Let’s begin with the ammonia compressor: it’s red, the size of a tractor, and smack- dab in the middle of the lobby. It’s the first signal that there’s nothing cookie-cutter about San Antonio’s Hotel Emma, the long-awaited showpiece of the cultural district that’s sprung up on the site of the famed Pearl Brewery. Built from the bones of the 1894 brewhouse, the eight-story Emma is a lavish labor of love (and private capital) that misses zero opportunities to tout its history or arouse your “must Instagram immediately” impulses.
As you snap away at the grand chandeliers fashioned from bottle labelers and the brewing vats in the ballroom, you get the distinct sense that New York–based designers Roman and Williams had a ball repurposing the many excavated relics. If the hotel’s namesake, Emma Koehler—who kept the brewery afloat through Prohibition after her husband was murdered by one of his lovers—were to check in, she’d hardly believe that the old cellar is now Larder, a gourmet market and coffee shop, or that the fermentation tanks have been fashioned into private banquettes in the Sternewirth bar, or that the city’s see-and-be-scenesters are filling chef John Brand’s farm-minded Supper. Aside from my room, a vaulted-ceiling beauty with exposed brick and plaster walls, my own preferred corner was in the library, a quiet guests-only haven that I’d slip off to each evening, presumably to read one of the 3,700 titles available to borrow, but inevitably to take a few more pictures. Opened November 2015; 146 rooms; starting at $350; thehotelemma.com