On a recent Saturday night, I got to play tourist in my own hometown.
My friend Cecil and I spent the night going to the top of the Tower of the Americas and then walking around the River Walk amid the throngs of tourists getting in a last vacation before the start of school or taking part in one of the conventions in town.
We knew the scene would be busy. A tweet that morning from the Fairmount Hotel announced that all the rooms in the downtown area were booked that night.
Still, Cecil couldn't remember if he had ever been up to the top of the Tower before. And since his wife, who is afraid of heights, was out of town for the weekend, it seemed like the perfect time for a visit.
We entered HemisFair Park from Alamo Street, walking under a tree-lined path that led past dry fountains. Signs citing the drought for the lack of waterfalls were posted in several places, making the 100-degree evening seem hotter than it was.
Not helping matters was a warm breeze that swept past a malodorous portable toilet, the stench of which wafted almost to the base of the Tower.
We weren't visiting for dinner, just a drink, which turned out to be good news for us. A waiting list of more than 90 minutes greeted those without a dinner reservation to the Chart House
, but there was space available in the bar.
That's where we headed immediately after the elevator shot us to the top. Others had the same idea, because the lounge area was packed with people, many were having dinner while others just wanted a drink and to drink in the view.
The difference between the bar and the restaurant is that the bar does not rotate, while the restaurant does. So, we lowered ourselves into a pair of odd lounge chairs so close to the ground that our chins almost rested on the table top. They were not terribly comfortable, but they were to the left of the bar, which offered a perfect view of the downtown area. Everything from the neo-gothic Tower Life Building to the enchilada red library was laid out before us.
It was also the spot to be in to see the sun set. Trouble was, as the sun started to set, the seats began to heat up.
We didn't linger too long over our drinks. The cocktail list was a mixture of sweet or sweeter concoctions, and the blue martini ordered tasted more like blue cream soda than an alcoholic beverage. A pair of Sauvignon Blancs by the glass, one from New Zealand, the other from Argentina, proved more refreshing because neither was sweet. (In case you don't remember: Sugar will make you even hotter in the heat, no matter how much you ice it down.)
A pair of small plates, one of fried calamari, the other a pear-blue cheese salad, were the least of the bar's virtues, unless your tastes run to the bland or candied, that is.
What was most surprising, though, was the mix of people in the bar. Though the designer tried hard to make the setting appear deco elegant, replete with Rat Pack favorites blaring in the background, the effect was jarred by the disparate attire and behavior of the clientele. A number of families with noisy small children looked as if they had just stepped off the beach and hadn't quite shaken off the last bits of sand. Next to them were women pouring out of expensive-looking cocktail dresses and looking uncomfortable because they felt overdressed for a place with $40 entrées.
We left after about 90 minutes, glad to have seen the city but not anxious to head back any time soon, especially since we had to pass through the noxious fumes from that portable potty once again.
We caught our breath once we made it down to the River Walk, where we ambled past the convention center, colorful Casa Rio and thousands of tourists, strollers in tow. Most of the traffic seemed headed in the opposite direction, but we didn't let it deter us from making our destination, Waxy O'Connor's
, an Irish pub at 234 Riverwalk. The outdoor tables were taken, which was fine with us, as the temperature still hadn't dropped into the double digits.
A/C, a juicy burger and some special Guinness commemorating the brewery's 250th anniversary all improved our spirits, making us glad to be a part of the downtown and its bustling party scene. Next time, I may even stay for a game of darts.
But we were on a mission and from there, we headed to Zinc
, the wine bar at 207 N. Presa. A glass of crisp, full-bodied Grüner Veltliner and a pour of a Ridge Zinfandel ended off the evening in style. The bar, an old favorite that I hadn't visited for too long, seems to have settled into its skin. It's not shiny as it was when it was new; it has a more burnished, comfortable feel that comes with age, placing it safely beyond trends.
Tableside guacamole, in the style of Boudro's, is now offered, along with a lengthy menu that had somehow slipped my mind. Yet the beautifully presented plates that filed passed made me hunger for a return trip downtown.
Tourists don't have that luxury. But we don't have to surrender the downtown area entirely to tourists. It's there for us to enjoy, too. And I plan on doing that more often.