Restaurants by Urbanist Design and Dado Group are causing a stir in San Antonio’s popular Pearl Brewery district.
The origins of the Pearl Brewery date back to 1881 with the founding of the J.B. Behloradsky Brewery — Lone Star Brewing Company’s then-singular rival. After multiple changes in ownership and management, the start and end of Prohibition, and decades of beer production, the Pearl Brewery closed its doors in 2001, leaving a sprawling 22-acre campus vacant on the northern edge of downtown San Antonio. Shortly thereafter, Silver Ventures purchased the property and in 2002 began working to transform the area into the dynamic, mixed-use facility it is today, commissioning Lake|Flato Architects to create the master redevelopment plan for the site.
“The concept has always been to redevelop this site into a vibrant urban center where you can come for wonderful culinary and cultural experiences,” said Allen Sikes, design and construction manager for Silver Ventures. True to that mission, the Pearl has, in many ways, become the nexus of San Antonio’s urban renaissance, drawing new ventures and established, beloved businesses alike into its domain and inciting a flurry of development, both commercial and residential, around the periphery of the complex.
“Our goal is to emphasize the authenticity of these places,” said Sikes. “We want these buildings to be brought back to life and used — to respect the history, but celebrate it and allow people to really enjoy it.” Pearl tenants share this commitment to functional, lively restoration, perhaps best evidenced by the “working artifact” feel of CURED, Local Coffee, and The Granary ’Cue & Brew.
The brewery’s administration building dates back to 1904 and today houses Chef Steven McHugh’s restaurant CURED. From the start, Urbanist Design, with Jonathan R. Card, AIA, at the helm, took a lead role in the structure’s interior rehabilitation, with significant input from Steve McHugh and his wife, Sylvia; Jett Butler, the founder and creative director of FÖDA Studio in Austin; and Sikes. Both Card and McHugh credit the consistency in design, brand, and dining experience to the teamwork among architect, chef, designer, project manager, and contractor from day one. “I’ve never been on a team like that from the starting line,” said McHugh. Card added, “We’re architects at Urbanist, but it’s also about place-making and the whole experience.”
Salvaged materials, including reassembled bricks from the brewery’s boiler house, and vintage Pearl artifacts, work in harmony with finely crafted updates and additions, such as the striking custom-built charcuterie case and century-old meat slicer. “We didn’t want to start throwing a bunch of historical pieces into the building just because we had them — everything hearkens back to the history of the building but has purpose,” said McHugh, citing the antique hand-washing stations, now repurposed as bottled-beverage filling stations and coolers, as an example.
The way development has advanced in the Pearl Brewery, with architects, owners, chefs, and other players working side by side, reveals a growing tendency in San Antonio toward synergistic and cooperative construction. Card noted: “Architecture has changed. The business has changed. It’s not so much an ‘us and them’ but a ‘we’— there are so many ways people collaborate on these projects.” Echoing that sentiment from the developer’s perspective, Sikes described the way Pearl management regards resident businesses: “We look for partners,” he said. “These folks aren’t just tenants to us. We consider them family, in a way, and look for people who share our vision.”
The third iteration of Local Coffee, which first hit the scene in 2009 in far north central San Antonio and later expanded with an uptown location in the incorporated city of Alamo Heights, opened at the Pearl in December 2013. Owner Robby Grubbs worked with Card and Jill Giles of the design firm Giles-Parscale to realize his plans for a specialty coffee shop, one that remained consistent with the vibe of his other locations but integrated seamlessly into the context of the Pearl. “The design and the ‘feel’ of Local are as important as the service and product,” he said. “I want our customers to be inspired by our spaces.”
“Our brand is very honest and approachable, so we needed to make sure not to disturb that trend,” said Grubbs. “Pearl and its owner, Kit Goldsbury, gave me a unique opportunity to use the reclaimed artifacts from the original Pearl Brewery.” From Card’s perspective, the reclaimed wood beadboard and pine joists used in the cash wrap and bar complement Local’s established brand and connect the shop to its surroundings in a natural, unforced way, epitomizing the past-present connectivity of the space.
The Granary ’Cue & Brew settled into one of the only restored residential buildings of the Pearl complex: the former home of Ernst Mueller, chief barrel-maker for the Pearl, located adjacent to the brewery on Avenue A. Brothers and restaurant co-owners Tim and Alex Rattray’s inventive take on barbecue and craft beer elevates the quintessential Texan fare while retaining those delicious qualities that set this state’s ’cue apart. The Granary’s physical space mirrors the menu, bringing to life a historic structure with thoughtful modern updates.
The Dado Group, a San Antonio-based design/build firm, took on the project to restore the 1906 Mueller home. “There was all this built-in character,” said Dado Group partner Kristin Wiese Hefty, AIA. “All we had to do was enhance it, play on it, and not ruin it.”
Hefty and her team added utilities and a kitchen, screened porch, and dining porch to the old residence. Created with brick rescued from a dismantled West Texas warehouse, the new side porch serves as a contemporary interpretation of the original front porch by using similar shapes and a comparable material palate. Details such as a light blue ceiling pay homage to the “shoo-fly blue” porch ceilings of homes from the early 1900s, while thoughtful interior details — custom-built wooden tables, hand-blown glass fixtures — add to The Granary’s “perfectly imperfect” aesthetic.
Finding authenticity in the restored investments of bygone days has anchored development in the Pearl, but the movement to reinvigorate past structures extends beyond the South Texas brewery. “When you look at what’s hip and trendy and cool in our country right now, it all very much recalls historic America: craft beer, pre-Prohibition-age cocktails, American pale ales,” commented McHugh. In the Pearl Brewery, we see that same sentiment extended to the physical frameworks that house the restaurants, bars, and shops. “Oftentimes with old buildings, you have built-in character,” said Hefty. “If it’s got good bones, you just lightly touch it, and it comes alive.”
Miriam Sitz is a freelance writer formerly based in San Antonio and a student of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Published in the July/August 2014 issue of Texas Architect.