Monday, July 11, 2011

San Antonio Riverwalk and Hotel Havana

My wife Ashley and I took a quick trip down to San Antonio over the weekend to celebrate our wedding anniversary and check out the Hotel Havana.  Originally built in 1914, the hotel was renovated and reopened last year by Liz Lambert.  We live just a few blocks from the Hotel San Jose in Austin, which Liz also owns-- when we moved into our South Austin bungalow, the San Jose was still a "by the hour" motel.  The renovation of the San Jose helped spur the revitalization along South Congress Avenue, so we were curious to see what was going on around the "Museum Reach" end of San Antonio's River Walk.

The Havana is full of Old World charm-- lots of dark wood and velvet, and carefully curated spaces throughout.  Though we were originally booked into a ground floor room, we were moved upstairs upon request.  Room 32 was comfortably appointed, with a view of the River Walk and a European refrigerator full of diversions.  


We headed down through the basement bar, to the Ocho Lounge on a terrace overlooking the River Walk. 

The Ocho has a distinctive greenhouse feel, with a ridge skylight running the length of the restaurant.  It is built up against the brick wall of the Havana, and framed in turquoise-painted steel.  

Operable glass garage doors can open up to a small terrace with stools and a long drink rail looking out onto the River Walk.

All of the menu items looked enticing, but we settled on the chorizo con queso and a spicy caesar salad with shrimp, with a couple of Havana margaritas to wash it down.  

The hotel manager, Tom Ozene, stopped by our table to chat.  Tom gave us the history of the hotel, as well as recommendations for strolling the River Walk, and later sent over a complimentary bottle of Cristalino and a chocolate pot de creme. Sonia, our server, was very attentive and helpful as well with suggestions. 

By the time we finished our dinner and drinks, we knew we needed to walk it off.  We set off along the Museum Reach toward the Pearl Brewery Complex.  This section of the River Walk is surprisingly empty of tourists (at least at 8pm on a Friday).  It opened in 2009, after a decade of planning and construction.  The Walk features landscaped paths, with public art installations along the route.

Drawn by conjunto music and the sounds of revelry, we stopped about halfway to the Pearl at VFW 76 (the oldest post in Texas), housed in a 1904 Victorian-style home.  Most weekends during the summer, the post hosts "Dancing Under the Stars," an event open to the public.  After a cold beer, we continued toward our final destination, the Pearl Brewery Complex.  The Pearl Brewery ceased production in 2001, but was subsequently purchased and developed into a destination for restaurants, shopping and cultural events.  We ended our walk at La Gloria, a new restaurant featuring interior Mexican "street food."  

If you haven't been to the Museum Reach on the River Walk, I recommend it-- I was impressed with the work that the city of San Antonio has done to ensure that the River Walk is an amenity for all, and not just a tourist mall.  We'll be back, and we look forward to another stay at the Hotel Havana...