When Mark Bohanan debuted the San Antonio Cocktail Conference in 2012, the idea seemed more an invitation than anything else. At that point, city staples Bohanan’s and the Esquire Tavern had high-quality classic cocktail programs, but few others in the city had followed their lead. Fewer than four years later, both the event and a new legion of bartenders have changed the city’s drinking scene completely. Not only are the stalwarts still thriving, but restaurants and bars citywide are debuting smart and ambitious cocktail programs for San Antonio drinkers. Here are five new entrants worth your time and attention when visiting the Alamo city.

MixtliBarFood
Try the chicken tinga at Mixtli. Try everything, actually.

Mezcaleria Mixtli

The lauded team behind the tiny, upscale train-car restaurant Mixtli have now expanded their scope with a modern mezcal and appetizer bar just 100 or so steps from the original location. After working on Mixtli’s wildly ambitious and ever-changing interior Mexican menus, chef Diego Galicia opted for family recipes and comforting favorites for Mezcaleria’s fare. Highlights include tender chicken tinga with cinnamon and chipotle and the Choriqueso, an indulgent skillet of melted Oaxaca cheese and chorizo served with salsas and chips. Galicia also offers traditional Mexican bar snacks of fried crickets and maguey worms; the former are crunchy and not too far removed from corn nuts, while the latter are airy, crisp and tangy, like insect Cheetos (with lime). Bartender and co-owner Jesse Torres drives the beverage program with a menu of savory-leaning creations. They include the Chingos de Hongos, an umami-filled blend of chanterelle-infused Montelobos Mezcal Joven, Sandeman Rainwater Madeira, mushroom demi-glace syrup, and thyme tincture. The Mariposa Negra is another heavy hitter, with Olmeca Altos Tequila Reposado, Averna, licorice root tea, and aromatic Orinoco bitters. Palomas and margaritas are also on offer for the more traditional tequila drinker. 5313 McCullough Ave., mezcaleriamixtli.com; 856-630-5142

LastWordEntrySteps
The sign calls. Will you answer? And when you answer, what will you order?

The Last Word

Just a stone’s throw from cocktail mainstay Bohanan’s, housed in the basement of an office building, the Last Word immediately upped downtown’s cocktail game. A neon sign beckons visitors to a literary-themed room full of author portraits, globes and quiet, comfortable raised tables for conversation. James Beard nominee Jeret Peña’s menu focuses on a dozen classic cocktails served on tap for expedient service. You’ll find classics like the Paloma, the Tom Collins and a powerful Negroni with Plymouth Gin and Carpano Antica. If you’d prefer a more esoteric tipple, there’s also Genghis The Khan, an unexpected Creole blend of Bayou spiced rum, Antica Formula, Spanish brandy, Shrub du Creole, Peychauds and crab-boil tincture. There are additional aquavit and sherry-focused selections for the adventurous drinker. If you need substantial food, eat before or after. There are snacks here, but they’re limited to olives, sardines, pickles and nuts. Most nights, the atmosphere is quietly convivial; the space feels intimate but not overly upscale, and it’s great for a date or a classy celebration. 229 E. Houston St., #10, thelastwordsa.com; 210-314-1285

Park Social (at FOLC)

The suburban strip mall housing Park Social looks more like a place to pick up dry cleaning than to savor a quality cocktail, but this quiet locale is home to one of the most ambitious drink programs in the city. David Naylor’s bar is adjacent to FOLC and even seats their overflow diners at brunch. On a recent visit, Naylor seemed to be everywhere at once as he crafted labor-intensive gin fizzes during FOLC’s busy Sunday rush. Rare is the bar that serves a stiff, high-quality cocktail in this circumstance, but Park Social is giving the Olmos Park crowd creations to savor and appreciate. Befitting San Antonio, spicy accents like chipotle gomme syrup in an aged rum drink appear in Naylor’s creations, and there’s a small craft-beer selection for non-cocktail drinkers. While you’re there, grab FOLC’s pea and ricotta toast with herbs (Mixtli’s Diego Galicia is a big fan) or go heartier with pork schnitzel with capers and fried egg. Service here can run a bit slow, but the overall quality is worth the leisurely pace. 218 E. Olmos Dr., park-social.com; 210-822-0100

JuniperTarBar
Take a date to Juniper Tar and let the bartender take care of the chemistry.

Juniper Tar

Don’t let the Domino’s Pizza next door throw you. Walk a few extra paces, and a stained-glass door wraps around to an ambitious space that seems like a walk back in time from the busy streets outside. The century-old building’s space is a marvel: stained-glass windows, wrought-iron bar shelving, and ornate chandeliers mix with exposed brick and bold artwork in a speakeasy setting that looks formal but feels friendly. On a recent visit, the bartender told us to view the menu more as a starting point than a mandate: Give them something like “bourbon” and “refreshing” as guidelines, and they’ll craft a drink to your personal style. The menu selections here are approachable for novice cocktail drinkers: There are riffs on the classics, like Tracy’s Daiquiri (white rum, lime, watermelon, grapefruit, rhubarb bitters) and the Strawberry Bee’s Knees (gin, lemon, honey and strawberry.) An Improved Rye Cocktail #1 (with Licor 43) and a scotch riff on a Daisy are also here for boozier tastes. Great for dates and tourists alike, Juniper Tar has atmosphere to spare and is within walking distance of many major downtown hotels. 244 W. Houston St., juniper-tar.com; 210-229-1833

Concrete Jungle

Tucked into the fringes of Southtown, Concrete Jungle brings a welcome tiki presence to SA’s range of drinking options. The sparse interior is accented with bamboo, waves, and National Geographic underwater specials playing on a loop. There’s potent Coffee Grog (overproof rum, coffee, cinnamon, cognac orange liqueur and cream of coconut) and classic mai tais and Singapore Slings here, along with more obscure tiki favorites, like the Doctor Funk, Hawaiian Room and La Florida. Whether the drinks are served in a tiki head or — in the case of the grog — on fire, the bartenders here are knowledgable, friendly and happy to discuss the tiki creation process. Along with the ingredient list, each cocktail gets a sentence on the menu describing how it “feels,” with helpful notes like “smoke, spice, and citrus all playing well together!” to steer toward your personal palate. The bar owner also runs the adjacent Tapa Tapa truck, which supplements the tropical drinks with island snacks. Dishes like tempura fish tacos with shredded cabbage-cilantro slaw and spicy aioli or crab rangoon with scallions, ponzu, cream cheese and sweet chili sauce are smart additions to your order. 1628 S. Presa St., facebook.com/tikiconcretejungle; 210-373-9907

All photos by Bethlyn Thornton