MAKING A LAST STAND IN THE ALAMO CITY
I was lucky enough to be in town when the San Antonio Cocktail Conference hosted the fourth annual cocktail competition for the event. This year’s challenge was to create a cocktail that truly captured the “Spirit of San Antonio.” I got a close-up view of some of the city’s best bartenders and how they represent their city through the medium of the mixed drink.
There were a lot of agave-based spirits, to be expected in Texas, but the best cocktails of the day truly told a story of the cultural influences this historic mission city has had since its founding nearly three hundred years ago.
The prize of the day went to Daniel Guillen and his cocktail using Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum, which embraced the Spanish heritage of San Antonio while honoring the South American influences of the city.
Once the dust had settled on the cocktail conference, I caught up with three of San Antonio’s up and coming bartenders for their take on the local scene.
Elisabeth Forsythe is the Bar Director at both Barbaro and sister restaurant Hot Joy. Elisabeth still tends the bar at Barbaro, serving regular guests from the in-house seasonal cocktail menu. “It’s hard to say which drinks are most popular,” explains Elisabeth, “the sales figures say that the Pear Allspice Mule and the ‘I’m Your Huckleberry’ are ordered most, but really all the cocktails are enjoyed pretty equally. As far as classics go, the Old Fashioned is still very popular.
“Over the last few years, the cocktail scene in San Antonio has grown exponentially. The focus on fresh ingredients and creatively crafted cocktails has not merely struck the interest of people here. Now the local palate has come to expect these things. It is a really exciting time to be a part of this growth.”
Next I caught up with Hillary Woodhouse who is the bartender to know at The Brooklynite. Situated “close to downtown with a swanky but relaxed vibe, we are pretty well known for our house cocktails. A lot of our business comes from our regulars, people that trust us to make something that we know will suit them,” says Hillary. Open every day of the week, Hillary enjoys “a lot of industry friends who visit, coming in for a round of Daiquiris, or Painkillers, on Tiki Tuesday. Generally, we are really lucky to have people come in who want to try something new, but just need a bit of guidance.” Hillary is quite new to bartending, but is already enjoying what she has learned from mentor Jeret Peña and looking forward to an increasingly interesting cocktail scene in San Antonio. When Hillary is not working, she loves to visit The Esquire Tavern for a classic cocktail and a dose of inspiration for her own cocktail ideas from their culinary forward offerings.
Chris Ware is currently in charge of the “about-to-open” Paramour cocktail bar, moving over from the highly recommended Arcade Midtown Kitchen. I asked Chris what his guests choose to drink when they belly up to his bar. “I make sure and tailor each cocktail to the guest. I believe there are four ways to make a cocktail: the original recipe, the recipe as it exists today at a particular establishment, my recipe, and the guest’s recipe. The last is the most important because this is the one that keeps guests happy and coming back!” Chris has seen an improvement in the city’s cocktail movement, including a growing diversity of ingredients, new ideas, better bartenders, and more informed guests. When asked where he enjoys a cocktail, Chris doesn’t hesitate, “Bohanan’s for a well made classic, Arcade for a barrel aged cocktail, The Monterey for an agave-forward cocktail, and The Last Word for a draft cocktail, or cocktail on tap.”
Other places to try in San Antonio include Luke, especially for brunch, Blue Box, where I recommend The Raven by bartender Olaf Harmel, and then there is the beautifully restored St. Anthony Hotel for a glass of Champagne or high-end tequila. But do mind: sip it, don’t shoot.