nines to sip from highball glasses and converse in hushed voices by the glow of lamplight. This classy downtown lounge's vast array of spirits and reputation for bar talent make it the place to enjoy a precisely stirred Sazerac, settle in with a snifter of armagnac or taste through a flight of single malt scotch.
In true speakeasy form, a green lantern marks the entrance of this intimate underground Stone Oak bar. Skilled bartenders honor the classics— and offer a whole menu of daiquiri interpretations —alongside seasonal specialty cocktails, all served without an ounce of pretension. A lengthy happy hour here is offered here daily, and weekends usually bring live music to this neighborhood spot.
The Esquire Tavern
This river-facing saloon opened its doors the day after Prohibition was lifted in 1933, and became known for cheap beer and the rough characters who frequented the place in the 1980s. Since local developer Chris Hill restored the space, preserving its dark booths, rococo wallpaper and iconic wooden bar (the longest in the city), the Esquire has been one of the city’s hottest destinations for both innovative cocktails, and elevated bar food. This past winter, they launched a downstairs lounge with a focus in wine, vermouth, sherry, and cider.
Blue Box Bar
After opening The Green Lantern, Steve Mahoney partnered with bartender Olaf Harmel to open Blue Box at the historic Pearl brewery. Order a creative house cocktail in the sleek, sunlit lower level or tuck away to the darker upstairs bar, where a cocktail whisperer will likely shake up a customized creation to your liking.
Don Marsh, Bohanan’s first bar manager, opened this classy speakeasy-inspired bar under the Blue Star Arts Complex, and it immediately gained acclaim as one of the city’s top cocktail bars. In addition to classics and an extensive list of signature drinks, 1919 also features over 300 spirits, with one of the biggest collections of whiskey and bourbon in the state. Although you can easily end up emerging from the shadowy lair having spend a pretty penny, this Southtown bar also features some well-priced daily specials — all you have to do is ask.
After tending bar at Bohanan’s, Green Lantern and The Esquire, Jeret Peña opened his first solo project between downtown and The Pearl. The Brooklynite – with its dimly lit, vintage-clad aesthetic – quickly became a San Antonio hot spot, known for its top-notch cocktails served in a fun, cozy environment, with theme nights (like Tiki Tuesdays) and rotating food trucks parked outside. It was here that Peña joined forces with partners to form the Boulevardier Group.
When chef-owner James Moore (formerly of Boiler House at The Pearl) opened this laid back gastropub, it became an industry hangout thanks to its small but delicious menu of late-night eats and a well-priced drinks menu. Sidle up to the bar for a $7 cocktail or end the night with a cold one on the patio, where a view of the Saint Mary’s strip provides prime people-watching.
The original incarnation of this cocktail haunt opened and closed before entrepreneur Chris Erck and Benjamin Krick revamped and relaunched it last year. Located just west of downtown, the space harkens back to another time with original stained glass windows, an exposed brick wall, and chandeliers. Shelves displaying an extensive collection of spirits — from chinato to singani — are accessible by rolling library ladder, and knowledgable bartenders use them (plus fresh-squeezed juices and house-made accoutrements) to craft wildly-inventive concoctions.
The Hotel Emma’s bar and lounge is initially a feast for the eyes, with a sweeping vaulted ceiling, rich woodgrain, earthy textiles, brass details and repurposed brewing tanks with seating inside. The bar is named for the Sternewirth Privilege, which entitled employees of 19th century breweries to free beer during the workday, so choose from the well-curated beer list or opt for one of their meticulously crafted cocktails, served alongside high end bar bites.
This joint effort between The Boulevardier Group and Empty Stomach (the team behind Asian hotspot Hot Joy and pizza destination Barbaro) proves that quality cocktails don’t have to come with a high price tag or an attitude to match. Nothing’s over $7 at this North St. Mary’s hangout with patio seating, boozy frozen drinks, and a fun vibe.
Champagne is the name of the game at this Japanese comic-inspired sushi spot opened by Gerry and Amonrat Shirley in the Blue Star Arts Complex. Choose from over 20 different types of champagne, sold by the glass or bottle and organized by tasting profile, or order one of the champagne cocktails designed to match the sashimi and maki-based menu.
High Street Wine Company
Last fall, The Pearl gained a dedicated wine bar with the opening of High Street Wine Company, a craftsman-style space featuring customized wooden tables, geometric pendant lights, and bronze detailing. If it’s too hard to choose from the list of wines by the glass, experience one of the wine flights — and then take a bottle of your favorite pour home at a much lower retail price. Since The Pearl and the Riverwalk allow open containers, High Street even offers a free to-go cup if you’d rather stroll and sip.
La Roca Cantina
From the same team behind The Green Lantern comes La Roca Cantina, a bar inspired by the cantinas in the Mexican state of Coahuila. Set inside an old house just north of downtown, this hometown hangout features well-priced, straight forward (and agave focused) cocktails, cold beer, and a generous happy hour menu.
Steve Mahoney’s latest venture, a vibrant gastropub tucked away in Alamo Heights, is inspired by the shareable plates and communal drinking traditions of Japanese izakayas. The cocktail menu, created by lead bartender Nick Kenna (formerly of Dorcól Distillery and Blue Box), incorporates Japanese ingredients like miso, matcha, shiso, and yuzu, and the beer list features plenty of options from Japan. And, per izakaya tradition, there’s plenty of sake as well.
Southtown’s newest bar, set in a converted two-story house with a front porch, blends Southern charm with the laid back vibe of a neighborhood dive. Here, you can order a well-crafted cocktail (which drop to $5 at happy hour), snacks like boiled peanuts and pickled eggs, and $3 Champagne and Lone Star flow daily. While space is limited inside, there’s plenty of patio seating — and it’s usually accompanied by the twang of acoustic live music.
The Last Word
In a continued effort to bring cocktails to the people, The Boulevardier Group opened The Last Word in downtown San Antonio. Bookshelves, lamps, and leather reading chairs give the space a swanky library feel, while 15 draft cocktails maintain quality and attention to detail while streamlining service — even when the house is packed, as it often is.