San Antonio is a city that boasts a robust and impressively diverse music scene, in terms of both local stuff and touring shows. Helping to foster this scene, and to literally host it night after night, local venues, from the state-of-the-art to the run-of-the-mill, are key to the character and continuance of live music in this or any city. In the spirit of this Greatest Hits and Deep Cuts edition of City Guide, we have collected two lists of venues here — one features well-established venues that are likely to host big-name, out-of-town talent and the other features smaller, more humble establishments that are integral to the local music scene and lesser known touring acts. Neither list is exhaustive by any means, but together they represent a good start for anyone looking to get acquainted with the live music milieu in SA.
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
Paul McCartney, Nas, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Deepak Chopra and Hannibal Buress are just a few of the big names that have graced the Tobin Center’s state-of-the-art facilities since its opening in 2014. Built at the site of the Municipal Auditorium, which originally opened in 1926, the Tobin can claim some nostalgic historical ties while also boasting the newest and best of everything you could want in a performance center. In addition to big-name touring acts and classical music performances, the Tobin hosts lower-profile and (sometimes) local acts and events in its Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater, a smaller companion to the H-E-B Performance Hall that serves as its main room. 100 Auditorium Circle, (210) 223-8624, tobincenter.org.
Majestic and Empire Theatres
Both situated downtown, the Majestic and the Empire are historic venues that have shaped SA’s music/entertainment scene for generations — having first opened in 1929 and 1914 respectively. These days they are both run by the same group and host a similar array of talent, from touring bands to musicals, from theatrical performances to comedians, from symphony concerts to programs for kiddos. Each of these visually stunning historical treasures provides an elevated, refined show-going experience and both are to be considered ideal date night destinations, perfect for when you want to have a seat and take in a show like a real grownup. 224 E. Houston St. (Majestic), 226 N. St. Mary’s St. (Empire), (210) 226-5700, majesticempire.com.
Another historic spot located downtown, the Aztec Theatre, originally opened in 1926, can be seen as a hipper, edgier sibling of the downtown venues mentioned above. Known especially for hosting budding hip-hops acts, indie-rock mainstays, dance music, and mini music festivals, the venue typically draws a younger crowd than the Majestic or the Empire. The control over booking landing in the hands of the House of Blues/Live Nation company, a deal finalized in 2015, has certainly helped in terms of keeping offerings relevant. However, with its over-the-top, Aztec-ruins-meet-seedy-casino décor and vibe, it’s hard for us to imagine how anyone wouldn’t be charmed by the Aztec. The mix of seating and standing room at the venue also provides some versatility of experience that some of the more traditional theaters can’t claim. 104 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 812-4355, theaztectheatre.com.
The newest venue on the Greatest Hits portion of this list, Jazz, TX opened in 2016 and has quickly carved out a serious reputation for itself. With venerated local music supporter and ace bandleader Doc Watkins at the helm, this swanky throwback jazz club has quickly become a go-to for lovers of jazz, blues, big band, Texas swing, salsa, conjunto, and Americana. The place has great drinks, great food, a speakeasy feel and excellent acoustics. 312 Pearl Pkwy #6001, (210) 332-9386, jazztx.com.
Paper Tiger has been perhaps SA’s best music venue in terms of number and quality of shows ever since opening in 2015. Located in the updated shell of the legendary venue it replaced — RIP White Rabbit (1996-2014) — the place is a no-frills (except for the awesome sound system) and all-thrills venue for catching some of the hottest touring acts of the moment, especially of the indie, alternative, hip-hop and cult-classic variety. Many would argue that the Paper Tiger and Margin-Walker, the booking company it works with, have been almost single-handedly responsible for bringing in indie acts that might have previously never played south of Austin. 2410 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 841-3771, papertigersatx.com.
Sam’s Burger Joint
A stalwart of the local music scene for many years, Sam’s Burger Joint is a good spot to satisfy burger cravings and a great place to catch local and touring acts of the Americana, country, roots, blues and jazz variety. With a puro San Anto vibe that serves to celebrate this city’s long and impactful musical legacy, Sam’s is a go-to venue for iconic acts like Augie Meyers, Flaco Jiménez and more. 330 E. Grayson St., (210) 223-2830, samsburgerjoint.com.
Limelight has gone through a few different owners and peaks and valleys of activity over the course of its 12-plus years of operation, but it has long been a favorite spot for local bands to host special shows and album release parties. Some of the most memorable moments in recent local music history have been hosted at Limelight and most everybody who is anybody in the local scene has played or attended shows at the venue. 2719 N. St. Mary’s St., thelimelightsa.com.
The newest venue on either of these lists, having just opened its doors early this year, the Lonesome Rose is, after the style of Austin’s White Horse Saloon, a modern honky-tonk bar/venue. Local country musician Garrett T. Capps, who owns the place along with a few partners, has already brought in some exciting local and touring roots, country, and rock and roll acts in the Lonesome Rose’s short existence. As the only honky-tonk venue anywhere near downtown SA, the Lonesome Rose definitely has novelty on its side. 2114 N. St. Mary’s St., (210) 455-0233, thelonesomerose.com.
A swell spot with an intimate vibe, a huge patio, and several unique and popular specialty drinks, Hi-Tones has a tendency to host local hip-hop and DJ shows, though it has, over the years, featured a little bit of everything on its tiny stage. On nights when a particularly popular act plays, there’s a certain electricity to the place that comes from cramming in with other music lovers and feeling like you are a part of something exclusive. 621 E. Dewey Pl., (210) 785-8777, hitonessa.com.
Owned and operated by beloved local musician Michael Carrillo since 2016, Ventura’s history as a bastion of the punk/DIY aesthetic begins with its eight years as the Ten Eleven. Working within this legacy, while simultaneously trying to update the facilities and vibe to keep up with the burgeoning Museum Reach of the River Walk, Carrillo has done a fine job of continuing to host a staggering variety and volume of local and touring shows. 1011 Avenue B, (210) 802-6940, venturasatx.com.
Nestled conveniently between Hemisfair and Southtown, Lowcountry is a quaint bar/venue in an old converted house. Specializing in quality signature drinks and Southern hospitality, the venue frequently hosts local (and sometimes minor touring) acts of the roots and/or roots-inspired variety on its relaxing back patio. Lowcountry is a great spot for going out and still feeling like you are hanging out at a friend’s house — only with better drinks and good live music. 318 Martinez St., (210) 560-2224, lowcountrysa.com.