San Antonio's urban and eclectic Hotel Emma is built within the renovated brick shell of a 19th-century brewery plant, its massive cast-iron tanks and steel machinery still standing inside. The unique blend of historical elements with an industrial aesthetic and modern references make it wow-worthy, indeed.
- Shelley Seale, Travel writer
Hotel Emma stands in the 1894 brewhouse of the former Pearl Brewery, the flagship of the Pearl district, a wildly popular culinary/retail complex at the end of the River Walk Museum Reach. It is about two miles (three kilometres) from The Alamo and seven miles (12 kilometres) from the airport. You can rent a bicycle or hail a River Taxi to hit touristy spots downtown. The happening Pearl district offers more than a dozen restaurants, a culinary school with cooking classes, two microbrew-pubs, local boutiques, bars, bakeries and coffee shops, with a weekend farmers' market and regular events.
Style & character
Fashioned by designers of New York's High Line Hotel, Emma is more urban than cowboy. Brick, steel and soft textiles, cool cement and tile, high ceilings and low lighting, big machinery and the old brewery's good bones all peel away at tradition, exposing layers of history and eclecticism. Warm furnishings offset the industrial elements, lending a surprisingly cosy feel. Each public area is a new discovery, from the bar and clubroom where repurposed bottling equipment creates chandeliers and elephant-sized fermentation tanks hold intimate banquette seating, to the stunning two-storey library with 3,700 volumes and an intricate wrought-iron staircase.
Service & facilities
Emma's staff are friendly and keen to assist, with a typical laid-back South Texas approach. Reception and check-in was welcoming, with an offer to use the room key to access the private library for a special perk: a complimentary La Babia house margarita hand-crafted from an antique cocktail cart.
The facilities continue to delight with a rooftop pool, 24-hour fitness room and the made-for-Instagram Sternewirth bar. Hotel Emma also offers more than 6,000 square feet of event space with a catering kitchen, and a nice touch are the Electra cruiser bicycles ready for guest use at no charge. There is no spa at the hotel itself, though Hiatus Spa & Retreat is only a few steps away and in-room services are available.
- Room service
- Fitness centre
146 spacious rooms feature high wood-lined ceilings and furniture hewn from hardwoods covered in saddle-smooth leather. Exposed layers of original wall paint expose Emma's true colors in Brewhouse Tower rooms, which have cool concrete floors. Cement may be too stark and minimalist for some, but saddle-blanket-style rugs and thick blackout draperies soften the space. King-sized four-poster beds are dressed in Frette linens, with soft and dreamy pillows. Large bathrooms are especially charming with vintage tile and accessories; all are equipped with rain showers and some have clawfoot tubs. Texas touches, such as Mexican Coca-Cola in the 'ice box' (minibar) and custom seersucker robes, are nice extras. Turndown service gives an unexpected pleasure with French macaroons from Pearl’s Bakery Lorraine.
Food & drink
Bon Appétit has named Hotel Emma and its culinary concierge as a top restaurant experience in the United States. Under Chef John Brand, Supper is a farm table-style restaurant offering seasonal fare from year-round producers for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Stand-out dishes include the steelhead ocean trout, smoked crispy quail and the popular salt and vinegar brussel sprouts. The space can get quite noisy when the restaurant is busy, though outdoor patio seating is also available. Supper's affordable and inviting breakfast offers menu items from $5-$12 (£4-£9), with delectable dishes such as Scotch egg with green chilli chorizo, strawberry French toast with goat cheese, and beignets with cheesecake mousse.
Larder is the hotel's gourmet pantry/café, tucked away in the old fermenting cellars and offering local grocery provisions, baked goods, fresh flowers, hand-butchered meats, beer and wine for eating in or takeaway. Sternewirth Tavern offers a selection of hearty small plates along with an exemplary cocktail menu.
Value for money
Double rooms from $350 (£269), year-round. Breakfast is not included, but available at Supper or Larder: dishes cost from $5 (£4). Free Wi-Fi. Valet parking is available for $20 (£15) per night.
Access for guests with disabilities?
There are several adapted rooms with features such as roll-in showers, visual alarms and notification devices. There is also chair-lift for pool access.
Guests of all ages are welcome, but the hotel is not geared towards children.