San Antonio‘s going through a quiet revolution. Without trying to be the biggest or the boldest – characteristics that define many a Texas endeavor – the Lone Star state’s second most populous city is chasing after quality over quantity in the form of an urban updo. Curious about the culture shift, I moseyed on over to check out what’s turning theAlamo City into a styled stay.
Keener than Rachel Zoe styling Jennifer Garner on Oscar night, my husband and I arrive at our 1914-built boutique hotel early just to see if our room is available. Sometimes this tactic works, this time it doesn’t. The Hotel Havana, restored with thoughtful Cuban and Victorian touches, is full and needs more time to prep the room. To get our bearings, we settle on the lobby’s regal red couch and confer with the front desk concierge about directions and districts.
Fresh off a road trip we opt for two wheels over four, checking out two of San Antonio’s B-cycle city bikes – positioned right beside the Hotel Havana – and pedal north toward Bakery Lorraine, opened by two Bouchon Bakery alums in late 2011. Conveniently forgetting about calorie consumption, we order three macarons (butter-honey-rosemary, single-origin chocolate, and salted caramel), a flaky croissant, and a peanut butter-chocolate cookie. Indulging our indulgences in the bakery’s sweet-smelling and white-walled environs, it becomes very clear why the city’s top chefs eat here in their leisure time.
All good things must come to an end, so we quit our sugar session while we’re ahead and cycle down the street to Pearl Brewery, a 22-acre urban redevelopment. Connected to downtown by bike paths, the River Walk waterway, and plain old roads, the live-work-play project is one of San Antonio’s catalysts of cool, merging a once-abandoned, 1883-built brewery with a bevy of condos, shops, industrial-swish restaurants, and the Southwestern outpost of the Culinary Institute of America. Poking around Pearl’s blend of age-old brick and city-slick, my husband and I both turn to each other with eyes wide open and say, “We could live here.”
As much as I want to stick around my new live-work muse, I’d read about a nearby riverside restaurant specializing in cheeky-chic, touted as the long-awaited passion project of James Beard nominee Chef Andrew Weissman. True to form, The Luxury doles out dialed-down decadence – think crispy fish banh mi or roulade du jour – out of stacked shipping containers. Eating under the shade of a corrugated tin shelter at one of umpteen picnic tables, I envision a Saturday lunch with friends that effortlessly turns into dinner and drinks.
Spending most of the day in the city’s River North district, we take a water taxi back to our hotel and freshen up before dedicating the evening to Southtown. Amid a string of modern, low-rise townhomes and converted warehouses, we step into The Fruteria. Between tapas-sized bites, I snap so many photos of the patio’s bright chairs, wood-slab longtables, and unique plates, that Chef-owner Johnny Hernandez takes notice and comes out for a chat.
Viewfinder Tip: Get around the River Walk via water taxi.
The renaissance man designs everything in his restaurants, from the menu items to the margarita glasses. As we talk travel and tequila infusions, it occurs to me that I’m with one of the city’s purveyors of progress who started in San Antonio, got whisked away, and came back to create and collaborate. Comfortable in his own skin (and kitchen), he even suggests other nearby restaurants he thinks we’d love; note to self: sit under the stars on The Monterey’s lush patio – converted from a vintage gas station – later.
As I drift off to bed, my mind becomes a bouncy castle of ideas, spurred by a casual conversation earlier in the day. Leaving Bakery Lorraine, the shop girl said, “See you soon,” to which I replied, “Thanks, I hope to, but I’m from out of town.” Without even skipping a beat, she asks, “Are you moving here?,” as if that was the obvious question. Taking into account the findings from my à la mode marathon, I guess it is.
What cities have you traveled to that you could live in?