Nix Professional Building, San Antonio

Upon its completion in 1931, the Nix Professional Building, in San Antonio,  was the tallest hospital in the United States.  It was also the hospital with doctor’s offices, hospital beds and a parking garage all in one structure.  Among the many people born in the building are Carol Burnett and Oliver North.

One interesting fact is that because of the sharp angles of the structure, as you pass the building from the River Walk it appears for a short time to be one-dimensional.  It’s quite an illusion.

Nix Building Day

Bexar County Courthouse, San Antonio

Completed in 1896 the historic Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio, Texas is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.  Nicknamed “the Beehive” for the unusually shaped roof of one of its towers, the courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  The red standstone building still functions as the county seat.

SA Bexar County CH 1

Tower Life Building, San Antonio

Downtown San Antonio, Texas has a lot of interesting buildings.  One of them is the neo-gothic Tower Life Building.  The 30-floor skyscraper was designed by local architects Ayres & Ayres and opened in 1929.  Originally named the Smith-Young Tower, the building was the home of San Antonio’s first Sears, Roebuck and Company Store.

I love the unusual octagonal shape of the tower and the two-tone brick and terra-cotta exterior.  The gargoyles jutting from the top floors are a bit unusual for San Antonio.  It’s a beautiful building.

At one point, a television transmission tower topped the building.  Luckily for us, the tower was transmission tower was removed and the copper dome and flag pole were restored in 2010.

SA Tower Life Bldg 2

Smokin’ Joe’s of Texas, San Antonio

My wife and I are pretty adventurous with food.  Whenever we travel we do our research and find outstanding restaurants that offer something we can’t get at home or from a chain.  San Antonio was no different.

Ann Marie did the research this time.  Since we were in Texas, we figured this was our chance to get real Texas Barbecue.   Smokin’ Joe’s of Texas was the restaurant she decided on.

Now, we love barbecue, but Carolina barbecue is different from Texas barbecue.  Western Carolina, or Lexington, barbecue uses a red, ketchup-based sauce.  Eastern Carolina barbecue uses a vinegar-based sauce.  In both cases, the meat of choice is usually pork.  It makes sense.  There are more hogs in North Carolina than people.

In Central Texas, the emphasis is on the meat, which is usually beef.  The meat is usually seasoned with salt and pepper only, though occasionally other spices are used.  Sauce is optional and is served on the side.  That’s the style we found at Smokin’ Joe’s.

We didn’t know what to expect but, from what we had seen around the River Walk, I expected a large fancy restaurant along the lines of Republic of Texas Steakhouse.  What we found was much more fun.

Smokin’ Joe’s is a tiny place tucked between a used car lot and an equally tiny Mexican restaurant.  The outside is typical Texas, with two giant six shooters displayed under the sign.  Once inside, we were greeted by a nice lady at the register, who I think was Joe’s mom.  Joe came out when we ordered and visited for a few minutes.  It’s truly a family operation.  There was Joe, his mom and one other gentleman in the kitchen.

It’s not fancy, but Smokin’ Joe’s isn’t a here today- gone tomorrow joint.  Joe has been smoking meat in San Antonio for over 35 years and his restaurant has been open since 2010.  Joe knows what he’s doing and, he’s not going stop any time soon.

We ordered each ordered a plate with two meats and two sides.  Ann Marie had the brisket and ribs while I had the brisket and sausage.  As is usual with central Texas barbecue, the meat was served with pickles and sliced bread.

Everything was very good.  The meat was really nice and the sides- baked beans and watermelon, in my case- were great.  The sauce was really just to add a little moisture to the meat, but wasn’t really needed.  In Texas, it’s the meat that counts, not the sauce.

The stars of the show, though, were the desserts.  We had a slice of lemon cake and a slice of Black Russian cake, and shared them.  They were both incredible.

Our visit to Smokin’ Joe’s was just what we were looking for.  We found traditional Central Texas barbecue, a relaxed atmosphere, friendly people and good food.  I’d say that I’d recommend this little barbecue place to people, but it’s too late.  I’ve already started telling people check out Smokin’ Joe’s.

Smokin Joes

San Antonio River Walk

I’ll be honest.  Texas has never been on my list of places to visit.  I found out this week, however, that San Antonio has a lot to offer.

I was in the city for a work conference, but did have a bit of time to explore San Antonio.  After the first day of the conference, my coworkers and I were treated to a tour of the River Walk.  It’s quite beautiful and a wonderful showcase for the city.

The San Antonio River is both natural and man-made.  In 1921 a hurricane hit San Antonio and the accompanying flood killed 50 people.  Originally, the city planned on covering the river and turning it into an underground flood control system.  Public outrage over the plan put a stop to it.  Architect Robert H. H. Hugman felt that the river could become a tourist attraction and presented a plan to add a bypass channel to handle potential flooding and to turn the area around the river into a park.  The River Walk was born.

SA River Walk Day

The River Walk is a beautiful place, and it’s no surprise that it’s become San Antonio’s top tourist destination.  Restaurants, shops and hotels line the river and the adjacent streets.  One thing that struck me was how the buildings lining the river reflect many different styles and time periods.  This interesting building is what I think of when I think of Texas architecture.

SA River Walk Old Building

Architect Robert H.H. Hugman is memorialized in the face of the building now housing the Republic of Texas Steakhouse.  A few feet from the building there’s also a plaque memorializing the creative mind behind the River Walk.

SA Republic of Texas

There’s a lot of art to be seen along the River Walk.  Murals by Oscar Alvarado are located under the many bridges that cross the river.  The Arneson River Theater is an outdoor amphitheater located in a bend of the river, and is a popular concert venue.  The Briscoe Western Art Museum backs up to the river and the beautiful “Camino de Galvez” sculpture by T.D. Kelsey sits along the river behind the museum.

TD Kelsey Camino de Galvez 2014

While many of the restaurants and shops along the River Walk are relative new comers to the city, there are several establishments that have been there for many years.  The Esquire Tavern, established in 1933 to celebrate the end of Prohibition, is one.  Despite a recent renovation, walking into the Esquire is like walking into the tavern when it first opened 85 years ago.

The Esquire Tavern

After the river tour we enjoyed a dinner at the Iron Cactus Restaurant.  By the time dinner was over, it was dark.  The River Walk is quite beautiful at night as well.

SA River Walk Night

San Antonio changed my mind about Texas.  There’s more to the state than just Austin.  San Antonio is definitely worth another visit.

San Antonio’s River Walk Mosaics

I was able to spend a couple days in San Antonio, Texas.  Most of my time was spent at work, but one evening my company took us on a tour of the city’s River Walk.  One interesting aspect of the tour was a series of mosaics by local artist Oscar Alvarado.

Most of the murals are under the many bridges that cross the San Antonio River.  I wasn’t able to photograph all of the murals, but here are some of my favorites.

The first is a portrait of José Antonio Navarro, a Texas Patriot.  Navarro was one of the original signers the Texas Declaration of Independence, was instrumental in drafting the first state Constitution of Texas, and served three terms in the Texas Senate.

SA Riverwalk Mural 4

The next is a mosaic map of the San Antonio River, with the five historic frontier missions pictured along the river.  The five missions- Mission Concepción, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, Mission Espada and the Alamo- are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

SA Riverwalk Mural 6

This mural is a street map of San Antonio.  I’m not sure what the structure in the upper left represents.  It is interesting, though, and I like the stone bench in front of the mosaic.

SA Riverwalk Mural 3

This beautiful piece shows famous landmarks of San Antonio, including the Alamo and the Tower of Americas.  I’m not sure what the dog has to do with San Antonio, but, hey, I like dogs.

SA Riverwalk Mural 9

This beauty is a strange one to me.  I get the clouds, but I’m not sure where the hills come from.  San Antonio is one of the flattest places I’ve ever seen.  You can see for miles, but there are no hills in sight.

SA Riverwalk Mural 5

This mural is a bit different from the others in that it integrates part of the bridge structure into the art.  The center of the swirl is a cover of some kind.  My guess is the mosaic represents a hurricane or storm and the cover may be part of the flood prevention system.  A hurricane in 1921 did flood San Antonio, killing 50 people.  San Antonio’s River Walk is a direct result of this hurricane and flood.  A bypass channel was designed and built to alleviate flooding.  This man-made section of the San Antonio River became the River Walk.

SA Riverwalk Mural 10

I’ll be honest.  I have no idea what this represents.  I do, however, find it quite beautiful.

SA Riverwalk Mural 7

Oscar Alvarado’s mosaics are just one reason why the River Walk is the top attraction in San Antonio, making it even more popular than the Alamo.  The mixture of old and new architecture is quite fascinating as well.  And it’s a beautiful place to spend time.  If you’re in San Antonio, don’t miss it.

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