If the walls at the Esquire Tavern could talk, the stories they would tell would not be fit for family consumption. But, oh, how we love sharing those tales, big as Texas and full of spice. A friend who worked at a nearby bank still laughs when she remembers seeing a naked man come stumbling out of the place at the same time she arrived for work one morning. What happened to him — or, more interestingly, to his clothes? We’ll never know.
All of the anecdotes, even the rough ones, seemed to take on a nostalgic glow when the venerated bar closed down several years ago.
Now, the Esquire is back, and downtown San Antonio is the better for it. The Commerce Street institution has been spiffed up a bit. Jill Giles reportedly worked on the design, which manages to capture the historical flavor of the place while making it inviting. The lighting is still fairly dim, though, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from going into a bar before, especially if you’re looking for a cold drink away from the hot San Antonio sun. The clientele is a little different, too, if one manager is to be believed. I heard him tell another customer this incarnation has “no whores, no drugs.”
It does have a kitchen, though, which is producing some tasty treats. They include pulled pork sandwiches, which made several customers very happy, if overheard comments are to be believed, and a burger.
I opted for the bison burger, which was incredibly juicy and accented by a bit of tangy onion. The size was right for a bar bite, but it may seem small for those looking for the half-pounder you’d find in a restaurant. A side of fresh, house-made giardinara had a touch of jalapeño spice that was just right; I could have eaten a whole plate of the carrots, cauliflower and other vegetables. I also ordered a plate of traditional deviled eggs that were were so snacky, the plate was empty before I knew it.
Good as the food is, the Esquire is still predominantly a bar. On Friday, the opening night, it had all the basics, with bottle after bottle lining the back. But it was missing a few essentials. A friend recommended that I order one of the house cocktails; that was impossible because the bar had run out of several ingredients. Next, I tried to order a Pimm’s Cup. Not on the menu, the waiter said. Moscow Mule? Nope, all the ginger beer was gone, he said. That scratched the next five drinks off my wish list. In the end, I settled for a Dale’s Pale Ale, a hoppy canned beer with a great floral finish that stays long after the beer is gone. Besides, an ice-cold beer is what the
I had a ticket for the San Antonio Symphony that night, so I left after finishing the food. But I returned to the Esquire after the excellent concert and discovered the joint was still jumping. I finally managed to get a bartender’s attention and ordered a Mark Collins (like his cousin, Tom, only made with bourbon). I was in luck: He had the ingredients to make the drink. Except he forgot the order in the bustle of the evening, leaving me to stand there contemplating the various bottles in the well-stocked bar. Amid the liquid treasures was an unopened bottle of Pimm’s No. 1. (I’m going back for a Pimm’s Cup, even if I have to explain to the bartender how to make it.)
After 10 minutes or so, I was finally able to get his attention again, and the drink, this time, appeared quickly. It was worth the wait. The ice was extremely cold and didn’t seem to melt, thereby watering down the drink. The toasted sweetness of the bourbon was mixed with lemon in a good proportion, offering the sweet-tart tang I wanted. And it was great to sip on the bar’s patio, which overlooks a fairly calm corner of the river.
The Esquire has only been open a few days, so the management is still working out the kinks. The biggest is service, which prompted a story to add to the folklore of the place. I was pleased to find a booth immediately upon entering the place, so I grabbed it and proceeded to read one of my textbooks while waiting for someone to take my order. After 10 minutes or so, I saw an old friend at the bar across the aisle. I got up to greet him, and while I was standing there, not even three feet from the table, a waiter appeared and proceeded to clear my book off the table. I sat quickly down again and placed my drink order.
He returned with water, took my food order and left. Another old friend appeared at the bar, and I crossed to say hello. Again, the waiter popped up out of nowhere and started to clear book and water pitcher. I slid back into the booth as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to confuse him any more. I’m glad I didn’t see any other friends on that visit, because I was not moving any more until I had eaten.
Welcome back, the Esquire. Here’s to all the stories and memories we’ll create in the future.
The Esquire Tavern
155 E. Commerce St.
Open daily at 11 a.m.