Planning a summer road trip? Plug San Antonio into your GPS—the city’s food and drink scene is booming—and book a reservation at Hotel Emma, a booze-themed hotel built on the site of the historic Pearl Brewery.
“It’s a culinary hotel, not a booze-themed hotel,” protests a representative. But let’s be frank: Beer and brewing is the dominant thread referenced in design elements throughout the hotel. Towering sculptures in front of the hotel and inside the lobby are made from reclaimed equipment once used to mill grains and brew beer. Sternewirth Bar and Clubroom, one of three bars inside the hotel, includes cozy seating areas inside hollowed-out fermentation tanks. Even the artwork inside the gym is a framed graphic of a beer flavor wheel. Altogether, the hotel is like a theme park for booze lovers.
The hotel, which opened in November 2015, is located in the Pearl District, a semi-industrial area that’s being built up as an artsy alternative to the Downtown business district about 15 minutes away. The area is named for Pearl Brewery, built in 1881, which became the largest brewery in Texas, surviving Prohibition by making soft drinks and ice cream. Pabst took over the space in 1986, shuttering it 16 years later. The Hotel Emma building was originally Pearl’s Brewhouse, built in 1894, and is named for Emma Koehler, who ran the brewery after her husband, Pearl president Otto Koehler, died in 1914.
I stayed at the hotel in January, during the San Antonio Cocktail Conference, and was pleasantly surprised to be offered a “welcome Margarita” upon check-in to be sent up to my room while I unpacked. And don’t get me started on the Margarita-centric minibar, which included fresh limes (when was the last time you saw fresh citrus in a hotel mini bar?) and a recipe for making a house Marg myself.
In addition to the three restaurants within the hotel—clubby Sternewirth, named for the Sternewirth Privilege, which entitled employees of 19th-century breweries to free beer during the workday; Supper, an airy farm-to-table spot run by chef John Brand; and Larder, which is more of a takeout and grocery for wine-and-cheese picnic provisions—the hotel sits on a sprawling campus, bursting with more bars, restaurants and even a branch of The Culinary Institute of America and a local farmers’ market. Although a guest conceivably could focus on the “culinary” aspect of that equation, booze hunters (like me) instead will find time for one more jalapeño-spiked tequila drink at Cured before retiring back to the hotel room.