Culture / Travel

Exploring the Best of San Antonio’s Pearl District and a Look At What’s To Come

Where To Stay, Eat, Drink, and Be Entertained in the Trendy South Texas Neighborhood

BY // 07.22.22

When I was a kid in the early 2000s, there was only so much to do on a family vacation in San Antonio. We made the rounds at the River Walk, the Alamo, and SeaWorld (I’m so sorry, Shamu). When I returned as an adult in July 2022, I was surprised to see how much the city had changed, particularly at the Pearl.

In 2002, developer Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury took one look at the Pearl and had a vision. Despite being warned against buying the 22-acre property (the buildings had structural problems and contaminated soil), he wanted to see his plan through. The former 1883 Pearl Brewery, now Hotel Emma, serves as the flagship for the Pearl development and it is truly something. Boasting one incredible hotel, residences, shops, and elevated restaurants, Goldsbury’s vision didn’t just succeed — it’s a must-visit destination in San Antonio and South Texas.

The Pearl officially debuted its first tenant in 2006 (the Aveda Institute in the former brewery’s garage) and the district keeps on growing. The Culinary Institute of American Student Restaurant (Savor) is also a part of the Pearl, reaffirming the concept as a legit culinary destination. During my three-night stay, I also got a preview of what is to come (spoiler: it’s exciting).

Ahead, we offer a guide to the best places to eat, shop, and explore during your visit to the Pearl.

 

San Antonio Pearl Hotel Emma
Hotel Emma was transformed from a historic 19th-century brewhouse. (Photo by Nicole Franzen)

Staying at Hotel Emma — History in Every Room

This historical hotel has been a must-visit destination and luxe place to stay at the Pearl since opening in 2015. And while plenty of places can claim the “historic” moniker, Hotel Emma really dives into the designation. Several buildings, formerly parts of a working brewery such as the engine room (now the lobby), have been transformed and tied together to blend old and new. Be sure to check out also find a timeline of the building’s history in the hallway leading to the Larder coffee shop — it’s a soap opera-worthy tale.

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Named after Emma Koehler, wife of Otto Koehler, who took over the brewery after he was killed by a former mistress, the hotel offers a story in each room you visit. When you enter the Library to receive your welcome cocktail upon check-in, ask for the story behind the Three Emmas cocktail — it’s truly something.

The Little Things

Hotel Emma offers rooms and suites within the original brewhouse tower, as well as in the more contemporary River Cellars. We stayed in an Artesian Room, which offers a big claw foot tub in the bathroom with lavender bath salts. You’ll find robes from Texas-bred Dos Carolinas and Los Poblanos‘ luxe lavender body wash, shampoo, and conditioner. The room features a South Texas ice box filled with drinks and snacks for purchase.

Each evening, turndown service provides sleep kits with an eye mask, ear plugs, and sleep mist, as well as a couple of macarons from nearby Bakery Lorraine.

 

Pool from Stairs by Nicole Franzen
Hotel Emma’s 3rd-floor rooftop pool is a nice place to relax during the summer. (Photo by Nicole Franzen)

Hotel Emma Rooftop Pool and Provisions

A Texas rooftop pool is clutch during the same — and Hotel Emma’s scenic setup doesn’t disappoint. Drinks and snacks are served out of Poolside Provisions (a bus parked on the pool deck), including cocktails, beer, sandwiches, and salads. The avocado dip with fresh tortilla chips was a favorite. Free water bottles are also available, as well as sunscreen and flip-flops to borrow.

 

Supper Pearl District San Antonio
Located inside Hotel Emma, Supper is an American eatery serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Courtesy)

Hotel Emma Dining

The hotel boasts a great culinary program, including an upscale American restaurant, cocktail lounge, and coffee shop. Supper is the main dining concept offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the hotel. Opened in 2015, the restaurant is led by new executive chef Jorge Hernandez. For dinner during our stay, we opted for the roasted Brussels sprouts with salt and vinegar, as well as the prime New York strip. Don’t miss this steak with sunchokes and guajillo salsa macha.

Sternweirth is the tavern and club room at the hotel that offers live music during the evenings and craft cocktails. The 25-foot vaulted ceilings, couches, and banquettes offer a cozy atmosphere to enjoy a drink and a small bites menu.

If you’re looking for something more than a drip coffee (free in the Library each morning), Larder makes espresso drinks and serves food all day. You’ll also find an entire market of local goods including jams, coffee, candles, totes, books, and more.

On the Road Again

This summer, Hotel Emma is offering a special package called “On the Road Again” through September 18. The exclusive offer includes accommodations for one night, complimentary valet parking, and a $50 gas card per stay. If one night isn’t enough, you can extend your stay with 25 percent off the hotel’s best available rate.

 

Best Quality Daughter Pearl District San Antonio
Best Quality Daughter is a must-try Asian restaurant in the Pearl District. (Courtesy)

The Best New Restaurants at the Pearl

Best Quality Daughter

Opened in 2020 by chefs Jennifer Dobbertin and Quealy Watson, this Asian-American restaurant is a must-try during any San Antonio visit. Located in the original Pearl Brewery’s historic 1904 coopers house ( a charming pink home at the edge of the Pearl District), the restaurant is divided into four different, highly designed rooms.

When ordering, make sure to start with Bougie Egg Rolls and Mochi Cheddar Hush Puppies. Pro tip: save the remaining Thai chili jam that comes with the hush puppies for other dishes as well. If you’re sharing a meal with someone, the cashew chicken is a favorite and hefty portion served with steamed rice.

 

Brasserie Mon Chou Chou Pearl San Antonio
Brasserie Mon Chou Chou debuted at the Pearl in 2020. (Courtesy)

Brasserie Mon Chou Chou

Also opened just two years ago, this French comfort food spot was founded by three Frenchman (Laurent Réa, Philippe Placé, and Jérôme Sérot) who met in San Antonio in 2001. The local restaurant serves breakfast and an all-day menu, with brunch on Sundays.

If you enjoy mezcal, the Cinco de Mayo cocktail is a slightly smokey and sweet drink with Aperol and St. Germain. For starters, don’t miss the seasonal mushroom tart with Texas black garlic. And as for entrees, the braised Texas rabbit with tagliatelle is an absolute standout.

 

Bakery Lorraine
Stop by Bakery Lorraine at the Pearl for fresh pastries, juices, and breakfast dishes. (Courtesy)

Bakery Lorraine

For breakfast one morning, I popped by this French bakery for Turkish eggs and a yogurt parfait. Founded by Anne Ng and Jeremy Mandrell, the bakery got its start at a local farmers market in 2011 and has even expanded to Austin. The pastries, particularly their macarons, have earned fans across the country as shipping is available.

The Food Hall at Bottling Department

There are several spots to explore at the food hall, but one must-try is the campechana tacos at Chilaquil. They also make chilaquiles bowls with your choice of protein. You’ll also find Caribbean street food spot Mi Roti, new pizza joint Wonderslice, and a live music venue and bar underground called Jazz, TX.

Allora 

This new modern Italian restaurant inspired by the Amalfi Coast just opened at the Pearl and I will be making sure to book a reservation for my next trip. From chef Robbie Nowlin, the spot offers seafood, housemade pasta, roasted vegetables, and craft cocktails.

 

Stable Hall Pearl San Antonio
Stable Hall is being transformed into a live music venue at the Pearl. (Courtesy of Stable Hall)

Coming Soon to the Pearl District

Along with a new green space currently under construction, a music venue and several restaurants are coming to the Pearl.

Stable Hall (formerly a stable building) will reopen as a music venue at the Pearl in 2023. The 130-year-old-building will host local and national talent, as well as offer a Biergarten featuring Texas and German Hill Country grub and drinks.

This September, a new South Texas restaurant is debuting at Pearl called Carriqui. It’ll be located in the historic Liberty Bar building and will serve cuisine crafted by chef Jaime Gonzalez (formerly at Hotel Emma). The new space was a collaboration between architect Don McDonald and designer Kristen Weber. It features three dining spaces including the Carriqui House, The Rock House, and Courtyard and Back Porch.

 

Full Goods Diner San Antonio Pearl
From the founders of Austin’s Paperboy, Full Goods Diner will open at the Pearl this fall. (Courtesy)

From the founders of Austin brunch spot Paperboy, Full Goods Diner will also open in the former Green Vegetarian Cuisine space this September. It’ll offer Mexican and American comfort food for breakfast and lunch. Diners can expect breakfast enchiladas, pancakes, sopes, and more.

Lastly, debuting at the Pearl later this year, Ladino is a new Mediterranean spot from chef Berty Richter (Austin’s TLV). Part of the Emmer & Rye Hospitality Group, the restaurant will focus on charcoal grilled dishes, house-made pita, mezze, vegetables, and more.

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