Ben Olivo | SAHeron Devils River Whiskey is located inside the Burns building, 401 E. Houston St. Photos taken March 12. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Devils River Whiskey is finally set to open on Wednesday inside the Burns building at 401 E. Houston St. The distillery is also relocating its headquarters from Dallas.

Mike Cameron, president and co-founder of Devils River Whiskey, said he wanted to be in the heart of the San Antonio tourism scene.

"We felt our close proximity to the Alamo would help our business thrive," Cameron said.

In 2018, the Dallas-based distillery announced it was relocating to San Antonio. However, the pandemic delayed the move. During the relocation process, Cameron, who’s lived in San Antonio for 30 years, contemplated a move to the Hill Country, but ultimately decided to make downtown the company’s new home. Another reason for the move was because of its proximity to Devils River, which is a part of the Rio Grande drainage basin. The distillery draws from the limestone-filtered spring water from Devils River, which is considered the more pristine river in Texas. The distillery gives a percentage of its profits to the Devils River Conservancy from each bottle; the percentage fluctuates from year to year.

The company also moved its bottling service facility near Fort Sam Houston, and uses it to ship out to 29 states with plans to increase to 33 states by the end of this year.

Rob Gourlay, a partner with the Boulevardier Group, has designed a Prohibition-era themed cocktail menu using Devils River Whiskey’s five selections: bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, barrel strength, coffee bourbon and single barrel straight bourbon whiskey. Cocktail prices are expected to be in the $8-$10 range.

Cameron said the distillery will feature a Prohibition-era vibe with authentic furniture from the 1920s, a hand-carved bar, marble flooring, a copper-made distillery on the first floor and a speakeasy bar located in the basement.

An outdoor patio will serve as a cigar-lounge.

He had Austin artist Crystal Nobles paint Texan-born musicians such as Selena, Beyoncé, and Willie Nelson in the display case in the front. “It was important for out-of-town folks to learn about the talent Texas has,” said Cameron, who wants to bring live music to the distillery.

Eventually, Devils River Whiskey will open a rooftop bar, but the construction for that project has been pushed back to the fall.

Cameron said they plan to offer a house rum, vodka and gin in the future, but wanted to solely focus on bourbon whiskey in the beginning.

The distillery plans to offer a food menu with a charcuterie and cheese plate; a farm table salad; shrimp diablo (jumbo shrimp with habanero butter, lemon and garlic) ; onion dip with chips; Sichuan barbecue cashews; and rosemary citrus nuts.

So far, Devils River Whiskey has hosted 10 weddings and is booked for 50 future events. Cameron said the distillery will be closed to the public at certain times during these events.

“The bride likes it because of the classiness of our place and the groom likes it because it's a whiskey distillery,” Cameron said. “I feel like that is why it has worked so well for our weddings. Some feedback we have seen and heard from people when they came in for a tour was it was perfect and they were blown away.”

Devils River hours of operation are 4 p.m. to 11 p.m Tuesday- Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight, Friday, noon to 12 a.m. Saturday, and noon to 11 p.m. Sunday.

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Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

The Rosario’s property is located just south of Maverick Brasserie on the 700 block of South St. Mary’s St. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

The owner of Maverick Texas Brasserie is mounting a last-second fight against the size of Rosario's new restaurant, which is planned to be built next door on the site of the old El Mirador on South St. Mary's Street. Peter Selig's complaint that the new Rosario's is too big, and that its planned 20-foot wall will box in his restaurant's outdoor patio and the only two windows in the main dining room, has garnered the support of more than 1,300 people who've signed a petition on Change.org.

Rosario's plan would be "destructive to the character of the building that houses Maverick," Karl Baker, a lawyer for the Maverick, told the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) last week. Baker also said the "scale and mass of the building is wildly disproportionate" compared to nearby buildings, including the Maverick.

In December, the HDRC gave Rosario's owner Lisa Wong preliminary approval to demolish most of the old El Mirador building, 722 S. St. Mary's St., so she can construct a new home for the Southtown staple she's owned a block away on South Alamo for 28 years. She was scheduled to return to the HDRC last Wednesday for final approval.

That's when Maverick owner Peter Selig first spoke out publicly against the size of Rosario's proposed building—a building taking up 20,000 square foot of space with two floors, a rooftop bar, and a large outdoor dining room.

"It seems the sole consideration for the applicant here is to super-size the square footage of Rosario's," Selig told the HDRC on March 3, speaking of Wong. The new building, which would double the size of the current restaurant, according to Wong, would extend over the parking lot that separates the Maverick and El Mirador, leaving six inches of space between the two buildings. A new parking lot for Rosario's would face South Presa.

COURTESY DOUGLAS ARCHITECTS

The comments were made at the beginning of the HDRC meeting on March 3, but the case was not deliberated by commissioners due to time constraints. The HDRC is scheduled to hear the case on March 17.

At the December HDRC meeting, Wong said the restaurant's potential size was in large part because of "Covid considerations" and would provide a "more diverse dining experience to patrons."

Selig also claims Wong's proposed building violates the site's zoning, which, according to Selig, references a site plan that calls for roughly 11,000 square feet of commercial space on the land.

"The (Unified Development Code) zoning site plan also shows an ample buffer between Maverick and the adjacent property that the owners of Maverick have relied upon in building their business," he told the commission.

Wong's plan also includes restoring the historic King William Garden House into a private dining room, and moving the F.L. Dixon house (currently home to Pig Liquors) to the southernmost edge of the property.

Rendering of the new Rosario's at 722 S. St. Mary’s St. facing east. Courtesy Douglas Architects

Selig is not the only person to oppose the proposed design for Rosario's. More than 150 San Antonio residents called into the last HDRC meeting to voice their concerns. Three days later, Selig started a petition on Change.org that requests "a new design that doesn't block the Maverick patio or overwhelm the parking demand."

At the last HDRC meeting, Selig said Wong "has made no attempt to inform or work with Maverick on its plans, or address any of our concerns." Wong did not speak at the meeting.

It's unclear whether Selig and Wong have talked since the March 3 meeting, or whether they're both dug in on their respective positions.

Selig and Wong, both of whom declined to be interviewed for this article, are, as Selig described in an email, co-managers of Acenar Ltd., the entity that owns and operates River Walk restaurant Acenar.

COURTESY DOUGLAS ARCHITECT

COURTESY DOUGLAS ARCHITECT

At the meeting in December, concerns were raised by the Conservation Society of San Antonio and Southtown neighborhood associations about the building’s size, as well as its potential to produce noise in the form of live entertainment. The concerns were addressed by either Douglas Architects, or Wong, and seem to have satisfied previous worries. Except for Selig, who, until last week’s HDRC meeting, had not voiced his opposition to the plan.

In an interview, Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, president of the Lavaca Neighborhood Association, said she was concerned about the potential volume of people coming in and out of the new Rosario's.

Rohr-Allegrini said the Lavaca Neighborhood Association focuses on "how the building impacts the environment—how the construction engages with the community," and not "debates between neighbors … (between) business partners."

"Maverick has a zero lot line," she said, meaning the architects of the Maverick have built up to the line on their respective lot. And, "Rosario's has a zero lot line—they have done nothing wrong in that regard."

Previously published
Rosario’s plan to demolish majority of San Antonio’s El Mirador building receives first approval (Dec. 4, 2020)

The Rosario's is seen in the foreground, with Maverick Brasserie in the background. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

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Emily Drisch is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow her at @partylkeits1999 on Twitter

Contact the Heron at hello@saheron.com | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

PINKERTON'S BARBECUE FACEBOOK

The tips starting coming into the Heron newsroom this week: The pits at Pinkerton's Barbecue are smoking.

Sure enough, a sign on the front doors of the much-hyped barbecue joint from Houston reads "We open Feb. 13."

That is the latest from Pinkerton’s Barbecue, a 5,000-square-foot Hill Country-style barbecue restaurant at the Weston Urban park, along West Travis Street between North Flores and North Main, across from the Frost Tower.

Pinkerton's Barbecue is located in the Weston Urban park.
Pinkerton's Barbecue is due to open this month at the Weston Urban park. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

In an interview with the Heron in 2019, Pinkerton’s Barbecue owner Grant Pinkerton described the food as craft-style barbecue. "Man, we have smoked everything," he said. "Everything" translates to prime brisket, beef ribs, pork ribs (glazed or dry), turkey, chicken and pulled pork. Pinkerton’s is also known for its Cajun selections.

In terms of libations, Pinkerton’s has made a name for itself in Houston for its craft cocktail and wine programs meant to pair with smoked meats.

Pinkerton said Weston Urban convinced him to open a restaurant in downtown San Antonio, in particular at the 1.2-acre park, a focal point of the company’s redevelopment of west downtown.

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"They came to Houston and ate our food and presented a really unique opportunity for the whole development down there," Pinkerton said. "It’s a pretty unique opportunity for somebody to open a restaurant in that park space. I thought it would be a great fit for a barbecue joint, one that feels like Texas when you come in. A big part of our place in Houston is that it’s an experience."

After months of delay due to Covid-19, developer Weston Urban opened the 1.2-acre park in early November.

Related
» Pinkerton's Barbecue of Houston to open in Weston Urban park
» 'It was important for us to open the park to people right now'
» A glimpse at west downtown in 10 years

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

Landrace, helmed by Steve McHugh, will be the Thompson's signature restaurant. Courtesy Thompson San Antonio

By Nina Rangel | San Antonio Current

Thompson San Antonio, San Antonio's first luxury hotel to open in five years, has roped in the culinary talents of two local heavy hitters: chefs Steve McHugh and Robert Cantu.

McHugh—a five-time James Beard Award finalist and chef-owner of Cured at the Pearl—will helm Landrace, a 200-seat eatery on the hotel's ground floor that will highlight regional providers of quail, pork and produce. The hotel and both restaurants are scheduled to open next month.

“Landrace is a dream realized for me, as I have been envisioning and working on the concept for some time,” McHugh said in a release. “The menu will showcase my fascination with local ingredients and the unique products grown in Texas as we celebrate the natural flavors and nuances of the seasons in collaboration with Texas’ heritage farmers and growers.”

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Dishes at Landrace tentatively include a savory Wagyu beef tartare with smoked crème fraiche, quail egg and American caviar as well as an oven-roasted delicata squash with pomegranates and rye berry pilaf.

Meanwhile, Robert Cantu, a San Antonio native who's cooked throughout Texas and the Midwest, will lead The Moon’s Daughters, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and bar on the 20-story hotel's rooftop.

Cantu will serve a variety of small plates featuring ingredients such as charred and preserved lemon, local honey, roasted pistachios, local eggplant, fried mint and Marcona almonds. Lamb Ragu and Seared Black Bass will round out its entree options.

The Thompson San Antonio hotel is scheduled to open February 18, according to its website. The pricey lodging—a standard room starts at $300—is accepting reservations for room stays beginning March 1.

McHugh’s Landrace is scheduled to open February 18, while Cantu’s The Moon’s Daughter will open Feb. 20.

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

Doloris Balderramos (left) and Jay Taylor sit in front of Back Unturned Brewing Co. as they receive a personal pizza earlier this month. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Allie Irvine, 37, has been homeless since Easter weekend of 2016. In her life, she has faced hardships such as drug abuse, self-harm, and being a victim of police brutality, she says. However, Irvine says she is blessed with the amount of care she has received from the many homeless and social services programs in the downtown San Antonio area.

One of them comes from an unlikely place.

In June, Back Unturned Brewing Co. began serving pizzas to the homeless community during lunch. Now known as the Easy as Pie program, the microbrewery offers homeless people a hot personal-sized pizza, along with a drink, five days a week—no questions asked.

Doloris Balderramos prepares a pepperoni pizza from Back Unturned Brewing Co. on Dec. 17. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

“I enjoy this program more than others because I enjoy coming here and it’s pleasant,” Irvine said.

Back Unturned Brewing Co., which opened November 2019 at 516 Brooklyn Ave., is known for its unique beer selection and brick-oven pizzas. Owner Ricardo Garcia gave the bar its name because he didn’t turn his back on his dream of starting his own brewery. But for his lunchtime regulars, the name may take on its own meaning.

“They are human, too,” Garcia said. “I just want to show them some love and give them something to eat.”

Before he started the Easy as Pie outreach program, Garcia’s views on the homeless aligned with the stigma many have toward the homeless community, and was a factor that steered him away at first.

“I had a very negative judgment against homeless people in the past, and questioned why can’t they just get jobs,” Garcia said.

When asked to elaborate on what changed his mind about the homeless, and what sparked him to create the program, Garcia said, “God just told me one day I had to change my views, and find a way to help them. I’m doing this program to just help the people.”

“I can’t judge someone on what they've been through and justify what is OK and what isn’t.”

Gukki and Johnny Blaze look over Back Unturned's menu before placing their order recently. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Elizabeth, 56, is one of many who are on the streets who appreciate what Garcia is doing for the homeless community.

“The pizza allows me to get in my protein and vegetables daily, while giving me nourishment to keep me well and give me energy for the day,” said Elizabeth, who declined to give her last name. “It’s truly cooking with love. The pizza feels like this is a healing work of food on your body and it’s blessed and done with love.”

Jay Taylor, 32, said the loving energy from Garcia and the Back Unturned staff transcends into other parts of his day.

“I hope this program waters the seed of love that they planted and it grows into a tree, and starts the cycle for the next group,” Taylor said.

Back Unturned server Rebekah Gomez takes a personal pizza to a homeless person outside on Dec. 17. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

The program operates 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday at the brewery that's along the Museum Reach, and is available to the first 10 people. Individuals are allowed to enjoy their food outside, but people Garcia and the staff know can sit inside. There is no limit on the amount of times individuals can take advantage of the program.

Before the program, Garcia and his staff gave away free pizzas to his regulars from the homeless community during the initial development of the microbrewery. They were giving out 50 to 75 pizzas a week, but it caused his staff to be overworked and the business suffered financially.

“We would lose out on about $350-$500 a week, and it was hard because I had to pay the bills, as well,” Garcia said.

This is what led to Garcia capping the amount of the pizzas offered to 10, so they could balance out their labor and expenses.

The microbrewery funds about 75%-80% of the program, while the rest are donations from customers. Customers learn about the program from signage on the front door, from tabletop displays that give additional info, or word of mouth.

Donation bin inside Unturned Brewing. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

If anyone is interested in donating to the program, the brewery has a QR code that you can scan to pay them via PayPal, but cash is also welcome. The funds will be used to potentially increase the amount of pizzas they can offer to people on a daily basis.

Garcia says he is exploring making the program into a nonprofit organization.

Back Unturned also created a donation bin inside the brewery for non-perishable food, and clothes and shoes for individuals in need. The public is welcome to donate items during the brewery’s operating hours of 11 a.m to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Recently, brewery held a Winter Blanket Drive as the cold weather started kicking in.

"I understand how uncomfortable it can be helping a stranger," Garcia said, adding that "at the end of the day, they are people, too."

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Back Unturned Brewing Co. is located at 516 Brooklyn Ave. Photo by Stephanie Marquez | Heron contributor

Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter

This rendering shows a new Rosario's on South. St. Mary’s Street on the site of the former El Mirador restaurant. Renderings courtesy Douglas Architects

Restauranteur Lisa Wong has confirmed plans to demolish the former El Mirador restaurant building in Southtown, which is listed as a local landmark, and build a new restaurant space, where she will move her popular Rosario's Mexican Café y Cantina a block away on South Alamo.

If approved, demolition of the old El Mirador building will begin in the first quarter of next year, and take 9 months to a year to complete, Wong said in an email.

On Friday, Wong released renderings by Douglas Architects that show a new restaurant building clad in brick and large storefront windows, and with a rooftop terrace, facing South St. Mary's Street. She estimates the project will cost $5 million.

"Our goal has been to develop Rosarios’s permanent home," Wong said in a press release. She continued, "My focus as a restaurateur is creating a restaurant that our guests feel comfortable in and one that works within the fabric of this distinctive neighborhood."

Wong recently applied for a demolition permit for the former El Mirador, and the Historic and Design Review Commission is scheduled to consider the total project on Nov. 18. Parts of the structure date back to the 1860s, according to the city's Office of Historic Preservation. The structure, 722 S. St. Mary’s St., gained landmark status in 1988, after the city designated more than 1,000 downtown properties during its Center City Cultural Resource Inventory.

However, 35% of the original structure remains, says Douglas Architects. The original stone and caliche house, "is no longer intact, with only a portion of wall and lean-to addition remaining."

"Unfortunately, with all the conversions, renovations and additions over the years, there is no house remaining," said Andrew Douglas of Douglas Architects. "Less than 35% of the original structure exists, indicating a loss of significance, which is recognized by City and the U.S. Department of the Interior in order to make the case for demolition. Our desire is to find appropriate ways to integrate the remaining materials and elements into the new design, to pay homage to the original house."

There are two small homes on the property: the King William Garden House, which will serve as a private dining space, and the F.L. Dixon House, currently occupied by Pig Liquors. Both need to be restored, according to Wong.

Rosario's began as one of the first restaurants in the King William and Lavaca area 28 years ago, Wong said; the move would be its third downtown since 1992.

The new Rosario's had to be redesigned because of Covid-19, and will now provide "roomier dining experience that responds to society's changing needs," with larger dining rooms and outdoor spaces. Douglas Architect's goal is to incorporate historic building materials from the remaining El Mirador into the new building.

"I understand and respect the importance of preserving historic structures and the preservation of history," Wong said.

Wong purchased the property in 2018 from local developer Chris Hill.

Previously published
» Rosario’s owner seeks to demolish site of landmark San Antonio restaurant El Mirador
» Rosario’s appears destined for former El Mirador location, sign says
» Rosario’s owner Lisa Wong purchases El Mirador

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Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

The former El Mirador building, 722 S. St. Mary's St., looks to be the new home of Rosario's.
The former El Mirador property, 722 S. St. Mary's St., looks to be the future home of Rosario's. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

After purchasing the old El Mirador property two years ago, restaurant owner Lisa Wong has submitted an application to demolish the structure and build a new restaurant, presumably the future home of Southtown staple Rosario's.

Perhaps complicating Wong's plan is the fact that the building, 722 S. St. Mary's St., is a local landmark, parts of which date back to the 1860s. The Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC) is scheduled to review the demolition proposal and new construction plans on Nov. 18.

The building has been vacant since Wong purchased it in 2018 from local developer and restauranteur Chris Hill, and subsequently closed El Mirador after 50 years of business. Since late September, outdoor advertising has suggested Wong’s plan to move Rosario’s, which she acquired in 1992, from its current location on South Alamo Street a half-block south to the El Mirador location in 2021.

The property received local landmark designation in 1988 after the Center City Cultural Resource Inventory, a comprehensive downtown survey of more than 1,000 designations, was conducted by the City of San Antonio. The oldest portion of the building dates back to the 1860s; throughout the years since, the structure, which is located in the Lavaca Historic District, has seen many alterations, renovations and additions, according to the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP).

Wong did not respond to interview requests.

The Conservation Society of San Antonio, which has fought to preserve historic structures since its founding in 1924, did not respond to an interview request.

According to the Office of Historic Preservation’s webpage, “landmark designation protects the unique character of the City's historic resources. Landmark designation does not affect the use of a property. Land use is regulated by Zoning. Designation does, however, affect the aesthetics of any exterior changes made to landmarks or properties within local historic districts through implementation of a design review process.”

If the project is approved by the HDRC, it will not require City Council approval, because it's a "private demolition," OHP spokeswoman Ximena Copa-Wiggins said. Demolition may begin once the project’s zoning and permit requirements are met.

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Currently, to receive a landmark designation, properties and structures must meet at least three of 16 criteria listed in the City of San Antonio’s Unified Development Code. Some criteria include: if the location is the site of a historically significant event, it’s connection to a person of historical significance and if the structure includes “distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, type, method of construction, or use of indigenous materials.”

In the ’80s, designations did not include specific details regarding which criteria landmarks met, Copa-Wiggins said. The survey results, which Copa-Wiggins quoted from, highlighted the significance of the property’s “stone/caliche structures,” but did not include details about what makes the building a local landmark.

El Mirador opened in 1968, and was moved to its current location on South St. Mary's Street in 1978, according to Express-News archives. Hill, who owns Esquire Tavern, bought the restaurant from Diana and Julian Treviño in 2014, before ultimately selling it to Wong four years later.

Previously published
» Rosario’s appears destined for former El Mirador location, sign says
» Rosario’s owner Lisa Wong purchases El Mirador

Brigid Cooley is a Heron intern this fall. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications at Texas A&M University-San Antonio, where she also serves as editor-in-chief of The Mesquite newspaper. She can be reached at brigid@saheron.com, @brigidelise1 on Twitter

Tony's Bar, 602 Brooklyn Ave., will be closing for good on Friday, Oct. 25. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron
Tony's Bar (pictured here), 206 Brooklyn Ave., has reopened as Tony's Siesta, while keeping the wall signage untouched. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

By Nina Rangel | San Antonio Current

Recently-opened Tony’s Siesta oozes tio vibes y puro SA attitude.

Situated at 206 Brooklyn Ave. near downtown, Tony’s Siesta aims to preserve the comfortable atmosphere of the previous spot — revered watering hole Tony’s Bar — while embracing the growth of SA as a food and beverage destination.

Previous owner Tony Lopez closed the doors on the aptly named bar late last year, retiring after 20 years of providing ice cold beer and comfortable vibes to blue collar locals in the downtown area. In its place, Tony's Siesta has emerged with an upgraded interior, but the same 'Old San Antonio' feeling.

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You're one in a melon and so is this yummy Watermelon Fresca from Tony's Siesta in downtown SA.

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"When I was introduced to Tony and the idea of taking over, they were one and the same, Tony and the bar," new proprietor Andy Palacios told the Current. "It’s small enough to be a friendly neighborhood bar, but still downtown, where a people can experience puro vibes, inspired by Old San Antonio and Mexican heritage. If I could put SA in a bar, this would be it."

Palacios — a seasoned veteran in the local bar scene with a pedigree that includes stints at craft cocktail joints Blue Box and Francis Bogside — had plans to leave the bar industry for a spell when acquiring Tony's became a possibility.

"The stars really aligned for us, because I was getting ready to get a 9-to-5," he said. "I've always wanted to open up my own bar, but banks want to see consistent income. As a bartender, that's tough, because we typically take home cash."

With the help of hospitality entrepreneur program Break Fast and Launch, Palacios secured an investor, and later, a small business loan through nonprofit organization LiftFund.

While the exterior of the building — including an iconic, twenty-year-old replica of the Tower of the Americas — remains largely untouched, the interior of the Siesta now boasts rich splashes of color, warm wooden accents and punchy neon details.

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The bar is currently operating in a soft opening capacity, and Palacios is planning a November 21 grand opening. In the meantime, the bar at Tony’s Siesta offers a variety of liquid treats, from tequila to beer to boozy aguas frescas. Enjoy drinks and food truck eats inside the cozy bar area, or bundled up outside at one of many socially-distanced picnic tables.

The cantina is open Monday through Wednesday from 4 p.m. to midnight, Thursday through Saturday from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to midnight.

Previously published
As Tony’s Bar closes, a piece of Old San Antonio exits too (Oct. 23, 2019)

This article is republished with permission from the San Antonio Current.

The San Antonio Current, San Antonio's award-winning alternative media company, has served as the city's premiere multimedia source of alternative news, events and culture since 1986.

hello@saheron.com | @sanantonioheron on Twitter | Facebook

Mexican Manhattan, 110 Soledad St., closed on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020.
Mexican Manhattan Restaurant is located at 110 Soledad St. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Mexican Manhattan Restaurant, which served Tex-Mex food on Soledad Street for more than 62 years, closed for good over the weekend. In 1958, the Karam family opened the restaurant, which has held a special place in the hearts of many San Antonio families for decades.

The Karam's announced the news on the Mexican Manhattan website:

"We cannot say 'THANK YOU' enough to the generations of loyal customers, amazing employees, and terrific friends from near and far. You have given us an incredible 62-year run and we are eternally grateful." A front door sign also reads, "Thank you for over 62 incredible years."

Saturday was the last day of service, which KSAT first reported.

The closure also applies to Judy's Food To Go, which was Mexican Manhattan's grab-and-go sister store-front next door.

The ownership also wants holders of blue, green, or gold certificates to mail them to the current address, 110 Soledad St., for a full refund. "Do not forget to include your correct return address or we cannot process the refund," the website reads.

The Karams could not immediately be reached for comment.

"Thank you again one and all. It truly has been our pleasure to serve you," the ownership continues.

Although the ownership didn't blame the coronavirus pandemic, it's clear the decline in downtown office workers and tourists has taken its toll on downtown restaurants. Mexican Manhattan is technically on the River Walk, but it's not located on the horseshoe segment, which is where most restaurants and bars are concentrated.

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It also appears to have fallen victim to progress.

Across Soledad, the renovation of the Riverview Towers office building into a hotel has closed some on the lanes on Soledad and West Commerce. Construction related to the Witte building on the river level has also cluttered the area with sidewalk impediments and detours.

Founded by the late Tony A. Karam, Mexican Manhattan has been family owned and operated since it opened. According to the restaurant’s website, Karam’s storefront was originally located on the other side of Soledad Street in what was once known as the "Turf Club," a local bar and gambling house owned by former Texas Senator V. E. "Red" Berry; Karam moved Mexican Manhattan to its riverfront location in 1961, next to Solo Serve discount clothing store, another downtown staple. Growing with the city, the restaurant was renovated twice, first in 1988 and again in 1999, to accommodate large crowds of San Antonio locals and tourists.

The Mexican Manhattan San Antonians grew to love was actually a sequel, according to San Antonio Express-News columnist Paula Allen. The original was opened by the Covarrubias family in 1926 on El Paso Street under a different name, before changing it to Mexican Manhattan in the early 1930s, Allen wrote in 2015. That version eventually closed in 1957.

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Night crawling #satx #sanantonio #downtownsa #downtownsanantonio #mexicanmanhattan

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After the restaurant announced its closure, patrons took to social media to express disappointment and share stories of family dinners, birthday parties and other fond memories.

“I’m so sad that they have closed,” said Facebook user Sylvia Garcia. “Been going there since I was 5 and (I’m) 60 now. Thank you for the wonderful food, service and please give us the guacamole recipe.”

Debbie Herrera posted a picture of her last family dinner at Mexican Manhattan on her Facebook page.

“October 20, 2020 — the last day and picture,” Herrera’s post reads. “We didn’t know (it) would be our last at Mexican Manhattan! I’m so sad and shocked by this. This was a tradition to come here for a birthday and now it ends like this. Thank you for the memories.”

“I’m so sad to hear this news,” Misty Don-Bustamamante said on Facebook. “I couldn’t believe it till I heard their message when I called. This was always my family’s go to place for special occasions ever since our beautiful Grandma Lulu took our parents when they were 15 years old. So many great memories.”

Other notable old-school establishments have fallen victim to the pandemic, including Cadillac Bar on North Flores Street and Reyes Bar on South Flores Street, which are all located in west downtown.

Next to Mexican Manhattan, on the corner of Soledad and West Commerce, the Texas Western Warehouse, a relatively recent retail addition to downtown, announced a "Going Out of Business" sale. The liquidation sale appears to be for all of its locations—in San Antonio, San Marcos and Lytle.

Related
» Downtown San Antonio restaurants navigate low tourism, financial losses
» Cadillac Bar, a 45-year institution, closes its doors following liquidation sale
» Looking back: The week downtown San Antonio became a ghost town
» Downtown economy struggles to return to the new norm, much less the normal norm

Heron fall intern Brigid Cooley contributed to this report.

Heron Editor Ben Olivo can be reached at 210-421-3932 | ben@saheron.com | @rbolivo on Twitter

A helper loads chairs sold from the liquidation sale at Cadillac Bar, 212 S. Flores St., on Saturday morning. Photo by Victoria Martinez | Heron contributor

After 45 years of Fiesta parties, political gatherings, and celebrations of every ilk, Cadillac Bar on South Flores Street opened one last time this weekend—not to serve drinks or food, but for a liquidation sale.

Owner Jesus “Jesse” Medina held the sale Friday and Saturday after deciding to close the bar, which has been largely shut down since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, for good. Items sold included large saloon-style bars, tables and chairs, neon signs, and tableware.

Medina, who started working at the establishment as a waiter and dishwasher in 1975, a year after it opened, couldn’t have imagined his business would come to such an abrupt end.

“When they told us to shut down at the beginning of March, we had one great party and then Monday we were shut down,” Medina said. “It was like (we were in) limbo, like we don’t know what to do because this is 45 years and this place, it’s our whole life.”

Jesus Medina (right) owner of the Cadillac Bar, chats with Jerry Galvan, 70, a longtime patron of the bar during a rummage sale on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020.
Jesus Medina (right), owner of the Cadillac Bar, chats with Jerry Galvan, 70, a longtime patron on Saturday. Photo by Ben Olivo | Heron

Medina, who’s originally from Monterrey, purchased the business from the original owners in 1996.

While Medina is saying goodbye to the Cadillac Bar, he is still hoping that the name will live on elsewhere in town.

The long tenure of Cadillac Bar can be attributed to Medina bringing a unique flair to a regular bar and restaurant that reflected community and San Antonio’s prevalent Mexican culture. In an interview with Medina, he mentioned how early on he brought Tejano bands and artists to the bar to perform, appealing to a demographic that would ensure he would always have a booming business. But the bar did seem to attract diverse patronage, including celebrities such as actors Bruce Willis and Matt Damon, members of the Kennedy family, and Texas’ own Selena. Cadillac Bar also became a staple for many politicians, district attorneys, and judges, with the bar holding large political campaign parties. He also discussed how the Cadillac Bar basically held Fiesta before Fiesta became a city-wide tradition; large dancing parties were held on the back patio. Despite the city ordering them to cease from using the name "Fiesta," they carried on in celebration for many years.

“Everybody knew each other, even people that come every year from out of town for Fiesta,” says Medina, reflecting on how everyone shared a bond through his parties. “Cadillac Bar is the place to be.”

A customer at the checkout table asks Katy Robbins about an item during the Cadillac Bar estate sale on Saturday. Photo by Victoria Martinez | Heron contributor

Much of the success of the bar and restaurant may also have to do with the personable and kind manner of Medina himself. Before he became the owner of Cadillac Bar, he worked as a waiter, bartender, and dishwater, a hard worker who understood what it meant to serve others. Speaking to a couple of former patrons at his liquidation sale, there was nothing but positive feedback for Medina and his generosity.

“I’ve been knowing Jesse for about 40 years,” says Aida Guevara, who celebrated her 70th birthday at the Cadillac a year and a half ago. “I know he has thousands and thousands of friends and customers who love him.”

According to Nany Mancillas, Medina is an “awesome person, very humble and caring.” Mancillas celebrated several birthday parties at the bar and mentioned how he was very accommodating while expressing her sadness to see the place shut down.

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In addition to Fiesta parties, Cadillac Bar hosted all sorts of events including birthdays, weddings, and quinceaneras. Elizabeth Aguilar, a music promoter who credited Medina for helping bring in a number of Tejano bands, said she had three of her big birthday parties at the bar and had hoped to see Medina one last time before the bar closed down for good. Juvenal Soto is another patron who had his wedding at the bar while his cousin’s son celebrated his graduation last year.

Cadillac Bar was also popular in that it maintained an atmosphere that was fun but not hectic, perhaps making it easier for people to come together in a comforting fashion. Mark Sanchez had visited the bar for some 30 years when he lived downtown and he had the opportunity to make a lot of friends (he said he hasn't seen any of his friends since January and no longer lives downtown).

Guevara liked the bar for having good music but also for keeping the peace among patrons.

"You didn't have to worry about people being ugly and fighting," Guevara said. "The ambiance was great and Jesse was a beautiful person."

People look through the Cadillac Bar sale on Saturday. Photo by Victoria Martinez | Heron contributor

Medina said he tried to get help, including a small business loan, but to no avail.

“If they would have told me from the beginning that all the bars would not be open till next year, I would have done what I am doing right now, right there and then,” he said.

He said the business could not survive on just serving food, and when they opened two or three times during the pandemic, it was no use.

Medina also expressed frustration about the amount of money corporations were receiving compared to smaller businesses. “We have corporations that got $30-$40 million, and they really don’t need it. I know they don’t need it,” he said.

Despite the uncertainty, Medina is determined to keep the name of Cadillac Bar alive. In his words, he plans to go through legalities to keep the name of the corporation, retain the liquor license, and ultimately set up the bar and restaurant at another location. He is also looking for a temporary job in the meantime. Concerning his liquidation sale, he does not believe he will earn enough money to help himself and his family, seeing it as another way to pay off debt. Some might think the outlook is less than encouraging, but based on previous success and outpouring support, Medina hopes that Cadillac Bar will have a second chance.

“All the people that have been here,” said Medina, “I can’t even count the numbers but this is amazing that there are people that follow us.”

The Cadillac Bar closed its doors due to the pandemic. Photo by Victoria Martinez | Heron contributor

Setting It Straight: Because of a reporting error, this article originally misstated when long-time customer Aida Guevara had her birthday at Cadillac Bar. View our corrections page.

Renee Gonzalez is a freelance writer in San Antonio.

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