September 29, 2016

The Menger Hotel Bar in San Antonio, Texas

Historic Bars Menger Bar Overview

photo by: Jeffrey Burton

The old feel of the woodwork in the Menger Bar takes visitors back to the 19th century when figures like Theodore Roosevelt patronized the establishment.

The tale of the Menger Bar is about as culturally diverse and historically heavy as its hometown of San Antonio, Texas. And though the town is so often associated with the Alamo and Texas’ fight for independence, few may know its connection to Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders from the Spanish-American War.

In fact, it was in the Menger Bar itself that Roosevelt, sitting at one of the two large round tables that still grace the space, recruited the men of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, better known as the Rough Riders. This eclectic group rode with the future 26th President of the United States in Cuba before the Treaty of Paris was signed to end the war in 1898. The bar's association with this famed group is something of which Menger Hotel employees are quite proud.

The bar's namesake, William Menger, immigrated from what is now Germany in the 1840s. He married a local widow and opened a brewery next to her boarding house. In 1859, the boarding house was enlarged and became the Menger Hotel, but it wasn't until 16 years after Menger's death in 1871 that the eponymous bar that we know today was built inside.

Historic Bars Menger Bar From Balcony

photo by: Jeffrey Burton

The impressive Victorian bar can crank out just about any cocktail.

The Menger Bar was designed in 1887 as a facsimile of London's House of Lords Pub. The bar's appearance emphasizes the opulence of Victorian decoration. Nearly all of the furnishings are constructed in solid mahogany, from the bar itself to the beveled glass mirrors in mahogany frames.

The furnishings have moved several times over the years, the first in 1910, due to hotel construction. Shortly thereafter, it was vacated during Prohibition and the bar was taken apart and put into storage. It was at this time that a group of local attorneys purchased a section of the dark-stained bar, shortening it so that it could fit in their offices.

It wasn't until 1949 that the establishment moved back to its (hopefully final) resting place inside the Menger Hotel. The bar's many transitions caused it to downsize from its original three rooms that included the bar room, a billiard room, and a reading room, to a two-level room with the bar itself downstairs and additional seating in the balcony above.

With all of the moving the bar has endured, it’s a slight miracle that many of its 1887 furnishings, including the cherry wood paneled ceilings, beveled mirrors, and bar (although truncated) remain today to bring visitors back to the venue's 19th-century roots.

Historic Bars Menger Bar Balcony Seating

photo by: Jeffrey Burton

You can sit either downstairs at the bar itself or upstairs on the balcony.

Here’s some information to know before you go:

Location: 204 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205

Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight, seven days a week.

You’re Having: Any one of their delicious light sandwiches, washed down with a Menger Margarita.

Best Yelp Review: “Took a little walk in the rain to see this tiny historical gem. Sat upstairs - and was amused by the sign saying "more than 10 people not allowed"...as the bar is quite old. After discussion with the bar tenders - held over the upstairs railing while they were downstairs behind the bar- I ended up with a wonderful Amaretto spiced rum chocolate liquor martini. It was quite warming on a cold rainy night and I would definitely come back to sample their custom creations again.”—Karen G.

Meghan White is a historic preservationist and a former assistant editor for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.

Applications for the Telling the Full History Preservation Fund grant program are due December 15, 2021.

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