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A neighbourhood guide to Southtown San Antonio

By: Janis Turk

September 16, 2015

Visitors know all about the Alamo and the River Walk, and perhaps they’ve even explored the popular new area, Pearl. But do they know that just a few blocks from the tourist-friendly attractions of downtown rests a distinctively San Antonio-style enclave of galleries, coffee shops, salsa clubs, taco huts, ice houses, beer gardens, craft cocktail bars, shops, art studios, bistros and more? This is Southtown San Antonio, and it’s spectacular.

 |Southtown San Antonio Mural Virgin of GuadlupeThe Virgen de Guadalupe mural of Southtown © Janis Turk 2015

Southtown is as much a state of mind as it is a destination, so it tends to defy definition. Though its demarcation lines may be fuzzy, its focus is not. An artsy bohemian-meets hipster-meets mom-and-pop-place, Southtown is an arts and entertainment community covering almost three miles and comprising three old, adjacent, and (in some places) overlapping neighbourhoods – King William, Blue Star, and Lavaca – just south of the downtown city centre.

But it’s more than just a sliver of San Antonio with hot restaurants, clubs and coffee shops; it’s a neighbourhood of loyal residents and repeat visitors, and since most tourists haven’t discovered the area just yet, Southtown is perhaps San Antonio’s best-kept secret.

Southtown San Antonio | Southtown Beer GalaxyColorful murals (like this solar-system inspired one at a Southtown beer joint) grace some Southtown San Antonio buildings © Janis Turk 2015

Southtown San Antonio is generally considered to be loosely bordered by South Presa and South Flores streets (on the east and west), and Durango and Lone Star Streets (at the north and south), although some locals would argue that only certain strips of South St. Mary’s Street, South Presa Street and South Alamo Street stretching down to Blue Star Street are the soul of Southtown. No matter how it’s mapped out, this buzzing little area is worth exploring. Best of all, it’s easy to reach by trolley, pedi-cab, bicycle, car, or on foot.

 

Southtown food and drink

 

First order of business? Grab a local microbrew at the Blue Star Brewing Company, part of Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, with its warehouse-spaces of art studios and galleries, residential lofts, a bike shop, retailers, restaurants, a museum and more. Blue Star is also home to the popular Stella Public House, serving specialty wood-fired pizzas and craft brews, and Blue Star’s newest addition, A La Mode Gelato.

Southtown San Antonio | La Focaccia

La Focaccia Italian Grille is a long-time Southtown institution in San Antonio © Janis Turk 2015

Break for freshly baked bread and have lunch or dinner in the upstairs of a former convent at Liberty Bar, or stop at other popular Southtown restaurants, like Rosario’s Mexican Cafe Y Cantina, El Mirador, and La Focaccia.

For dinner, enjoy fresh seafood at Starfish, owned by Chef Diego Fernandez, son of Chef Rene Fernandez, Starfish’s near neighbour at Azuca Nuevo Latino Restaurant and Bar Latino.

 

For a cold beer, or just a burger and a soft drink, The Friendly Spot is perfect for a hot afternoon – they offer over 180 different brews.

Southtown San Antonio | Liberty Bar

Liberty Bar restaurant once was housed in a leaning building across town, but for the past several years it’s been at home in a colourful former convent in Southtown, where it remains today © Janis Turk 2015

After something a little more imaginative? Check out the craft cocktails at Dorcol Distillery, which handcrafts their own small batch apricot Rakia, a fruit brandy made popular in Eastern Europe.

 

For non-alcoholic fruit smoothies, fruit-infused cocktails, and specialty tequila concoctions, visit Chef Johnny Hernandez’ Fruteria-Botanero on South Flores, which also serves authentic Mexican appetizers, small plates, sopes and street tacos.

 

The hot see-and-be-seen crowd flocks to the mod tables (indoors and out) at Feast for New American-meets-Mediterranean dishes, while San Antonio foodies dine at Bliss, with its contemporary American cuisine, charcuterie, artisanal cheeses, and home-baked breads.

Southtown San Antonio | Bliss

Bliss is a popular spot for inventive New American cuisine in Southtown © Janis Turk 2015

Local chefs and dedicated foodies are also making a final pilgrimage to The Monterey, a laid-back Sunglo Gas Station turned gastropub with a patio out back and a rusting vintage Mercury Monterey out front. Its boundary-pushing nose-to-tail menu helped put San Antonio’s food scene on the map, but last month owner Chad Carey announced on Twitter that The Monterey will close on 4th November 2015, the fifth anniversary of its opening. Perhaps that’s because Carey is a busy partner in the “Empty Stomach Company” which also has several other popular San Antonio spots, including Barbaro, Bakery Lorraine, Hot Joy, and Paper Tiger. Long may you run, Monterey – it’s been a good ride.

Southtown San Antonio | Fruteria BotaneroTex-Mex rules menus all over Southtown, but at Futeria-Botanero, Chef Johnny Hernandez serves authentic Mexican cuisine © Janis Turk 2015

The luck of the Irish surely is with Southtown San Antonio this month because Brigid (named for an Irish saint) and its adjacent bar, Francis Bogside, opened just a few days ago on the corner of South St. Mary’s and Madison. Former Sandbar Executive Chef Chris Carlson and former Blue Box mixologist Olaf Harmel are pleased to take the helm at Brigid, with its New American cuisine, while guests at Francis Bogside enjoy classic Irish pub food and cool craft cocktails.

 

Southtown art and culture

Southtown San Antonio | Garcia Art Glass

Garcia Art Glass opens its doors to visitors keen to watch Gina Garcia at work © Garcia Art Glass

Visitors to Southtown should take the opportunity to pop into an artist’s studio, like Garcia Art Glass, where visitors can watch as artist Gina Garcia and her team create unique blown glass lighting and sculpture. Then check out the latest exhibit at Al Rendon Photography and Fine Art, “Timeless Icons of the San Antonio Missions,” running from 10th September through 21st December 2015. And if you still have the energy, stop in and see the “Faux Bois” concrete landscape art pieces by Carlos Cortes at the Studio Cortes on South St. Mary’s Street.

To see Southtown San Antonio at its finest, time your visit to coincide with the monthly First Friday ArtWalk, when galleries and shops stay open late.

 

Discover the King William district

Southtown San Antonio | King William Historic Districtt

Sleep in a Victorian mansion on the banks of the San Antonio River Walk in the quiet residential neighbourhood of the King William National Historical District at The Oge House © Visit San Antonio

Southtown is also home to the Victorian mansions and gingerbread-edged bungalows of the 150+-year-old National Historic King William District, where wanderers can get a free walking tour map from the San Antonio Conservation Society office (107 King William Street) and set out on their own. Enjoy a stroll along some of the quieter stretches of the San Antonio River Walk, stopping to see the ornate spires that flank the pedestrian O. Henry Bridge at Johnson Street.

 

Nearby, visitors enjoy touring the homestead at Guenther House, the elegant 1860s home of San Antonio’s Pioneer Flour Mills’ founding family. Visitors can even stay in an 1857 King William mansion at the Oge House bed and breakfast inn.

Southtown San Antonio | The Guenther House

The Guenther House serves a delightful brunch in the King William National Historic District that is considered part of Southtown © Bob Howen/Visit San Antonio

Partnering with Delta means we can connect you to numerous destinations across the United States and Canada. Book your flights to San Antonio and discover Southtown for yourself.

 

Have you visited Southtown San Antonio? Where are you favourite spots in town? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Written by Janis Turk

Janis Turk

Janis Turk is an award-winning travel writer and photographer and the author of the popular travel guide book, Frommer’s San Antonio & Austin Day by Day. Turk’s travel writing and photography have appeared in magazines such as Hemispheres (United Airlines), Spirit (Southwest Airlines), Pontiac Performance, Chile Pepper, New York City Resident, AAA Texas Journey, and more, as well as popular newspapers such as The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle and others. She also scribes online pieces for popular travel sites such as Frommer’s and GoNOMAD. Turk divides her time between New Orleans, Louisiana, and her home in Seguin, Texas.

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