Thirsty? You’re in luck. In Paste’s drinking-and-traveling series, City in a Glass, we mix up a city’s signature swills and slide them down the bar to readers. Grab a stool. This round is on us.
is kind of like the Orlando of Texas. The family-friendly city has all of those daytime activities kids love: exploring history at The Alamo, listening to mariachi bands and shopping on the River Walk and maybe even catching a Spurs game. That’s all great, but this G-rated reputation often overshadows San Antonio’s sophisticated drinking, dining and nightlife scenes.
So on this city drinks tour, we’re going to introduce you to a few only-in-San-Antonio swills that even a notorious local rabble-rouser like Davy Crockett could get behind. Here are the cocktail bars where you can find them and even how to replicate them at home—but we’d recommend experiencing the former, because as Crockett once said, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”
Where to order: Esquire Tavern
Photo by Kody Melton
Founded in 1933, Esquire Tavern is a surprisingly serious cocktail sanctuary located right on the River Walk. “San Antonio’s very distinct culture and personality are absolutely present in the style of cocktails we like to drink,” beverage director Houston Eaves says. “That’s to say San Antonio is heavily Mexican-American and of Latin descent and we’re a thirsty bunch. We love to take the time to celebrate at any opportunity. This translates to a lot of tequila, mezcal and rum being drunk in copious quantities, sometimes in lighter, more refreshing cocktails and oftentimes neat or in stirred boozy cocktails.”
One of his favorite Esquire Tavern creations is El Grito de San Anto, a cocktail named in honor of the Mexican outburst known as grito. “Grito de Dolores is something all Mexicans and Mexican-Americans know well,” says Eaves, who often gets into late-night “best grito” shouting competitions with friends. This particular grito, the Cry of Dolores, was the rallying cry that started the Mexican War of Independence from France on September 16, 1810. “El Grito de San Anto is a rally cry for San Antonio to unite our beautiful city and culture over a cocktail.” The drink is made of dark rum, ango (a bitter liqueur), Texas grapefruit juice, lime juice and simple syrup. “It’s meant to be a fun, accessible drink for our guests with a wink to the San Antonio bar community and its propensity to enjoy these products en masse,” he says. “As bartenders, sometimes we like to drink daiquiris and sometimes we like to drink ango. This tropical, bitter daiquiri will make you howl.”
El Grito de San Anto
1 oz. Plantation Stiggins’ Fancy pineapple dark rum
¾ oz. Amaro di Angostura liqueur
¾ oz. fresh Rio Star grapefruit juice
¼ oz. fresh lime juice
¼ oz. simple syrup (2 parts sugar: 1 part water)
Lime wheel, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake. Double strain into a chilled double Old Fashioned glass. Squeeze grapefruit peel (express oil) over glass. Discard peel. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Where to order: The Brooklynite
Photo by David Rangel
Bartender Jerry Thomas is often referred to as the father of American mixology. In the mid-1800s Thomas slung drinks on both coasts and introduced flair and showmanship to the profession. He wrote the first cocktail recipe book ever published in the U.S., and at one point he reportedly made more money than the country’s vice president. San Antonio’s The Brooklynite honors his legacy with a cheeky cocktail named the Sherry Thomas. Made with sherry (a fortified wine), allspice, lemon juice, honey and an unusual raisin-infused bourbon, the warm drink hits the spot both for grape and whiskey lovers.
1½ oz. raisin-infused bourbon (recipe below)
½ oz. Pedro Ximénez sherry
¼ oz. allspice
¾ oz. lemon juice
¾ oz. honey
Lemon wheel, for garnish
Make raisin-infused bourbon: Combine 1 cup of raisins and 1 liter of bourbon in a pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours. Strain.
Make drink: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake. Double strain into a coupe. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Where to order: The Last Word
Photo by David Rangel
San Antonians love their raspas. Taken from the Spanish hielo raspado, or scraped ice, this snow cone treat is often drizzled with fruity syrups like mango, dusted with chili powder and garnished with a pepino, or cucumber slice. The Last Word cocktail bar, located downtown, makes an adults-only raspa and even serves it in a street vendor-style Styrofoam cup. Beverage director Stephan Mendez says raspas were one of his favorite childhood desserts.
“Our culture plays a huge influence on my menu design,” he says. “You see it a lot in culinary menus and it’s starting to bleed into bar programs as well.” He says making cocktails with ingredients locals are familiar with helps them feel safe ordering an otherwise foreign drink. And a boozy raspa is just plain fun. Fruity and tangy, The One With The Shrub, as it is called, contains tequila, grapefruit juice, watermelon and white peppercorn shrub (drinking vinegar) and Tajin chili powder syrup. It is also garnished with a cucumber slice.
The One With The Shrub
1½ oz. Cimarrón Blanco tequila
½ oz. fresh grapefruit juice
½ oz. Tajin syrup (recipe below)
¾ oz. watermelon-white peppercorn shrub (recipe below)
Cucumber slice, for garnish
Make Tajin syrup: Combine 4 cups of simple syrup (1 part water: 1 part sugar) with ½ cup of Tajin powder in a pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours. Strain.
Make watermelon-white peppercorn shrub: Combine ¼ of a whole watermelon (diced), 17 ounces of champagne vinegar, 2¼ cups of white sugar and ¼ cup of crushed white peppercorns in a pitcher. Cover and refrigerate for five days, shaking the ingredients twice a day. Strain. Add 1 ounce of vodka to stabilize.
Make drink: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake. Strain into a Styrofoam cup filled with fresh crushed ice. Garnish with a shake of Tajin powder and a cucumber slice dusted with Tajin.
Top Photo: Stuart Seeger, CC-BY
City in a Glass columnist Alyson Sheppard writes about travel and hangovers for Playboy.com. She currently resides in the great state of Texas.