It’s an unusually hot Friday in early June in San Antonio, but even 100-degree weather isn’t stopping people from descending on the city’s most exciting neighborhood. Children shriek as they run across a splash pad, and parents keep a watchful eye from under the shade of blue umbrellas. In air-conditioned cafes, freelancers tap away on laptops while students from the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus stride to class in white chef’s jackets and clogs.
There are restaurants everywhere in this neighborhood—17, to be exact, many of which are helmed by chefs who graduated from the CIA’s program here. At the moment, power lunchers are filling the restaurants. One of the most popular is Cured, where a meat locker dominates the middle of the dining room, demanding homage; Steve McHugh, the chef, has been nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest three times since Cured opened in 2013.
At the heart of this community is the magnificent Hotel Emma, whose lobby is filled with guests sipping margaritas from hand-etched blue glasses and tourists taking a peek at the Roman and Williams-designed property, which is housed in a 19th-century brewery, the longtime maker of Texas icon Pearl beer. Hotel Emma, which opened in 2015, is not just one of the finest new hotels in the region, it’s one of the finest hotels in the country, period. You can see its perfectionism in details such as custom guayabera-style robes in the rooms, minibars stocked with Texas favorites like Topo Chico water and service that is wonderfully anticipatory while never obnoxious: Go for breakfast two mornings in a row at restaurant Supper, and the waiters will remember your coffee order from the first day.
All of this constitutes Pearl, a 22-acre development north of downtown that’s home to some of San Antonio’s most coveted apartments, restaurants, shops, a weekly farmers market, event venues like the sonically state of the art Jazz, TX and the CIA’s 30,000-square-foot campus, its third in America.
“Pearl was the start of an urban revitalization in San Antonio,” says mayor Ron Nirenberg. “It has become a model for how public-private partnership can spur quality development.”
It’s hard to imagine that this site was a brewery as recently as 2001. But the San Antonio of 2001 wasn’t the San Antonio of today, and with year-over-year population growth that ranks among the highest in America, it’s not the way San Antonio, which now has a metro area population of about 2.5 million, will look in 2050. So how does a city that’s now celebrating the 300th anniversary of its founding stay true to the roots that make it one of America’s most culturally—and demographically—diverse cities while planning for growth? With the help of a forward-thinking local government, a supportive business community and visionary leaders, Pearl is leading the way.