In a sprawling city of malls, the Pearl is an enclave of originality in the popular Riverwalk.
There’s a 30-foot stretch of exposed industrial piping along a brick pathway in San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery district that got yarn-bombed a few months ago. According to the local guerrilla knitting group Yarn Dawgz, which installed the long, brightly striped sock, it’s a pipe cozy. No bureaucratic spoilsports have tried to get rid of it yet, nor did they protest when the Dawgz covered some chairs and tables with colorful fuzz a couple of Thanksgivings ago.
Stunts like these are quite all right with Elizabeth Fauerso, marketing director for the Pearl. In fact, “we encourage them,” she said. It’s that attitude as much as discerning, local-flavor developments that makes this pedestrian- and bike-friendly neighborhood, located a few miles up the river from downtown, such a draw for residents and visitors alike.
The site of a former brewery along the Museum Reach section of the famous Riverwalk, the Pearl is this Texas city’s counterpart to Minneapolis’ Mill District and North Loop, but even more scenic. A deliberately rustic amphitheater in the park features Échale concerts of alternative-Latin music six times a year and free movies. Other times it’s filled with couples and families just taking their ease, maybe having a picnic. Public artworks dot the Riverwalk like tapas tempting passersby to visit the nearby San Antonio Museum of Art.
The Culinary Institute of America recently opened its third branch in the Pearl, which already is home to some of the hottest restaurants in town. Throw in a craft brewpub, hip clothing and houseware boutiques, a homey, impeccably stocked indie bookstore and a farmers market, and it adds up to an oasis of individuality in a sprawling city of chain-store shopping malls.
Unlike so many of San Antonio’s attractions, the Pearl doesn’t require a car. The Museum Reach is the turnaround basin for river taxis that come about every 25 to 35 minutes and head back downtown. Or you can rent two wheels from a B-cycle bike-share station downtown and take a pleasant 15-minute, 3-mile ride to the area.
The original brewery, which was built in 1881, became the largest in Texas until Prohibition forced a product change to soft drinks and ice cream. Pabst took over the place in 1985, but shut it down 16 years later.
A prominent local developer bought the 22-acre property shortly after. Minnesota-founded Aveda Institute was the first tenant in 2009, moving into an old gas station and keeping the vintage pumps as a style statement.
An industrial-chic motif runs throughout the area, with salvaged and repurposed remnants of its former utilitarian ambience around every corner. The brewery itself, a 120-year-old Victorian structure, is being renovated into a luxury boutique hotel that will hold on to a grand circular staircase and convert old tankers into banquettes.
Outside the building that used to provide power to the brewery, now the locavore Boiler House Texas Grill & Wine Garden, massive old boilers have been cut in half to serve as outdoor planters. Signage tends to favor retro typefaces. In the Lab Building where they used to test and tweak the beer, the lobby chandelier is made of old glass and tubing culled on site.
The Pearl has plenty of eye candy for design and architecture buffs, but the primary draw for most visitors is the food scene. Celebrity chef Andrew Weissman’s Il Sogno Osteria and Sandbar Fish House and Market are the brightest stars among 10-and-counting buzzworthy restaurants to choose from.
“When people want to know which I recommend, I just ask, ‘What mood are you in?’ ” said Claudia Maceo, manager of the inviting Twig Book Shop. “Each has its own niche.”
True to its name, Cured specializes in organic cured foods from charcuterie to pickles. Green Vegetarian and One Lucky Duck offer tasty, healthy fare, and Nao, at the Culinary Institute, features the branch’s specialty, authentic Latin cuisine.
Maceo said the weekly farmers market (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays year-round) “is a huge part of what makes us Pearl. Another is that all the retail is locally owned and operated, except the 10,000 Villages store, which still supports microeconomic industry and fair trade.”
Yet another is that 500 people live within the Pearl’s boundaries, and another 2,000 are within walking distance, making it easy to feel like you’re mingling with the locals.
“The demographic tends to be young adults without kids, and then it’s a big leap to people in their 50s and older who want a getaway place in town or are giving up their big suburban houses altogether,” Maceo said.
Sounds exactly like the North Loop, Texas style.