Nearly twelve years ago, the Pearl Brewing Company in downtown San Antonio turned off its boilers, emptied its tanks and the production of the beer moved to Fort Worth. It left behind a historic but derelict 22-acre complex, anchored by a towering brew house. To the dismay of San Antonians who remembered the glory days of Pearl — the brewery was one of the larger employers in the city — it looked like the property was destined to be razed, its iconic redbrick smokestack most likely replaced with a boxy distribution center.
Enter Silver Ventures, a private equity firm led by San Antonio native Christopher “Kit” Goldsbury. The CEO considered the brewery a brick-and-mortar symbol of his city’s entrepreneurial spirit and rich industrial past. When he told his advisers he wanted to turn the area into a mixed-use development, “I told him, ‘don’t walk away. Run away,’” said Bill Shown, now Pearl’s managing director of real estate. “Buildings had structural problems and soils were contaminated. Luckily, my advice wasn’t taken.”
Silver Ventures purchased the property in 2002 and began executing Goldsbury’s vision of developing a food-focused neighborhood where restaurants could attract and groom local chefs (like Andrew Weissman and Johnny Hernandez) and elevate them to an international stage. (Goldsbury has a food background — he was married to Linda Pace, whose parents founded Pace Foods, and he was the president of the company before he sold it to Campbell Soup for $1.1 billion.)
The Culinary Institute of America, opened its third campus here — its other locations are in Hyde Park, N.Y., and in St. Helena, in California’s Napa Valley — based in part on the location’s proximity to Latin American cooking influences. (Goldsbury also donated $35 million the CIA.)
Silver Ventures renovated the historic structures, added some stylish lofts, and worked with the city to clean up the adjacent river. Now a haute designer hotel is in the works.
True to Goldbury’s vision (and to a greater extent, San Antonio’s), the Pearl is becoming a destination for gourmands and travelers alike. Here are some of Pearl’s top stops:
It’s hard to say what’s more impressive: The Granary ‘Cue & Brew (602 Avenue A; 210-228-0124; thegranarysa.com) venue — a historic family home fronted with Corinthian columns — or its 4,000-pound wood-fired smoker, tended by chef Tim Rattray. A back bar in a wood-paneled space faces the restaurant’s own microbrewery, where brewer (and brother) Alex Rattray pours four types of craft ales. (The restaurant also makes its own root beer.) Pair a flight with dishes from the meat-focused menu: house-made Texas toast served with butter marbled with barbecue drippings, and pork belly with a Latin twist courtesy of a cumin and coriander rub.
In an era when restaurants seem to be getting smaller, it’s gratifying to walk into a large, recession-defying space. The new Boiler House (312 Pearl Parkway, Building 3; 210-354-4644; boilerhousesa.com), named after the 1896 building it occupies, divides 400 seats between two stories. Downstairs, where former coal-powered boilers make up the kitchen’s walls, a post-work crowd sips on wine paired with executive chef James Moore’s small plates such as quail poppers wrapped in jalapeños and bacon. A quieter upstairs might appeal to executives making deals over 32-ounce ribeyes.
At Nao (312 Pearl Parkway; 210-554-6484; naorestaurant.com), the C.I.A.’s Latin American restaurant, cocktails and tapas, all priced at $9, compete for attention. Order both.
For those looking for the next hot spot, mark your calendar for January when Arcade Midtown Kitchen (303 Pearl Parkway; 210-233-1212; arcadesatx.com) opens. The modern American menu of Chef Jesse Perez will include comfort foods such as shrimp and grits and meatloaf made with wild mushrooms and green peppercorn gravy.
The Pearl Brewery complex upgrade enticed some small business owners to move to the modern light-filled shops at the base of loft-style apartments. LeeLee Shoes (303 Pearl Parkway, Suite 105; 210-832-0066; leeleeshoes.com) opened at Pearl, bringing its inventory of Ash sneaker wedges and Brazilian Melissa Shoes. And Caroline Matthews, the owner of Dos Carolinas (303 Pearl Parkway, Suite 102; 210-224-7000; doscarolinas.com) takes orders for her custom tailored guayaberas ranging from classic white wedding shirts to ranch-ready camos.
Appoint your kitchen at Melissa Guerra (303 Pearl Parkway, Suite 104; 210-293-3983; melissaguerra.com) with cooking utensils, including stone molcajetes, and serving dishes like Chilean earthenware and etched Mexican glasses.
Want the chic mercado vibe, but hoping to avoid the city’s touristy Market Square? Head to Adelante Boutique (303 Pearl Parkway, Suite 107; 210-826-6770; adelanteboutique.com), which features San Antonio designers like Elizabeth Carrington, who makes chairs with graffiti fabrics, and Stevie Thompson, who has a Sway Clothing line.
Aside from the CIA, the biggest coup for the Pearl project is perhaps the Roman and Williams-designed hotel (the team behind Ace Hotels), scheduled to open in mid-2014. The property will occupy the main brew house, keeping key architectural features such as the building’s turn of the century brew tanks and huge round pillars.
“We’ve drawn out Pearl’s sense of industry and craftsmanship by preserving the building’s muscular concrete rooms, and are adding our own Americana ornaments such as massive chandeliers you might envision in a 19th century train station,” said Robin Standefer, the New York-based design principal. “It’s an immensely exciting project to work on, and I’ve become obsessed with Texas.”