The ‘Pearl’ of San Antonio

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In every city I visit, I zero in on a place—usually a coffee shop or wine bar—that becomes my touchstone for finding the local rhythm. I’ll see the same regulars, order the same drink, and start to get an inkling of what it’s like to call that city home.

In San Antonio, I found my sweet spot at Bakery Lorraine, a French pâtisserie and bistro that hums all day long, fueled by coffee, warm bread, and macarons. (“I have to have a very restrained relationship with Bakery Lorraine,” one devotee lamented, expressing my thoughts exactly.)

Husband-and-wife proprietors Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell chose to open their dream bakery inside the hulking complex that used to house the Pearl Brewing Company. The brewery, which was founded in the early 1880s and once employed a quarter of the city’s population, shut down in 2001. But with its closing came a vision for a new, authentic neighborhood in the midst of San Antonio’s popular River Walk area.

Historic Pearl Brewery in San Antonio, Texas (Photograph courtesy Pearl Brewery)
The original Pearl Brewery (Photograph courtesy Pearl Brewery)

Today, the sprawling industrial space known simply as Pearl is home to a thriving conglomeration of restaurants, shops, and apartments. When I was in town, it felt as if every local I talked to wanted to live there or, at the very least, loved hanging out there.

Here’s your guide to other can’t-miss spots in San Antonio’s Pearl:

Hotel Emma: Hotel Emma is Pearl’s latest, splashiest addition. Named for Emma Koehler, who ran the Pearl Brewing Company after her husband died in 1914, the Roman & Williams-designed guesthouse somehow manages to make cavernous spaces (like the hotel’s engine room turned lobby) feel cozy.

Tip: Stop at Hotel Emma’s house bar, Sternewirth, named for a brewery tradition of providing a taproom—”der Sternewirth”—where workers as well as visitors could drink free beer. The classy pub, with its inventive beer-tank banquettes and soaring ceilings, might not serve up gratis drinks, but it’s destined to become a second living room for discerning San Antonians.

Melissa Guerra: The eponymous owner’s love of Latin America comes through in spades at her store, which she describes as a “modern Mexican marketplace.” From cast-iron tortilla presses and traditional metates to colorful Spanish tableware and papel picado place mats and coasters, this is the place to dig up unique foodie finds.

Southerleigh: Brewing is back at Pearl thanks to small-batch Southerleigh. The cool new restaurant and watering hole boasts an on-site brewery, a rotating selection of original-recipe beers, and a mouth-watering menu that is pure southern comfort.

Tip: Try the deviled eggs that come with bacon and onion marmalade and a huge hunk of cornbread on the side.

Hotel Emma in San Antonio, Texas (Photograph by Nick Simonite, Pearl Brewery)
Hotel Emma (at right) is the latest addition to San Antonio’s burgeoning Pearl district. (Photograph by Scott Martin, Pearl Brewery)

Local CoffeePlate-glass windows look out onto Pearl’s grassy square at this popular coffee shop, which serves up beans from local roaster Merit. Come for the coffee; stay to watch the steady stream of foot traffic meander about this bustling, and growing, urban district.

Dos Carolinas: Caroline Matthew caters mostly to men with her hand-tailored guayaberas. Stay cool in the Texas heat with the designer’s high-end take on this classic Latin American plantation worker’s shirt.

Cured: If you worked at Pearl Brewing Company in the 20th century, you would have picked up your checks where Cured now stands, in the brewery’s former administration building. As its name suggests, the upscale eatery is focused on all things cured—including sausages, charcuterie, and fermented accents like kimchi (try it on a pastrami sandwich) and pickles.

Lick: It’s not hard to make ice cream taste good. But here, the frozen treat is elevated to the level of exceptional. Lick believes ice cream shouldn’t just taste good, it should also “be good.” To that end, the shop eschews artificial colors and preservatives in favor of wholesome ingredients (including milk from family-owned Texas dairy Mill-King Market & Creamery) and flavors inspired by and created with fresh regional produce.

The Tiny Finch: This is the store I wish I could import to my neighborhood in New York. It’s the perfect place to find an inspired gift, from throw pillows dressed in African textiles to distinctive, high-quality jewelry. Even the greeting cards here are spot-on.

Culinary Institute of America: The Pearl’s proximity to the prestigious cooking school’s San Antonio campus, which sits across the way from Hotel Emma, is a boon to its gastronomic cred. In addition to teaching approximately 100 full-time students, the Institute offers popular day and weekend classes geared toward amateurs.

Tip: Pearl’s weekend farmers market, a beloved local pilgrimage site where all offerings come from within a 150-mile radius of San Antonio, is located right outside the campus’s main entrance.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Nat Geo Travel’s Urban Insider, exploring the cities of the world with style. Follow her adventures in Texas on Twitter @anniefitz and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.

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