Soho Wine and Martini Bar (San Antonio, TX)

When I started blogging, I decided that my blog would be pretty focused, with just restaurant reviews. Well, over the years I’ve made a few exceptions, like blogging a few special events, and some places that aren’t really restaurants. But during my trip to San Antonio, I finally went to a bar that was “offbeat” enough that it made me ask myself, “Why haven’t I reviewed any bars yet?” The reasons were twofold: while I’ve been to a lot of great bars that I have reviewed here, I still always reviewed them for the food. And the second was my self-imposed rule. Well, the greatest thing about making your own rules is that you can change them… So I’m presenting my first bar review.

Last Friday, I was in San Antonio, having joined Carol for a conference. After tooling around the outskirts of town, we ended up going down and doing a fair bit of walking on San Antonio’s pleasant Riverwalk. After a bit of walking and seeing the sights, we decided we were thirsty, and a quick check of online reviews gave really mixed results for places on the riverwalk… but pointed us to one particular place that’s off the Riverwalk. Located in a converted bank building on Crockett Street just barely off the Riverwalk at street level, it’s actually the sort of place you could walk by without much notice (indeed, I didn’t originally think it was open when we first approached it). Inside, it’s rather a funky space: what normally would be a really spacious bar area is broken into two spaces by the presence of the old bank vault, which currently serves as Soho’s wine cellar. The result is a main, but somewhat crowded, bar area, and two quieter seating areas.

The first thing that really stuck out when taking our seat in the bar area is that Soho has quite the well-stocked bar. Two whole shelves of gin, plus a half shelf of genever, for example. A whole shelf dedicated to custom infusions (at the time, vegetable-infused vodka for Bloody Marys, and bubble-gum infused vodka). A whole refrigerator for assorted drink ingredients (raw ginger, bacon slices, garnish, etc). An entire shelf of bitters. And a rather good assortment of bar implements. They’ve also got some rather good bartenders, who pride themselves on having a wide repertoire and quite a few specialty drinks.

But enough about the background, how were the cocktails? Excellent, in short. When you sit down, you can immediately see a very large menu board with their list of specialty cocktails, ranging from the fairly simple (like a simple Bellini) to the complicated (“Carrot Cake Tini”) to the unique and obscure (I still don’t know what the “Pork ‘n Fork” is, I forgot to ask).

Looking over the list, I decided to start off with something off their specialty menu: a prickly pear margarita. I’ve had these before a few times, and this is exactly the sort of cocktail that separates the good places from the crappy bars. Poorly done, this drink can taste like a bad can of Cactus Cooler with a bad tequila aftertaste, but Soho had this one dialed in: the primary taste of the drink was tequila, with just enough to overcome the sweetness of the fruit. Whatever prickly pear liqueur they were using was pleasantly flavored, and paired nicely with the tequila. There was enough lime to give it the requisite lime note, and instead of being rimmed with salt, it came in a lime and cayenne-rimmed glass. The last of these was a little unusual, but after a few sips, it was really dialed in.

Carol’s first cocktail was a similar order from the specials board: a cucumber martini. This was a very pleasantly executed cocktail; usually when something is delivered as a flavored “martini”, it’s not really a martini but just something served in a martini glass, but this drink was still definitely a martini: the main flavors were still gin and vermouth, but then there was an extra note of cucumber that combined very nicely with the gin. Again, an excellent cocktail.

Round two was even better. Deciding that I needed something a bit different for a second round, I ended up having a back-and-forth discussion with the bartender about what flavors I liked, and we eventually settled on a custom drink: a pear martini with muddled ginger in it. The result was a very pleasant cocktail that was exactly what I was looking for: nice, strong pear liqueur flavors, a subtle gin taste, and some nicely complementing sharpness from the muddled ginger that gave this drink a subtle Asian flavor. I liked this, and am going to have to try to recreate this on my own.

Carol then decided to try one of the their true specialties, the Soho Bloody Mary. This was, in concept, a fairly straightforward Bloody Mary, but their particular execution of it is pretty unique. First, instead of plain vodka they make their own vegetable-infused vodka as the base of the drink (see the pic a few paragraphs above). To this they add tomato juice, and a fermented horseradish blend that’s quite pungent, and ends up converting the drink from reddish-hues to pinkish-hues. Unusual, but tasty. Finally, you’ve got your choice of garnishes, with the recommended garnish being a strip of bacon. Which the bartender crisps to order with a blow torch. Don’t see that everyday. So even when I’m not setting out to do a food review, bacon still gets involved. Odd, huh? And for the record, we saw the blowtorch get used several other times while we were there, mostly for their “crème brûlée martini” in which the drink is whipped up by hand with some egg whites, poured into a martini glass, and torched to order.

In any case, we really enjoyed our stop at Soho. The cocktails were inventive and fun, executed well, and not too expensive (especially based on my Northeast-calibrated senses). The bartenders were competent and friendly, and the ambiance nice. I’ll definitely make it a point to come back.

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