Change. Some campaign on it, creatures of habit can’t stand the thought of it. For Lee Beekly, owner of Revolution Room, change was necessary.
Beekly, who also owns Taco Garage and Rebar, decided to do a 180 with Rev Room.
“A year, year and a half ago, it started going in a different direction that we wanted,” Beekly said. “I’m older now, I wanted something different.”
The catalyst for the upheaval? Constant police attention the Revolution Room received in the past two years.
This wasn’t always the case. Beekly first partnered with Greg Bickerstaff to open Revolution Room eight years ago after a would-be trip to Berlin turned into an extended stay in Prague. There, Beekly visited coffee shops, discotheques, grotto clubs and learned about the Velvet Revolution (the former Czechoslovakia’s non-violent protest that led to the collapse of Communism there).
The bar was a go-to for area college students looking to barhop between The Hangar, Rebar and Salud without heading downtown.
But now 48 years old and a family man, Beekly’s looking for a change of pace from the “Dance Party, USA” culture.
Sure, Beekly admits, fights happen. But the rowdy, rough-around-the-edges crowd garnered attention from WOAI this past February, which interviewed fed-up neighbors about the weekly parking lot brawls. The segment, followed by a particularly gnarly fisticuffs session amongst bar hoppers near Rev Room, led to Beekly taking down the establishment’s sign, changing the dress code and finding new deejays within days.
The bar is taking on a new moniker, Leon, after Beekly’s grandfather, a geologist born in 1883 who scoured South America and Europe surveying the land for oil and railroads on horseback and later Model Ts. Photos of Leon and his work buddies are scattered throughout the bar, along with new wooden panels, antique tables and wagon wheel light fixtures.
The lifelong restaurateur and bar owner isn’t going it alone. Beekly’s enlisted the help of new partner and longtime Taco Garage patron Joel Rivas to rebrand Leon into a rustic, Americana-tinged ice house/whiskey bar/beer garden.
“We wanted to build something that fits into the neighborhood,” Rivas said of the bar space they’re hoping to turn “from a menace into an asset.”
The upgrades have been slow and steady: The two-month old patio will eventually incorporate a 1955 Spartan trailer outfitted with some 18-plus draught beers. Already, the beer and booze selection is looking up with the addition of craft brews and local spirits. Although the grand opening isn’t slated until August 16, and Beekly often wonders if the venture will stick, he’s finding some peace of mind.
“Sales might have plummeted, but so did the police blotter,” he said.
Saturday, October 4 is National Taco Day…which seems a bit silly for San Anto, but any excuse to load up on tacos, amirite? Viva Tacoland (103 W Grayson) will host a mid-day yoga-taco-music sesh. Stop in for a chamoy margarita, get bendy with Mobile Om ($10 donation for session) and of course, chow down on tacos via the onsite taco truck from 11 a.m. to close.
If you’re in the mood for a classier and more charitable affair, on Saturday, the Witte Museum (3801 Broadway) will host the second annual Tango of the Vines from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. The event will benefit the Amniotic Fluid Embolism Foundation, which raises awareness for this often-fatal maternal health complication. Look forward to food and drinks via Acenar, Becker Vineyards, Boiler House, Catalyst Catering, Charlie Wants a Burger, the SA Chefs Cooperative, Fiesta Winery, Hard Rock Café, Karbach Brewing Co., La Hacienda de Los Barrios, Lick Ice Cream, Max’s Wine Dive, Ocho, Paesanos Riverwalk, TBA Cocktail Lounge, Thai Topaz and more. Get your $60 tickets here.
If you didn’t volunteer to help Robert Irvine and his Restaurant Impossible team revamp Knife & Fork Gastropub (20626 Stone Oak Pkwy, Ste 103) this weekend, you can still put in your reservation for the grand re-opening on Sunday, October 5 at 7 p.m. by calling (210) 497-7111. The makeover marks the second time the beefy English import and his team remodeled a San Antonio eatery (the now-closed Mama Lee’s Soul Food got a facelift a few years ago). Even if you don’t make the reservation list, on-lookers can check out the progress for glimpses of the Restaurant Impossible host and his crew.
Know what goes great with bread? Delicious tejano history. The staff at Casa Navarro State Historic Site (228 S Laredo) will lead a quick seminar on “Pan De Campo: Tejano origins of the state bread of Texas” on Tuesday, October 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. The night includes an interactive baking party with tastings of the bread. Call (210) 226-4801 or email email@example.com to reserve your seat.
The crowd is three-deep at the bar, the ’tender is trying to keep from flaming out by shaking two drinks at once, and you’re invisible. But wait—there are signs of hope: alternative delivery systems.
No, this is not the equivalent of pot brownies. I’m talking Negronis on tap and carbonated cocktails for which one only needs to pop a cap. Yes, a large part of the charm at a fancy cocktail joint is watching your personal Manhattan being stirred. But there are times when you just want a well-made drink before the evening’s over. Pre-batching, whether for bottling or tapping, involves a lot of preliminary prep work—presumably by the maker who knows the drink best. Quality need not suffer.
“It will be one guy’s job every Tuesday and Wednesday to put out all the bottles,” says Christopher Ware, who locally pioneered barrel-aged cocktails when managing the bar at Arcade. Now the honcho at Paramour (scheduled to open mid-October), Ware will be rebooting his barrel program there in addition to doing bottled drinks such as the Paloma and kegged libations on the order of Old Fashioneds. “We expect to have five bottled drinks and two on tap,” says Ware.
Another early adapter was Jeret Peña, who did some carbonation innovation while at The Esquire Tavern. Now heading up Brooklynite, he has two cocktails on tap, a carbonated Paloma (the drink usually calls for grapefruit soda) and an Old Fashioned that’s kegged but propelled by neutral nitrogen that doesn’t add the acidic pop of carbonation. At Peña’s new Last Word bar, due to open on Houston Street around the end of October, there will be wines on tap and “at least six taps for cocktails”—actual drinks to be determined.
In addition to Paramour, bottled cocktails are being pursued by at least three bastions of booze—Barbaro, Blue Box and Cured. Barbaro’s Elisabeth Forsythe bottles only the base soda, allowing for summer’s salted watermelon to be paired with gin, mezcal, tequila or vodka. The production changes some depending on whether she’s using fruit or a seasoning such as celery seed, but “shelf life is assured by sugar, the carbonation and the purging of oxygen” from the tanks the drinks sit in before being bottled. Look for a spiced apple and “something with turmeric” for fall.
“I might use some Crave juices,” says Blue Box manager Stephan Mendez of his bottle program, but not everything bottled is juicy or carbonated. One gin-based drink with lemon, pineapple and grenadine “doesn’t need the extra acid” brought by carbonation, while the evocative Mind Eraser shot based on gin and Kahlua gets the fizzy treatment. He and bartender Andy Luna batch between 50 and 75 bottles on weekends, says Mendez.
Meanwhile, at Cured, bottled drinks are taking a winter vacation. Manager Robert Rodriguez says they bottle and move the sodas daily to assure freshness, and want to juice “only seasonal fruits.” By the time they return next summer, you’ll have had several months to get familiar with the concept.
Blame it on my love of accordions and early exposure to conjunto…but I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for German food. I was originally introduced to vinegary hot potato salad, brats and sauerkraut at Beethoven Maennerchor Halle und Garten in Southtown, where pals and I have congregated almost monthly to celebrate the end of the week.
And once you get a few beers in them, my pals often have the same lament: Why aren’t there more German/Czech eateries in town? Where can you find good spätzle? Why do we have to wait until Oktoberfest or Wurstfest to enjoy some tasty wurst? Well, we don’t.
Bavarian Brauhaus opened early this spring at the corner of West and Bitters with a tightly constructed menu and a thoughtful, but sparse, atmosphere that features German flags, fancy steins and several strands of globe lights hung throughout the inside of the eatery. Bavarian also doesn’t show a sign of compromise. The restaurant avoided the pratfalls of its suburbanite counterparts by forgoing a giant menu filled with just about everything to appease just about every type of customer.
Instead, chef Robert Blake, and owners Ralph and Carrie Richardson, built a varied list, heavy on the German nomenclature. Vorspeisen (appetizers), suppen und salat (soups and salads), hauptgerichte (entrees), sandwiche (I mean, really), beilagen (sides) and nachspeisen (dessert) are available, and there’s a small but fierce beer and wine list that includes Deutschland imports to wash down your meal.
My first visit, on a recent Monday evening (which happens to be $2.50 draft pint night), was met with a handful of male servers and runners (yes, quite literally a sausage fest), and aside from their attentive service, the wait staff also proved quite knowledgeable, pronouncing just about every menu item with impeccable German intonation. My dining pal and I settled on the wurst sampler ($10.99 for two, with a $3.50 charge for a third wurst) served with hot sauerkraut and fresh bread. We chose the bratwurst—regular and jalapeño—and added the currywurst to our spread. While the jalapeño featured enough heat, the brat was slightly overcooked. No worries, the standard option was spot on, while the currywurst was our hands-down favorite, as a sweet and mild tomato sauce elevated what would have been a traditional curry ketchup experience.
I committed to the pork (although an authentic veal variety was offered) wiener schnitzel while my dining companion loaded up on sides, and only sides. I can’t necessarily fault her—the red cabbage blaukraut was sweet, while the bratkartoffein (pan-fried potatoes and onions), and yes, more sauerkraut, was more than welcome and ridiculously plentiful. These are sharing sides, to be sure. But back to my schnitzel, which really did demand my attention. Flanked on either of the plate by cold German potato salad and slightly citrusy spätzle was a thin, butterflied cutlet, breaded, fried and delicious. The side of brown gravy available wasn’t entirely needed, but I wouldn’t push it away from the table either. We might have wrecked our appetites with the wurst sampler, but even so, the wiener schnitzel was huge…and yet, in case you do want to take on a huge hunk of pork, the menu offers a Texas schnitzel billed as “extra large.”
It is technically autumn in Texas now, and though it will stay shorts weather through Thanksgiving, other markers of the ostensible change of seasons are everywhere: college football games, network TV premieres and, most relevant to this column, a bumper crop of pumpkin ales. Oktoberfest is, after all, still half a month away. And just as the pumpkin spiced latte does for certain of the yoga-pants-adorned among us, the flavor of Linus’ favorite produce aids South Texans in our willful delusion that fall has befallen us in earnest.
Though I enjoy seasonal brews as much as the next beer correspondent, my experience with pumpkin ales is scant. My new-dad status has inspired more living room drinking recently; happily, the ever-expanding beer section at the H-E-B Plus! on 1604 and Bandera, and the expertly curated selection at the Quarry Whole Foods Market, have made it easy to get a survey of this year’s pumpkin ales. I began with the Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin and Wasatch’s Pumpkin Seasonal. Though I sampled a number of other bottles in the course of writing this column, they remained the highest pinnacle and most pitiful of the lot.
Worst first—the Pumpkin Seasonal failed to offer anything approximating the taste of actual pumpkin, landing somewhere closer to syrupy secondhand extract drizzled down into a beer bottle. Even worse, the be-drizzled beer tasted like a botched first attempt at homebrewing an amber ale, lacking all balance and any nuance. Coupled with its mere four percent ABV, there’s little to commend Wasatch for shipping this across Utah state lines.
The Harpoon Imperial Pumpkin was a different story. Improving on last year’s UFO Pumpkin ale, the Boston brewery blended that recipe with that of an imperial stout. Thus fortified, this beer provided everything the Pumpkin Seasonal lacked—substantial body, hefty alcohol ratio and no question as to its authentically pumpkin properties. Layering on cinnamon, nutmeg and creamy overtones, and unobtrusive hops, Imperial Pumpkin succeeded in reproducing everyone’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert—Mom’s pumpkin pie—in drinkable form.
Some honorable mentions fell between these two extremes. Southern Tier’s Pumking Ale has numerous devotees in the beer world, and while this year’s batch held up well as a solid cool-weather, high-ABV beer, the recipe went overboard on cinnamon, leaving an aftertaste akin to a handful of Red Hots. Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Ale claims to be the oldest in the country, turning up at the fall equinox on the regular since 1985; this year, at least, its unremarkable, malt-dominated profile does little to commend it against younger offerings. Some old-timers still held up, however. Dogfish Head’s Punkin Ale is approaching its 20th anniversary and, with the typical Dogfish love for extremes, presented a bold, brown sugar-infused ale in a bottle featuring an unhinged teddy bear chomping down on a poor, innocent gourd. Happy (preemptive) Halloween.