Imagine for a moment that you are a visitor to San Antonio. You are a greenhorn, an amateur, a tenderfoot, if you will; one who is unaware of the rich offerings of food, drink, and activity that the Alamo city has to offer. What are the first images your neophyte brain conjures at the words, “San Antonio”? The Alamo? The Riverwalk? Ripley’s Believe it or Not in Alamo Plaza?
First of all, I do love Texas and Texas history, so please visit the Alamo, but don’t let your tour stop there. Secondly, the Riverwalk has too many mediocre, overpriced Tex-Mex restaurants for my taste, although there are some notable exceptions. And finally, no one ever needs to pay money to see (spoiler alert) a terrifying wax replica of Sarah Jessica Parker. Ever.
While I typically try and steer natives and newbies alike towards more interesting and less stereotypical destinations in the city than those mentioned above, it’s time for me to give credit where credit is due and recognize a true gem on the Riverwalk. A diamond among the shops filled with taxidermied cowboy armadillos, isn’t that how the saying goes? No?
Friends, let me introduce you to The Esquire Tavern.
The Esquire exudes a vibe that I like to describe as a little bit Don Draper and a little bit Clint Eastwood. Which, if it’s not obvious, is a HUGE compliment. The Esquire is dark inside, making it at once mysterious, effortlessly cool, swanky, and steeped in history. And the bar, oh the bar. Stretching over one hundred feet long, The Esquire boasts the longest wooden bar in Texas. With both intimate booths and a larger open area for tables, The Esquire is perfect for a romantic evening but also willing and easily able to accomodate large parties (I was there with 20 of my closest friends last weekend) and even small wedding receptions.
The Esquire’s list of cocktails is extensive and hellafancy. I have not tried anywhere near most of them, but personal favorites include the Oaxaca Mule (mezcal, lime, ginger beer), the Pinky Swear (rye whiskey, grapefruit & lemon juice, pink peppercorn simple syrup, topped off with a local IPA), and a seasonal drink you definitely should enjoy right now, Too Tall for Fall. My advice? Ask your server for a recommendation based on what liquor you prefer, and then try a different drink or two each time you go.
The exceptional quality of fare at The Esquire doesn’t stop at drinks. The food is absolutely worth every penny you are going to pay for downtown parking. First, the appetizers: fried pickles, chili salt fries, and (from what I’ve heard) deviled eggs are all excellent introductions to your meal. For a main course, my top picks are the sirloin cheeseburger (go for Gouda cheese on it) and bison burger. Right now, you can get seasonal showstoppers like meatloaf (when was the last time you ordered meatloaf in a restaurant that wasn’t Luby’s? Probably never.) and pork belly with Brussels sprouts (!!!). And finally, a dessert you should try: the snickerdoodle ice cream sandwich. I shouldn’t have to explain why you need to sample that one.
Other things to note: their ketchup is homemade, the aioli served with fries and on other dishes is delicious and interesting, the hamburger buns are smallish, crunchy, and quite tasty, and the outside seating affords an excellent view of the river. (On one visit, while seated on the far left side of the balcony at a proud little table all by itself, sipping on my Ender’s Game cocktail with a handsome man, I had the great fortune of witnessing an exasperated river barge operator attempt to remove an intoxicated and belligerent man from the boat. Awesome.)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the to-go boxes are compostable. I love that, because styrofoam is for chumps and composting is the future. You heard it here first.
Well done, Esquire Tavern!