Salsa in Southtown
Latin American music and dancing is all the rage in the Southtown Arts and Entertainment District along South Alamo Street near the King William District. Several clubs swing to a Cuban, Argentinian, Mexican, and Brazilian beat. Whether you come to dance to cumbia at a Mexican ballroom or you try the merengue, there's a place for you in San Antonio most every night and weekend. First Fridays of the month are the main event in Southtown, of course -- shops, galleries, restaurants, and clubs stay open late, and special openings and art events flood the area.
The closest San Antonio comes to having a club district is the stretch of North St. Mary's between Josephine and Magnolia -- just north of downtown and south of Brackenridge Park -- known as the Strip. This area was hotter about 15 years ago, but it still draws a young crowd to its restaurants and lounges on the weekend. The River Walk clubs tend to be touristy, and many of them close early because of noise restrictions. Downtown's Sunset Station, 1174 E. Commerce (tel. 210/474-7640; www.sunset-station.com), a multivenue entertainment complex in the city's original train station, has yet to take off when there are no events in the nearby Alamodome. When there are, you can get down at Club Agave, where the movement has a Latin flavor. More regular action occurs on Sunday at noon, when the House of Blues lays on a gospel brunch buffet in a covered outdoor pavilion. Call the Sunset Station office or check the website for details.
In addition to the Alamodome, 100 Montana St. (tel. 210/207-3663; www.sanantonio.gov/dome), the major concert venues in town include Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 16765 Lookout Rd., north of San Antonio just beyond Loop 1604 (tel. 210/657-8300; www.vwatx.com), and, when the Spurs aren't playing there, downtown's AT&T Center, One AT&T Center Pkwy. (tel. 210/444-5000; www.nba.com/spurs).
Smoking in San Antonio -- The San Antonio City Council recently passed a nonsmoking ordinance that will apply to most restaurants and bars but is not scheduled to go into effect until August 2011. Smoking will no longer be allowed in indoor areas of restaurants and bars or out in public areas, but there will be exemptions for the River Walk and Alamo Plaza, and inside cigar bars.
Conjunto: An American Classic
Cruise a San Antonio radio dial or go to any major city festival, and you'll most likely hear the happy, boisterous sound of conjunto. Never heard of it? Don't worry, you're not alone. Although conjunto is one of our country's original contributions to world music, for a long time few Americans outside Texas knew much about it.
Conjunto evolved at the end of the 19th century, when South Texas was swept by a wave of German immigrants who brought with them popular polkas and waltzes. These sounds were easily incorporated into -- and transformed by -- Mexican folk music. The newcomer accordion, cheap and able to mimic several instruments, was happily adopted, too. With the addition at the turn of the 20th century of the bajo sexto, a 12-string guitarlike instrument used for rhythmic bass accompaniment, conjunto was born.
Tejano (Spanish for "Texan") is the 20th-century offspring of conjunto. The two most prominent instruments in Tejano remain the accordion and the bajo sexto, but the music incorporates more modern forms, including pop, jazz, and country-and-western, into the traditional conjunto repertoire. At clubs not exclusively devoted to Latino sounds, what you're likely to hear is Tejano.
Long ignored by the mainstream, conjunto and Tejano were brought into America's consciousness by the murder of Hispanic superstar Selena. Before she was killed, Selena had already been slotted for crossover success -- she had done the title song and put in a cameo appearance in the film Don Juan de Marco with Johnny Depp -- and the movie based on her life boosted awareness of her music even further.
San Antonio is to conjunto music what Nashville is to country. The most famous bajo sextos, used nationally by everyone who is anyone in conjunto and Tejano music, were created in San Antonio by the Macías family -- the late Martín and now his son, Alberto. The undisputed king of conjunto, Flaco Jiménez -- a mild-mannered triple-Grammy winner who has recorded with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Willie Nelson, among others -- lives in the city. And San Antonio's Tejano Conjunto Festival, held each May, is the largest of its kind, drawing aficionados from around the world -- there's even a conjunto band from Japan.
Most of the places to hear conjunto and Tejano are off the beaten tourist path, and they come and go fairly quickly. Those that have been around for a while -- and are visitor-friendly -- include Arturo's Sports Bar & Grill, 3310 S. Zarzamora St. (tel. 210/923-0177), and Cool Arrows, 1025 Nogalitos St. (tel. 210/227-5130). For live music schedules, check the Tejano/Conjunto section under "Entertainment" and "Music" of www.mysanantonio.com, the website of the San Antonio-Express News. You can also phone Salute! to find out which night of the week they're featuring a Tejano or conjunto band. Best yet, just attend one of San Antonio's many festivals -- you're bound to hear these rousing sounds.
The Gay Scene
In addition to the Bonham, Main Street just north of downtown has three gay men's clubs in close proximity (it's been nicknamed the "gay bar mall"). Pegasus, 1402 N. Main (tel. 210/299-4222), is your basic cruise bar. The Silver Dollar, 1418 N. Main (tel. 210/227-2623), does the country-and-western thing. And the Saint, 1430 N. Main (tel. 210/225-7330), caters to dancing fools. Covers are low to nonexistent at all three. Popular lesbian bars include Bermuda Triangle (119 El Mio; tel. 210/342-2276) and Petticoat Junction (1812 N. Main; tel. 210/737-2344).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.