Culture / Travel

Why Pearl District Makes for a Much Better San Antonio Vacation Than the Overblown River Walk

Inside the Alamo City's Land of Cool

BY // 08.18.20

We are all panting through the dog days of summer, and Labor Day is looming large. That means it may be time for a good ol’ fashioned road trip — even in these coronavirus times. San Antonio is a prime destination for a quick, low-stress getaway. But you’ve remembered the Alamo plenty by now, and are not ready to wade through a crowd of face-masked tourists on the River Walk.

So see a completely different side of San Antonio. The city’s wide-open Pearl District, with its safety conscious Saturday Farmers Market, and plenty of patio dining and specialty stores to peruse is very different from the River Walk.

Pearl – Second Empire architecture.
Towering Second Empire architecture marks Pearl District. (Photo by Courtney Dabney).

The historic grounds of the Pearl Brewery, which operated from 1883 to 2001, got transformed into a chic destination, complete with its star attraction, Hotel Emma. (It’s a transformation that’s been covered in numerous PaperCity stories.) The 146-room boutique hotel, with it Second Empire mansard roof styling, is named after Emma Koehler, who ran the brewery after her husband and Pearl president Otto Koehler died in 1914.

The imminently explorable district, encapsulated in 16 square blocks, is filled with distinct restaurants, relaxing green spaces, architectural and design novelties to relish, and unique shops.

The Pearl District’s look is Hill Country meets steampunk with exposed everything ― gears, gaskets, iron trusses, rusty rivets, concrete columns and barrel vaults. Vintage tile work blends with Victorian black laquer paint on window casings. You could sit in silence and sip a coffee or cocktail for hours on end. And if silence is what you’re after, Hotel Emma guests can relax in The Library ― a two-story fairytale space filled with books and reading nooks.

Pearl – inside the sanctuary of The Library.
Inside the sanctuary of The Library at Hotel Emma. (Photo by Courtney Dabney.)

You can still score a can of Pearl Beer, but if you check the back of the label, you’ll notice that it is now brewed in Austin by Oasis Texas Brewing Company for Pabst Brewing Company. This change just came about in May. Before that Pearl Beer was produced in Fort Worth at the Miller Brewing Plant after the Pearl brewery closed for good in San Antonio in 2001.

FERN FREEMAN

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Restaurants are scattered around the Pearl District. Hotel Emma boasts three of them inside its voluminous space. Supper is a charming and bright American spot with plenty of European bistro appeal. Sternewirth Bar and Club Room is a fantastical world of gears and intimate seating spaces. And Larder Fine Groceries and Food is the hotel’s on-site, upscale, grab-and-go market.

Like with everywhere else, all events and festivals are canceled at Pearl District until 2021. But the Pearl + Farmers Market has reopened with added safety protocols, running from 9 am to 1 pm each Saturday.

Pearl – Farmer’s Market
Pearl + Farmer’s Market.

The Farmers Market serves as an open-air grocery and there is even a curbside pickup option with easy online ordering. The farmers market’s seating and tables have been removed to avoid congregating and discourage onsite dining. While you cannot sample the wares at present, you can still stroll the market at a socially distanced pace.

There are two new additions to the Pearl District restaurant and store lineup as well. Mi Roti is the newest Caribbean concept from Chef Nicola Blaque and Chef Lionel “Butch” Blache, the owners of San Antonio’s popular Jerk Shack. Mi Roti is located inside of the Bottling Department at Pearl. (For more on the chefs behind it, read the full PaperCity story.)

There is also a new fabric shop and project space called Stitch at Niche located inside of Niche at Pearl.

You’ll also find the CIA (one of three Culinary Institute of America campuses in the entire country) on the grounds as well. It is now open for classes, and to-go orders only at the student-run restaurant Savor.

Pearl – creative dining at Supper
Creative dining at Supper. Photo by Courtney Dabney.

The Pearl District also boasts plenty of other unique dining.  Most of its restaurants are still currently operating at limited capacity, with takeout options as well. This webstie will help you explore your options in advance.

Pearl District’s Restaurant Lineup

― La Gloria, a taste of interior Mexico from CIA graduate chef Johnny Hernandez

― Savor from The Culinary Institute of America

― Blue Box Bar

― Bakery Lorraine, fresh French pastries

― Botika, Latin American and Asian fusion

― The Boiler House Texas Grill and Wine Garden

― Cured, everything from charcuterie to house-brined pickles

― Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery

― Jazz, TX, a live jazz venue that is temporarily closed.

― Lick Honest Ice Creams brings flavors like caramel salt lick.

― Green Vegetarian Cuisine

― High Street Wine Co.

― The Bottling Department is San Antonio’s first food hall. Its roster of restaurants includes Bud’s Southern Rotisserie, Fletcher’s Hamburgers, Tenko Ramen and its newest (and arguably most exciting) offering Mi Roti.

Pearl – Food Hall
The lawn in front of the Food Hall.

The 22-acre Pearl District is also known for its interesting slate of shops, which are currently welcoming guests at 50 percent occupancy.

Pearl District’s Store Lineup

― The Sporting District, a masculine shop with everything from clothing to cologne

― The Twig Book Shop

― The Tiny Finch, gifts and home decor

― Adelante Boutique with fashion forward apparel

― Ten Thousand Villages

― LeeLee footwear, jewelry and clothing

― Lawrence Markey art gallery

― Dos Carolinas, bespoke Guayabera style shirts

― Niche at Pearl, now including The Stitch at Niche

― Feliz Modern POP gift shop

― Bike World

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