Monday, July 27, 2009

Which Way is Southtown? Southtown is featured in this month's Texas Highways magazine.

Which Way is Southtown?

Just beyond San Antonio's attractions waits vibrant community where artists and visitors mingle amiably

By Shermakaye Bass

San Antonio entices travelers from around the world with splashy attractions like the River Walk and SeaWorld, as well as such popular sites as the Alamo and the historic mission trail. But what many visitors—even native Texans—don’t realize is that San Antonio shelters a thriving bohemian district just beyond downtown. Three overlapping neighborhoods (King William, Lavaca and Blue Star), known collectively as Southtown, harbor a welcoming vibe that dovetails centuries of history with modern art-house culture.
Bounded loosely by South Flores and South Presa on the west and east, Durango and Lone Star to the north and south, Southtown is rich with galleries, coffeehouses, hipster dive bars, artists’ compounds, vintage clothing stores, crafts ateliers, family-run taco joints, and chic new bistros (Oloroso, a hottie of the moment). All draw loyal customers, as do longtime favorites Rosario’s, El Mirador, and the stately Guenther House. The result: a vibrant “arts underground” that invites exploration.
Southtown is sophisticated, welcoming, and sprawling: A day-long walking tour isn’t enough to see it all. So, unless you have the legs of Lance Armstrong, it’s wise to employ a combination of transport modes: perhaps a pedicab for King William, the 150-year-old National Historic District founded by German émigrés; your own vehicle for St. Mary’s and South Alamo; and a tram or taxi from downtown to enjoy South Flores.
In the King William Historic District, pick up a walking-tour map from the San Antonio Conservation Society headquarters at 107 King William Street. Southtown encompasses King William, a diverse residential collection of Victorian architecture, and the South Alamo Street/South St. Mary’s Street Historic District, dotted with more modest, late-19th- and early-20th-Century houses. The development of this area parallels San Antonio’s 19th-Century growth, and these days, many structures are beautifully restored and carefully maintained, with styles ranging from Italianate, Neoclassical, and red-tiled-roof Spanish Revival to classic Victorian and Central Texas limestone. Some houses, such as the Ogé House, built in 1857 by Texas Ranger/cattle rancher Louis Ogé, double as bed and breakfasts.
If you’re not up for walking the whole way, hail one of the human-powered pedicabs that circulate in this area.
After visiting The Guenther House restaurant/museum, we forged a diagonal path across South Alamo to the Blue Star Arts Complex. In addition to the namesake gallery, Blue Star Contemporary Art Center (local, national, and international exhibits—always thought-provoking), the renovated warehouses house artist studios, a microbrewery, galleries, lofts, a bike shop, print shops, sundry arty retailers and non-profits, along with JumpStart Performance Co., a groundbreaking theater company that has produced more than 500 performances for 300,000 visitors since it was founded in 1985.
As Hank Lee, owner of the San Angel Folk Art Gallery, says, “The whole Southtown area is the quintessential old, small-town San Antonio. Out-of-towners who stay on the River Walk can get a whole other sense of San Antonio down here. The trolley is only 50 cents, and there’s a stop right at Blue Star.” Lee adds that the area’s bohemian feel is amplified “by locally owned establishments, like Jive Vintage, MadHatters, and La Tuna. You won’t find chain stores or franchise operations down here.”
San Antonio’s Southtown area extends roughly from South Flores to South Presa (west to east), and from Durango to Lone Star (north to south). Find King William District walking tour information at the San Antonio Conservation Society, 107 King William, 210/224-6163. For more on San Antonio, contact the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800/447-3372, or stop by the Visitor Information Center at 317 Alamo Plaza, across from the Alamo. Following is contact information for sites mentioned in the story.
DiningOloroso, 1024 S. Alamo, 210/223-3600.El Mirador, 722 S. St. Mary’s St., 210/225-9444.Rosario’s Mexican Restaurant, 910 S. Alamo, 210/223-1806.Bar America, 723 S. Alamo, 210/223-1285.Blue Star Brewing Company, 1414 S. Alamo, Ste. 105, 210/212-5506.The Guenther House, 205 E. Guenther St., 210/227-1061.La Tuna Grill, 100 Probandt, 210/212-5727.MadHatter’s Tea House and Cafe, 320 Beauregard, 210/212-4832.
LodgingThe Ogé House, 209 Washington, 210/223-2353.
Galleries/ShopsBlue Star Contemporary Art Center, 116 Blue Star, 210/227-6960.Casa Margarita, 730 S. Alamo, 210/222-8444.Fl!ght, 1906 S. Flores, 210/872-2587.Gallista Gallery & Art Studio, 1913 S. Flores, 210/212-8606.Inter-Artisan, 1036 S. Alamo, 210/807-3582.The Jewelry Box, 734 S. Alamo, 210/270-0333.The Jive Refried, 919 S. Alamo, 210/257-5132.Joan Grona Gallery, 112 Blue Star, 210/225-6334.Jump-Start Performance Co., 108 Blue Star, 210/227-5867.LoneStar Studios, 107 Lone Star Blvd.1906 Gallery and Benavides Picture Framing, 1906 S. Flores, 210/227-5718.San Angel Folk Art, 110 Blue Star, 210/226-6688.Unit B, 402 Cedar, 312/375-1871.Vintage House, 628 S. St. Mary’s, #102, 210/299-4774.
See the full article in the August 2009 issue.

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