A bar and restaurant owner with some cachet locally has begun working on three new concepts at La Villita with the hopes of bringing more foot traffic to the sleepy arts district.
Sam Panchevre, owner of Sam's Burger Joint and the Aztec Theatre, is now leasing the buildings that once housed the Little Rhein Steak House and the Fig Tree. He's also taking over the adjacent Dashiell House. All three are owned by The Conservation Society of San Antonio.
Panchevre said he felt the three buildings, in particular the tiered outdoor seating areas that sit above the River Walk and under the shadow of the Hilton Palacio Del Rio, had been underused.
"If you walk on the side of the river, it's a beautiful area and you can't help but look at the terrace and imagine sitting there and enjoying a meal and drink and watch what's going on," said Panchevre, who described the three renovations as a "substantial investment" when asked how much it’s costing. "I have always taken spaces all my life and transformed them."
This week, workers concentrated on renovating the Little Rhein's former home, or, the circa-1855 Otto Bombach residence and store, which has entrances from South Alamo Street and the River Walk.
Panchevre has partnered with Terry Corless, CEO of the Mad Dogs Restaurant Group, to transform the former steakhouse into a German beer garden to be called Little Rhein Prost Haus. They anticipate to open the beer garden and restaurant in March.
In 2013, Corless opened BierGarten River Walk, a Bavarian-style beer garden at 126 Losoya St., at the Paseo Del Alamo, which connects the Hyatt Regency to Alamo Plaza.
However, Corless felt the Oktoberfest concept his company brought from their time spent in Munich to their own beer garden in downtown San Antonio hasn't reached its full potential.
"We have had success in our small venue, but we felt like we haven't been able to put out an authentic product that displays all the elements from the Oktoberfest concept we saw in Munich," Corless said.
"I have spent years trying to find the perfect location for a beer garden, so this opportunity with Little Rhein allows us to see whether we could develop the full manifestation of this concept, and be in a building that was renowned as German," he said.
Inside the Otto Bombach building, one room will serve as the main restaurant area, while another will serve as a beer room with more than 20 drafts either imported from Germany or originated from German-authentic recipes. Corless says they will also add a patio to the front of the building.
The Little Rhein and Fig Tree restaurants, along with the Dashiell House event venue, were previously leased by long-time restaurant owner Moe Lazri. Last March, Lazri closed the doors to the restaurants due to Covid-19, and decided not to renew his lease in December.
In April, Panchevre hopes to open the Dashiell House, 511 Villita St., as a restaurant and bar that will feature comfort foods and cocktails, along with a happy hour.
Panchevre says their menu is still evolving and food and drinks have not been decided, but people can expect a high-energy restaurant that will offer live music outside.
"We hope to bring out more locals to our new restaurant-bar and be a catalyst to increase the foot traffic at La Villita," Panchevre said. "We plan to still do private events if needed, but we want to rejuvenate this historic building and bring more people to this side of the river."
He says he is still in the process of developing a new concept for the former Fig Tree building, also known as the Gray-Guilbeau House.
The Fig Tree location, 515 Villita St., was a fine-dining staple on the River Walk that had been open for five decades and known for its upscale cuisine, formal dining area and River Walk terrace.
Panchevre plans to re-open the former Fig Tree as a fine dining restaurant in May.
The master lease to Panchevre comes as another major restaurant project at La Villita appears to be stalled. The city has leased Maverick Plaza to chef and restauranteur Johnny Hernandez so he can build three new restaurants, and better connect the plaza to the South Alamo promenade. The Conservation Society has objected to the plan because it says the amount of public space will be significantly reduced, therefore hurting its ability to maximize the space during A Night In Old San Antonio.
Panchevre also gave an update on Aztec Theatre renovations. Two years ago, he had planned to add a rooftop bar and a 1,500-square-foot terrace on the second floor that overlooked Crockett Street and the River Walk.
"We have the rooftop bar concept on hold, but we were able to add the terrace and office spaces that will be available for tenants to lease for their businesses," he said.
Heron Editor Ben Olivo contributed to this report.
Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter