While on sabbatical in Cozumel (which lasted five years), SA-based architect José Luis Hernández took a lot of pictures that he’d later reflect upon. Aside from focusing on architecture, Hernandez found something charming about the simplicity of many of the bars in Mexico.
“I designed the ‘Blue Room,’ you know, the center part of Revolution Room,” Hernández said, gesturing to the neighboring bar. “And I was the architect for the Alamodome’s transit facility, all the Fuddrucker’s in the U.S. — except the very first one, which was done by Phil Romano — and 16 school districts in Bexar County.”
When the opportunity to take over a former bookstore in Alamo Heights presented itself, Hernández hesitated. But the proposed location — on a short stretch of Broadway just inside Loop 410 — grew on him, and soon he began visualizing what would become Salud — a cozy tequila bar with art on the walls and rock en español on the sound system.
Although I was aware of Salud’s Arte en Vivo events (in which five artists are given two hours to complete a painting to be judged by the audience, the winner pockets $200, and the paintings are promptly auctioned off) as well as the bimonthly art shows curated by Raul Servin (Cinco de Mayo Exhibition and Mexican Heritage Celebration are two recent titles), I’d never managed to make it to any of them.
Salud’s interior has a warm feeling: shades of red adorn the walls, and the furniture’s reminiscent of what one might find in a coffee house (the place did sell coffee — including the spiked variety — until very recently). After checking out the artwork (the current show focuses on La Virgen de Guadalupe), I settled into a rustic wooden bar stool — imported from Monterrey, as it turns out — and started trying to identify the proud-looking bottles of specialty tequilas. When Hernández noticed me craning my neck to try to read the names on the labels, he picked up an oddly-shaped bottle and said, “We’re one of the only bars in Texas to serve this. It’s called Mañana.”
“Doesn’t look like the kind of bottle you’d recycle,” I said, noticing some intricate chain detail. “No, we take these home and use them for different things — olive oil for instance,” he said. After a crash course in rare tequilas, I asked Hernández if Salud had any specialties.
“In 2009, I won the People’s Choice Award at the Margarita Pour-Off with an Organic Cucumber Margarita. You should try one,” he suggested. Made with 3 Caballos (Salud’s house tequila; a few extra dollars will get you an upgrade to Don Julio and the like), agave nectar, fresh squeezed lime juice, and muddled cucumber, the cocktail is served in a chili-and-salt-rimmed glass ($7). “This is the real thing — no additives, no splash of orange juice, nothing like that. Sometimes, we’ll make 200 in one week,” he said. At first I figured the spicy rim would overpower the delicate flavor of the cucumber, but the smokiness of the tequila, the cucumber’s sweetness, and the tartness of the lime juice all worked nicely together.
Another libation Salud makes a lot of is La Bandera. Often served as a digestif, this trio of shots references the colors of the Mexican flag, hence the name. Silver tequila represents the white, house-made sangrita (a mixture of tomato, orange, and lime juices, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce, celery salt, and pepper — “I had to bribe a bartender in Monterrey to get the recipe,” Hernandez said with a laugh) represents the red, and fresh-squeezed lime juice represents the green ($6.75).
After finishing my drink, Hernández suggested, “You should come back when you have more time. You know, I’ll come in here for a beer and end up staying for three hours. That’s why I didn’t want any pool tables: this is a gathering place. A lot of people have been coming here since we opened in 2005. For those regulars, this place is like a big living room.” — Bryan Rindfuss
Salud Tequila Bar
8123 Broadway #D
VIBE: Cozy living room with an extensive selection of tequila (80 of them to be exact)
BEST USE: Art openings and Arte en Vivo events (often the second Wednesday of the month, search for Salud Tequila Bar on Facebook), adventure into unknown tequila territory during happy hour on Thursday, when even Gran Patron Burdeos ($85 a shot) is half price.
PRICES: Domestics: $2.75; imports: $3.75; wells: $4