It’s probably a safe bet that every one of San Antonio’s 31 million visitors a year makes it to the famous River Walk, the city’s downtown urban waterway. Now many of those visitors have a reason to make their way to the northern reach of the San Antonio River to take in the delights of Pearl, a large redevelopment project housed on the site of Pearl Brewery, which opened in 1883 and shut down in 2001.
Fortunately, billionaire Christopher Goldsbury brought his deep pockets and vision to the area and has transformed the abandoned buildings to a vibrant, lively and popular neighborhood with 324 apartments, 18 restaurants and cafes, 14 retailers, a hotel and a farmers’ market.
Visitors come to nibble on macarons, fried quail legs or thyme and honey ice cream, listen to jazz in an upscale music venue, shop for locally produced goods and dine indoors and al fresco on a variety of cuisines.
Who wants to go to a chain store when you travel? The Pearl is home to several locally owned retail establishments selling everything from cyclists’ accessories to authentic volcanic rock molcajetes.
Shop for the fashion-forward younger set at Roo and Me, with sizes up to 10 years old. You’ll find classic San Antonio attire at the family-owned Adelante Boutique where shop owner Marla Mason Ross promises to “wrap you in confidence from head to toe.” Men who dress for comfort and style should check out the selection of guayaberas, the classic worker’s shirt with the roomy fit made from fabrics from around the world at Dos Carolinas.
Remember book stores? You’re welcome to flip actual pages of books or attend an author signing at The Twig Book Shop. Upgrade your yoga wear at The Synergy Studio, add a few locally made soft separates from the collection at Niche and items such as cocktail kits, clothing, hats and boots for gentlemen at The Sporting District. Cyclists can peruse bikes, fashions and accessories at Bike World.
If you’ve been dining San Antonio-style, chances are good you’ve downed a few dozen or more tortillas. Try your hand at making them yourself with a tortilla kit and press from Melissa Guerra Latin Kitchen Market.
Visit Saturday and Sunday mornings, rain or shine, for the year-round producers-only All Pearl Farmers Market, where every product is produced within a 150-mile radius.
With 18 restaurants and cafes, The Pearl features cuisine ranging from Peruvian-Asian to kosher vegetarian to Latin and Mexican. We had a progressive dinner, starting with a massive charcuterie plate, fried quail legs and beet, avocado and citrus salad at Cured, housed in the 1904 building that had been Pearl’s administration building. Chef Steve McHugh is passionate about his charcuterie, which is aged from 30 days to 12 months and displayed at the entrance in a humidity controlled locker.
Our next stop was Botika, which opened this past summer, the newest restaurant in the Pearl. Executive Chef Geronimo Lopez had been the Executive Chef and Instructor of Culinary Arts at The Culinary Institute of America, located just across the courtyard in the Pearl. His cuisine is Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian) and Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) and includes items like duck confit and potato empananadas, seasonal miso soup, ceviche, sushi and asado criolla noodles.
Other restaurants include the Bakery Lorraine, featuring pastries, salads and sandwiches. The aptly named Green is San Antonio’s only 100 percent kosher vegetarian restaurant. La Gloria, which means the heavens, features the street foods of Mexico, including tacos, tortas and sopes. For traditional Latin flavors, try Nao Latin Gastro Bar where meat-lovers can savor the mixed parrilla for two that includes NY steak, hangar steak, blood sausage and Argentinean chorizo grilled in the outdoor kitchen.
On the site of a former brewery, you gotta have beer, right? For craft beer brewed onsite, visit Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery with 21 beers on tap and dishes like oysters, fried chicken, shrimp and snapper. Pair a cold one at The Granary with delicious barbecue. This Charming Man would be my choice – that’s the name of a drink with gin, lavendar, lemon and absinthe, one of the handcrafted cocktails available at Blue Box Bar. Ask for wine suggestions from Scott Ota, the sommelier at High Street Wine Co.
Dine on foie gras and brisket tacos, lamb meatballs or cornish hen while enjoying the salsa, blues, jazz or Texas swing music at the new upscale Texas dance hall and jazz club Jazz TX, located in the basement of the original bottling house of the Pearl Brewery.
It was love at first sight for me when I saw the imposing brick façade of Hotel Emma lit up against the dark Texas sky. My affection only grew as I approached and saw the outdoor seating by a roaring fireplace at the entrance, the expansive lobby with the soaring ceiling and the cozy two-story library. The 146-room, riverfront hotel was originally Pearl’s Brewhouse built in 1894. It’s named for Emma Koehler, whose husband Otto was the president of Pearl Brewing. Emma took over running the brewery after he died in 1914 and under her leadership, it was the only one in San Antonio to survive Prohibition because she transitioned it to producing “near beer” and ice cream and operating a dry cleaner and auto repair shop.
At check-in guests are greeted in the 3,700-volume library with a complimentary La Babia margarita. Rather than the traditional mini bar, their rooms contain the Hotel Emma Ice Box, stocked with local beer and snacks. The hotel also features a chic cocktail bar, rooftop pool and complimentary Electra cruiser bikes.
The main restaurant, Supper, serves three meals daily, with dinner items like pork prime rib and duck confit with rhubarb.
For more information on The Pearl, visit www.atpearl.com; for San Antonio visit http://visitsanantonio.com and for Top Five Hotels, visit http://moneyinc.com/top-five-hotels-san-antonio-2016.