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Food & Drink

Tonic Bar Embodies SA's Laidback Scene

Photo: All Photos by ESSENTIALS210, License: N/A

All Photos by ESSENTIALS210

Tonic’s stage, ready for drumbeat karaoke

Photo: , License: N/A

Cindy and JW George share a moment in the de facto “VIP” section

Tonic Bar is not quite a dive and definitely not classy. What it is, though, is a very San Antonio bar. It’s the Spurs fan floating on an inner tube in the street during the floods earlier this year. There is something ridiculous about it, but it always brings a smile to your face nonetheless.

Thankfully, Tonic Bar doesn’t take itself too serious. For the past six or so years the bar has been open, it’s had a reputation for randomness. The week after a body paint expo and some Porneoke (karaoke with porn in the background), you might find the bar celebrating “Hawaiian Day” with a large roasted pig in the middle of the dance floor.

While Tonic Bar has classed up a bit under new management (bye bye, Porneoke), it’s still not above poker night and some drumbeat karaoke (karaoke sans music, but with a live drumbeat).

Like San Antonio, Tonic Bar won’t break the bank. Happy hour is a permanent fixture here so you will always find $2 domestics, $2.50 imports, $3 you-call-its and $5 premiums no matter the time of day. Beer geeks beware: while you can order the standard Shiner, Dos XX, Blue Moon and Newcastle, don’t expect a Flying Saucer-type selection of imported brews. That Dos XX is pretty much the main “import” you’ll come across.

On Friday and Saturday nights you can usually hear some generally solid cover bands. One such band was Sumo Fist, which serenades lucky bar-goers on the second Friday of every month. By the way, they play what is, without a doubt, the best cover of Incubus’ “The Warmth” ever heard. And come on, who the hell else plays that song? If it weren’t for Sumo Fist following that with “Santeria,” you’d be forgiven for looking for Brandon Boyd on stage.

The bar area itself is spacious. Tonic’s website claims they are trying to evoke the “Caribbean decadence of Old Havana, Cuba.” While it comes across as more of a public-access cable version of Casino Royale, it is still quite charming. A corner of the place has bar tops that provide a good view of the stage; the other has plush leather couches with a good view of everything else. (Pro tip: Don’t sit there by yourself or without ladies in your company. With you and your lady friend? It’s clearly the VIP section. Just you and your dudes? It could come across as Creeper Island.)

Another Tonic Bar plus is the variety. Mosey on up to the pub-style bar and find friendly bartenders, such as Sergio, always up to chit chat and recommend drinks (Bulleit and 7Up with a lime is a good place to start).

You can also hang outside and get your smoke on. Tonic Bar has a 2,000 square-foot patio area with eight beers on tap, a DJ (on occasion) and misting fans/heating towers when needed. On the other side of the bar is yet another room with pool, darts, a kitchen and a jukebox as well as easy access to the kitchen.

Bartenders were attentive all night and the bathrooms were refreshingly clean. The crowd seems to skew older (mid-20s to mid-50s) but that is not always a bad thing. As Sylvia, one of Tonic’s regulars puts it, “This is a cool place to chill. The drinks are good and it never gets too crazy.”

While it is easier and easier for San Antonians to find fancy cocktails served by up-and-coming “star”-tenders, there is something to be said for a simple place that serves cheap drinks and a casual atmosphere.

Tonic Bar

3pm-2am daily
5500 Babcock

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