Fellow natives of Touristan TX, I’m not ashamed to admit that I occasionally feed the beast, sneaking down to River Walk level (sometimes even the chain-polluted Bend) for a slap ’n’ tickle. Er, rather, a drink and a snack. Primarily to avoid you, because as we frequently boast/complain to each other, Mayberry had nothin’ on Say-Town; if your lawyer and your brother’s ex-wife aren’t the same person you must be a recluse on par with late-period Howard Hughes or an arrival so fresh you haven’t even developed cedar fever. The payoff for suffering through a margarita crammed into a stone-walled corner of uncertain hygeine while strollers knock your shins and Oklahomans accost you with their cameras is relative anonymity: no small talk, no struggling to recover a first name from a long-ago brief introduction, no false “get together soon” promises.
It’s in this context that I pronounce the Terrace Bar at the new Hyatt Grand a perfect in-town hideaway. Tucked between the Market Street bridge and the Convention Center, on a portion of the River Walk that more closely resembles a canal, it manages to feel like an American-style waterfront resort that could be anywhere. A long, white-marble bar stretches from inside to out, where a couple-dozen wooden tables are comfortably spaced beneath a large portico. With the glass doors open, the AC mimics a seaside breeze, and the leather barstools are plump and comfy. A limestone wall augmented with nothing but a window and a basket of gourds encourages the fantasy that you’re far from armadillo T-shirts and Alamo trinkets.
The evening that a fellow Current writer and I parked ourselves for a little chisme, we had the place almost to ourselves, except for an older (unfamiliar!) couple and a lone male diner. Drinking companion said the interior reminded her of traveling to San Miguel de Allende as a child, but Fantasy Island came up during the conversation, too, and I can’t swear that the red-and-pink palette and ’70s-style vaguely Mesoamerican panels over the open kitchen didn’t have something to do with that. Outside, though, the atmosphere is all cream and stone and blue, like a credit-card commercial that ends with the tag line “Time to Yourself: Priceless.”
Our bartender was very competent and just the right amount of friendly, although my basic margaritas could have been colder; by the final third the ice had melted and I was left with lukewarm lime-flavored water (and let me tell you, I was not nursing them). Drinking companion found the traditional mojito a little too sweet but good, and settled instead on a variation of the margarita made with apple juice that had an enticing herbal flavor. Pursuing the beach getaway fantasy, we snacked on a yummy “Cuban” ceviche that came coated in a tangy green marinade, a good foil for the very mild, comfort-food ham-and-cheese croquetas. A fresh but plain-Jane shrimp cocktail fooled us by mentioning “horseradish” in its menu description, but the big chunks of avocado compensated some for the missing zing.
All in all, a very satisfactory escape, but beware: Even with the free valet parking, lingering too long could cost you a (Southwest) plane ticket: drinks are $8-13, and ceviches and small plates circle the same airspace. Still, it’s hard to get some strange city for less. On our way out through the imposing lobby, we noticed another bar at street level, this one glowing ruby in New York high ’90s style, appropriately and sexily named Bar Rojo — perhaps the scene of our next micro-vacation.