Housed in the former Pearl Brewery, Hotel Emma is the crown jewel of the culinary-focused Pearl complex, and arguably San Antonio’s most romantic lodging option. The historic property offers luxury and comfort in a welcoming atmosphere, plus everything one needs to have a fantastic culinary stay without ever leaving the premises.
The beautiful property occupies the brewhouse building, constructed in 1894 and designed by Chicago architect August Maritzen. The Pearl Brewing Company began producing Pearl Beer in 1886 with Otto Koehler as president and manager. Upon his passing, his wife Emma succeeded him as the chief executive, ushering the brewery’s most successful period. Thanks to her steadfast leadership, Pearl was one of only five Texas breweries to survive Prohibition. In 1985 Pabst purchased the Pearl Brewing Company, moving production to Fort Worth, and the San Antonio brewery closed permanently in 2001.
Hotel Emma opened in 2015 after an extensive remodel, which preserved and incorporated many historic elements such as industrial equipment repurposed as light fixtures, banquettes, and chandeliers; cast-iron spiral staircases; exposed brick walls, original wood beams, Mexican painted cement tiles and pressed tin ceilings. Indoor and outdoor water features include original steel pipes as spouts.
When you check into your super cozy room, you will find a South Texas-style icebox stocked with local beer, spring water, and ingredients for a DIY margarita – including a recipe, a metal shaker and Mexican blue glassware. However, I recommend you save that for an afternoon on the pool terrace and head down to the library for your complimentary welcome cocktail. Although their margarita is an excellent option I chose the signature Three Emmas, featuring house-made Pearl beer and rose cordial, amontillado sherry, Botanist gin, and fresh grapefruit and lemon juices.
Rather than waste resources removing large industrial fixtures, the hotel embraced and reclaimed them. At Sternewirthe, Emma’s amazing bar, three enormous cast-iron fermentation tanks outfitted with pillow-covered banquettes and low tables became intimate places to enjoy a craft cocktail, beer or a glass of wine. I wholeheartedly recommend the Mr. Rogers cocktail, made with mezcal, apricot liqueur, orange liqueur, lemon juice and black walnut bitters. If you are looking for a late-night snack or light dinner, a small menu is available – you can’t go wrong with the hand-formed burger swaddled in a brioche bun, dressed with house-made condiments.
Supper, the bright and airy full-service restaurant offers a more formal dining option. Its high ceilings, white walls, and floor-to-ceiling windows give it a serene, carefree vibe enhanced by a patio with a view of the river. Supper serves Mediterranean-tinged fare with a slight South Texas accent and a focus on local ingredients for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “The food at Sternewirth and Supper is driven by market inspirations with attention to flavor, detail and community,” says Chef John Brand, whose resume includes The Little Nell in Aspen, The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and Keswick Hall in Virginia. “While maintaining an appreciation for the old methods, we are inspired by the new, and we keep a modern approach to presentation.”
If you prefer something more casual head to Larder, the hotel’s gourmet grocery store and deli. Housed in a former fermentation room, it provides a comfortable place for a quick breakfast, lunch, or coffee break, as well as grab-and-go and take-out items. They also sell beer and wine, as well as fancy groceries and outstanding coffee drinks. Plus, they can put together a picnic basket for you to take and enjoy on a river hike or in the comfort of your own room. The hotel also features a culinary concierge who can guide you to events and classes held on premise, provide suggestions for dining and drinking off premise, and even escorting guests to pop-up dinners.
Although technically not part of Hotel Emma, but directly adjacent via a short hallway next to Sternewirth, is another dining option. Southerleigh is a casual craft brewery with a Gulf Coast-inspired menu by chef owner Jeff Balfour. Expect comforting Southern classics like meatloaf and fried chicken, accompanied by crab meat mac and cheese or the best mashed potatoes ever. I absolutely love the fried snapper throats as a snack with a seasonal pint, but the seafood boils are an excellent alternative. If you want to get fancy you can even get caviar, and if you love oysters check out the recently added outdoor oyster bar for fresh bivalves and chilled seafood platters.
When you return to your room at the end of the day, you’ll find that turn down service includes a macaroon from local favorite Bakery Lorraine. And if you book throughout February you can take advantage of Hotel Emma’s Valentine’s package, which includes a half bottle of Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial and a box of four handmade truffles. Why would anyone ever want to leave?