Texas travel: Taking a stand in San Antonio

TRACEY DAVIES indulges her Wild West cowboy fantasies in a historic Texan city rich in old-fashioned glamour and up and coming districts

AHH, I remember the Alamo,” I say to my son, Angus, 15, wistfully as we stand in front of one of America’s most revered sites.

The teenager looks at me oddly.

“I know you’re old but you’re not that old…are you?” he mutters, pointing at the date 1836 carved above the doorway.

Not quite. The crumbling 18th-century Spanish mission was the site of the bloodiest battle in Texan history, a 13-day siege in the fight for independence from Mexico.

I grew up watching old black-and-white Westerns with my grandad and seeing these crumbling walls, pockmarked with bullet holes from Davy Crockett’s last stand, was like bringing the wild frontier to life. The mayor of San Antonio has recently announced plans to restore the Alamo to its former glory and will include a museum displaying Phil Collins’s (yes, that one) million collection of Alamo artefacts.

While the Alamo is still the biggest draw to this southern Texas city, there’s plenty going on this year as it celebrates its tricentennial.

Located just 150 miles north of the Mexican border, one of San Antonio’s biggest annual celebrations is the Carnaval Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, a colourful festival of parades and events until November 3. We’re staying right in the centre in the St Anthony Hotel, a beautiful grande dame known as the Queen of San Antonio.

Opened in 1909 by a pair of Texan cattlemen, it’s so rich with old-school Texan glamour I almost expect to see JR Ewing and Sue Ellen waltzing through its polished doors. Running the length of the hotel is Peacock Alley, a block-long lobby lined with marble columns, emerald velvet sofas and showered in chandeliers which is a throwback to the Fifties, when famed New York interior designer Dorothy Draper put St Anthony on the style map.

As the sultry Texan sun starts to dip behind the Alamo, Angus and I take a slow wander along the balmy streets down to Paseo del Rio – the San Antonio River Walk – a three-mile-long pathway lined with buzzy restaurants and margarita bars.

The birthplace of Tex Mex, my Dorito-fuelled teenage son is in his element and the previous night we feasted on quesadillas, burritos and tacos in Mi Tierra, one of the oldest and most colourful Tex Mex diners in town.

Tonight we’re booked on to Boudro’s dinner cruise along the San Antonio river. Clasping my first prickly pear margarita, a cheery mariachi band jigs noisily along the path and serenades us as we board the boat.

Despite Angus’s mild look of horror – in case I join in – we’re both infused with the sparky Chicano vibe. Even on this unassuming Tuesday night, drifting gently down a fairy-lit river, melodic maracas ringing in our ears, I’m utterly charmed by the city.

But it’s not all mariachi bands and marvellous margaritas, there’s a trendy side to San Antonio too. The Pearl Brewery District, a mile or so north of Downtown, is currently the most happening hangout in town.

Once the home of the Pearl Brewery, it’s like a hip university campus with craft beer bars, independent restaurants and artisan shops selling everything from handcrafted French-style macarons in Bakery Lorraine to rare books on the Alamo in The Twig bookshop.

A mile further is the Witte Museum, an esteemed science and natural history museum which reopened last year after a major redevelopment and has original cowboy wagons to indulge my Wild West fantasies even further.

I’m pleasantly surprised how big a hit San Antonio is with the teenager. It’s renowned as a family-friendly city with a bunch of theme parks, including the Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Wet ‘n’ Wild and Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first fully accessible theme and water park for people with special needs.

IT ALSO has plenty of alternative attractions suitable for 15-year-olds as well. Our new favourite museum in the world is just around the corner from our hotel, the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum, which for Western fans its pretty much Disneyland.

The original Buckhorn Saloon opened in 1881, when owner Albert Friedrich would accept horns, antlers and even jars of rattlesnake rattles in exchange for a whisky or beer.

His stash grew into one of the world’s largest collections of antlers and over the years has expanded to include a zoo of stuffed animals.

More recently, it has been incorporated into the brilliant Texas Ranger Museum, where I swagger around the old-time saloon bar like a budget Annie Oakley.

It’s our last night and after leaving a tired teenager in the room with a double bill of Beavis and Butthead, I sneak down for a farewell margarita in the St Anthony Club, the hotel’s glorious old jazz bar.

Crammed with overstuffed Chesterfields, and polished mahogany, this famed Texan joint was where South West Airlines was conceived on the back of a napkin in 1967.

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