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Art + Tequila

San Antonio Chef Johnny Hernandez is enthusiastically immersed in both worlds, so we asked for his short list of the coolest galleries, boutiques, and lethal libations in town.

Growing up in San Antonio, Johnny Hernandez spent much of his childhood at his father’s restaurant. His earliest memories involve the flavors and fragrances that surrounded him: dried chiles toasting on a comal, pork tamales, and freshly baked empanadas from the panaderia next door. So it’s not surprising that he was seduced by the food world—after high school, he embarked on a journey that took him to the Culinary Institute of America in New York and cooking stints at high-end resorts around the country. Eventually a yearning for family brought him back home. Since returning to the Alamo City, he’s amassed a growing empire that includes La Gloria (devoted to Mexican street food like tacos al pastor and ceviche verde with green olives) and the Frutería, a casual, colorful spot in the emerging South Flores neighborhood that serves fruit smoothies, tortas, tostadas, and tequila cocktails flavored with everything from tropical fruit juices to tamarind and roasted chiles. Hernandez also hosts lavish brunches and special events at his home, Casa Hernán.

His food and the interiors of his restaurants are deeply influenced by frequent trips to interior Mexico. Through the relationships he’s forged with cooks, artisans, and agave growers, Hernandez has deepened his passion for the culture and his expertise with regard to his favorite spirit (he even has his own line of barrel-aged tequila). In San Antonio, he’s just as engaged with the art scene. Primarily based in three areas—SoFlo (South Flores Arts District), King William District (also called South Town), and historic Pearl Brewery (a culinary mecca all its own)—San Antonio’s vibrant scene offers a provocative mix of old and new. The hottest galleries, boutiques, and cocktail detours make for a spirited weekend adventure that’s definitely worth a road trip.

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Gallery Crawl

The South Flores (SoFlo) Arts District surrounds the Frutería and is an integral part of the burgeoning art scene. There are a number of galleries, museums, and shops in the area, and the best time to visit is during the Segundo Sadados (Second Saturdays), when galleries host exhibits and special events. Andy Benavides opened 1906 (1906 S Flores St) in 1991 as a design studio, custom frame shop, and gallery. It has grown into a complex that anchors the SoFlo District. The collective group of artists, design professionals, fabricators, and professional framers fosters creativity in three galleries and eight artist studios. Gravelmouth is an artist-run gallery showcasing innovative contemporary artists and art with a bias for street culture. It hosts the talents of local, national, and international artists and musicians every second Saturday or by appointment (210-367-2528; shekone@gmail.com).

Walk down the street to explore Gallista Gallery (1913 S Flores St), comprising 10 artist studios, a thrift shop, and a café with a lounge area in the showroom/gift shop that sells Chicano art and literature.

Blue Star Arts Complex has been an integral part of the arts community since it opened in 1986 as San Antonio’s first mixed-use development. The complex is anchored by Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, which developed from a grassroots event in 1986 into the longest-running contemporary arts venue in San Antonio. Blue Star’s exhibitions and programming have resulted in the social and economic revitalization of the surrounding neighborhoods, and it continues to be an incubator for contemporary art, hosting more than 20 exhibitions annually, featuring emerging and world-renowned artists.

An essential stop in the Blue Star Complex is San Angel Folk Art, which curates and maintains one of the world’s most provocative collections of folk, outsider, visionary, and vernacular art, featuring artists from Mexico, Latin America, and the United States. Other favorites are Cactus Bra, Flight Gallery, Secession Gallery 107, and MockingBird Handprints.

Across the street from Blue Star is SAY Sí, a nationally recognized organization serving San Antonio’s youth through multidisciplinary arts programming. Their students have the opportunity to develop artistic and social skills in preparation for higher educational advancement and professional careers. Check out the calendar—many of San Antonio’s artists began their careers at SAY Sí, and the organization hosts wonderful exhibits and performances.

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Tequila Tour (Johnny's Favorite Cocktails)

El Huevon at the Frutería (1401 S Flores St) is inspired by a Pisco Sour and made with blanco tequila, fresh muddled pineapple and mango, frothed with egg whites. El Distrito features my personal favorite infusion, El Zapatista, made with an añejo tequila, dried chiles, and vanilla beans. It is my version of a classic Old Fashioned with tequila-soaked cherries and muddled orange.

El Jarrito at La Gloria (100 E Grayson), with tequila reposado, fresh-squeezed orange, grapefruit, and lime juice, grapefruit soda, and a pinch of salt. This is the quintessential drink of Jalisco, found on every roadside leading to the agave fields of both the highlands and the lowlands.

The Palermo, made with a blanco tequila, Campari, peach bitters, and grapefruit soda at Stay Golden Social House (401 Pearl Pkwy). This is a real hipster bar, casual with a solid cocktail program. It reminds me of when I lived in Santa Barbara, on weekends we would roll open the garage door and the drinks would start flowing.

The Night Call, with blanco tequila, bell pepper shrub, and Szechuan pepper, at Hot Joy (1014 S Alamo St) in King William, where there’s a great bar atmosphere!

True Azul is my go-to at Bar 1919, (1420 S Alamo St). It’s made with a reposado Infusion of fresh peppers, Crème de Violette, honey syrup, and a smoked sea salt rim.

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Retail Therapy

“I don’t do shopping malls,” Hernandez says. “If you’re looking for a shopping experience with a true sense of place, come to Pearl. I haven’t experienced a destination that was more thoughtfully curated.”

AT PEARL BREWERY:

  • Adelante (303 Pearl Pkwy). Everything for a night on the town, including fun and funky women’s fashions, party frocks, locally designed jewelry and shoes.
  • Dos Carolinas (303 Pearl Pkwy). Hand-tailored custom guayaberas in cotton and linen. Choose the fabric, embroidery style, and thread color for your new favorite shirt or dress.
  • Niche Clothing Company (1223 E Euclid Ave). A new boutique showcasing the San Antonio–based brand that focuses on soft separates and designs inspired by the Alamo City’s culture, creativity, cuisine, and fashion.
  • The Tiny Finch (302 Pearl Pkwy). This new shop offers cool locally crafted furniture made from salvaged wood, home decor and accents, jewelry, textiles, cards, and candles.
  • The Sporting District (302 Pearl Pkwy). A new men’s shop that sells a crated mix of San Antonio– and Austin-based brands (like Traveller Denim Co. and Fort Lonesome) that cater to the casual and refined styles of urban dudes.

A FEW OTHER FAVORITES:

  • Finck Cigar Co. (3111 Broadway St). One of the city’s oldest manufacturing businesses closed its factory near downtown in June after 121 years. Their third and newest store on Broadway opened in an old Vespa shop.
  • Sloan Hall (5922 Broadway St) is one of my go-to shops for gifts with a modern flair. It offers a wide array of cards, gifts, and clothing. You might also want to check out Nativa (5124 Broadway St) for fine Mexican clothing.

Credits

Photography by Annie Ray

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