When KLRN, the PBS station in San Antonio, produced a documentary on the recent expansion of its famous River Walk, Tommy Lee Jones provided the narration.
Why? Because he’s a proud native. Not only does the Oscar-winner live in Terrill Hills, a San Antonio suburb, but he owns a nearby cattle ranch and sits ringside at most San Antonio Spurs games.
And it’s not unusual to spot the famous actor strolling along the Paseo del Rio (or River Walk, as we English speakers call it). Twenty feet below street level, the San Antonio landmark with its outdoor cafes and charming boutiques has surpassed even the Alamo as the city’s most-visited attraction.
The 30-minute PBS documentary that Tommy Lee proudly voiced describes the expansion of the River Walk that provides access to two historic Texas breweries that have been given hip new lives.
The “Museum Reach” section of the River Walk, unlike the busy commercial section, has native landscaping, lots of public artwork and bicycle and dog-friendly paths. While you might, as my river guide shrewdly pointed out, “spot a few tourists in their native habitat,” you’re more likely to see ducks or herons stealthily stalking lunch.
Thanks to an innovative lock and dam system, you can now ride a river boat all the way to San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) that, not too long ago, used to be the Lone Star Brewery. Built in 1884 by beer baron Adolphus Busch, the iconic landmark was turned into the award-winning art museum in 1981. Since then, it has won many architectural awards and been expanded three times including a 30,000-square foot Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art.
The River Walk’s “Museum Reach” also gives access to the repurposed Pearl Brewery that was shuttered in 2001 after more than 100 years of beer-making. Thanks to the far-sightedness of Kit Goldsbury, the Pace Salsa billionaire, the 22-acre complex has roared back to life as an edgy foodie destination.
The post-industrial riverfront complex hosts several of San Antonio’s best restaurants (La Gloria that riffs on the Mexican street vendor scene and Il Sogno Osteria, an always crowded Italian restaurant with an open kitchen and a wood-burning oven, to name a few), a twice-weekly farmer’s market (featuring everything from lavender soap, watercress and free range eggs to heritage pork, grass-fed bison and sour cream pecan muffins), a kitchenware store owned by famed cookbook author, Melissa Guerra, (look for such hard-to-find items as authentic Mexican molcajetes, hand-embroidered dish towels and mesquite rolling pins) and a 30,000-square foot Culinary Institute of America cooking school.
As the third location for the prestigious C.I.A., the San Antonio version specializes in Latin American cuisine and offers a 30-week certification program and a just-opened bakery and cafe where customers can view students working in the test kitchens. Although plans are afoot to eventually offer associate degrees in culinary arts management just like the other campuses in Hyde Park, NY and St. Helena, CA, for now, day-long, two-day and weeklong culinary boot camps attract tall hats and apron-clad wanna-be’s mastering such chile-fueled recipes as Andean harvest pot roast in a clay pot.
Perhaps most commendable is the Pearl Complex solid commitment to sustainability from its 200-kilowatt solar installation, the largest in Texas, to drought-resistant xeriscaping. The Full Goods Building, once the brewery’s distribution center, is LEED-certified and brewery leftovers have been repurposed from chandeliers made from beer filters to flower beds made from old CO2 tanks.
The former Pearl Brewery complex also has a yoga studio, bicycle rental, an Aveda Institute, living space and an eclectic mix of businesses and nonprofit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy of Texas and the American Institute of Architects’ Center for Architecture.
Don’t miss the hour-long Saturday tours where you’ll learn everything from the enticing history of The Pearl (including an homage to Emma Koehler who successfully helmed the brewery after her husband, Otto, was murdered by his mistress) to an insiders looks at the recycled brewery stable, bottling warehouse and distribution center.
200 East Grayson Street; 210.212.7260; www.atpearl.com