Every once in a while, you come across a hotel that really makes your heart sing and you want to tell everyone you know about it. Over the years I've had the good fortune to stay in some really nice places near and far, but was honestly caught off guard when I came across the all-star magic of Hotel Emma just 80 miles down from me in San Antonio. I'd never even spent the night in the city until recently and thought of it mainly as the home of the Alamo, the River Walk and the famous puffy taco. However, with the revival of the Pearl Brewery development (aka The Pearl), it's a new day for that town and now those old standbys are just a fraction of the story.
If you love a good hotel like I do, the Hotel Emma, which sits in the heart of the Pearl district, is reason enough to make San Antonio a choice destination. The whole operation is simply striking, with 146 rooms and sweeping common areas steeped in industrial charm. The brewery was reimagined as these spectacular accommodations by Roman and Williams, the same design powerhouse behind hotels like The Viceroy New York, The ACE and The Standard Highline, resulting in an energy and aesthetic that seamlessly blends the brew house history with a luxurious yet approachable modernity. Huge old beer tanks are outfitted with plush banquette seating to form "tankettes" and elegant chandeliers fashioned from 2000 pound bottling mechanisms hang from the ceiling. One look around the sea of the handsome furniture in the Sternewirth hotel bar, and it's safe to assume there were zero limitations on this decorating budget.
Equally as impressive, what truly sets this hotel experience apart from other industrial chic spaces is the incredible attention to detail: the perfect complimentary welcome margarita at check in (an old family recipe of the owner), the multilevel library with big leather chairs, soft lighting and 3700 volumes that made me want to move in immediately, the multitude of fireplaces and cozy alcoves, the yummy Malin + Goetz products in the beautifully tiled bathrooms, lit candles at every turn, gourmet treats like burnt marshmallow & toffee rice crispy treats at Larder (the in-house food shop), and legitimately gorgeous branding in everything from the hotel logo to the Do Not Disturb signs that tie the vibe it all together. Thanks to all of the thoughtful touches, the cavernous space feels so warm and welcoming. As the hotel ramps up (it opened in November), so will the culinary program as they build out amenities that include regular cooking demos and events hosted in the grand public kitchen area adjacent to the lobby and guided food tours.
The location lends itself quite well to food-focused adventures as the Pearl is now the home to about 15 new restaurants and counting. Standouts include Supper, the restaurant at the hotel itself, with a head Chef that hails from places like The Little Nell in Aspen, and Cured, a delicious, meat-forward spot built out in the old district post office. A farmers' market with live music springs up on weekend mornings, and it's almost impossible to keep from the draw of Lick, an Austin-born specialty ice cream store that features creative flavors like goat cheese, thyme and honey.
Elsewhere around town, the Esquire Tavern is a really great bar with a balcony right above the busy part of the River Walk, which makes for a fantastic place to people watch without having to get all up in it. Juniper Tar is a lovely dark bar and the go-to spot for "bespoke" cocktails, and Bliss puts out some superb food and drink if you're game to check out Southtown. The King William area is a great place to amble down tree-lined streets and check out galleries, estate sales, and outdoor bars like the Friendly Spot or some funky Asian fusion at local favorite Hot Joy. If legit tacos are high on your list, look no further than Ray's Drive Inn for the legendary puffy variety or The Original Donut Shop for the breakfast tacos of champions.
I didn't expect to leave feeling so charmed by San Antonio, but with the arrival of Hotel Emma and the surrounding environs, the city is freshened up enough to be a serious no-brainer for a weekend getaway for those of us in Texas and beyond. Go now before the secret's out, or certainly before national attention descends when the Final Four rolls into town in 2018. With stellar revitalization like this, San Antonio won't be flying under the radar for long.