TRAVEL THERE: SAN ANTONIO’S CHART HOUSE RESTAURANT
If there is one thing I hate, it’s a reviewer that can’t find anything good to say about any place they stay or eat. I wasn’t loving the place we stayed the first night in San Antonio, but I wasn’t going to let that color the rest of my experience.
Going with the Flow
I was the one who wanted to stay in a cheap hotel, but I had high hopes for the rest of the stay. One of the reasons I’d opted for the first night in a bargain was because I really didn’t expect to arrive in San Antonio until late that night, but travel is really all about dealing with change.
I’d expected sight-seeing in Austin, another town I love, but taking the tollway just got me to my favorite city a little faster. Having a meal in the Tower of the Americas had been on my list for a long time and the change in plans gave me the opportunity to do just that.
The Way It Was Before
Way back in the summer of 1968, on a family visit to the Hemisfair, we did not have dinner in the tower. If memory serves me right, I’m pretty sure we didn’t pay the price of ride up the elevator either. I think something like that would have stuck with me. I remember the wonder of walking through all of the amazing pavilions and adored the Institute of Texan Cultures, but all my memories of the tower are from the ground looking up.
In subsequent visits other things kept me from visiting the tower:
- bad reviews of the restaurant
- not enough time
- traveling companions who thought it was a tourist trap
I thought that the “not enough time” issue might come into play on this trip, too. I always have so many favorite things to return to in San Antonio that it’s hard to find time try new experiences. Arriving hours before I expected to, paved the way for an experience I’d wanted to have for a long time.
The Way It Was This Time
With a map, instructions from the hotel clerk and a GPS we set out for downtown San Antonio. Just as the clerk promised we found parking at RiverCenter Mall with no trouble. Somewhere inside my head is a map of the Riverwalk, but it always takes a little while for that map to sync with all the development around the popular attraction. We could see the tower and my mind told me where we should go, but we kept running into obstacles that my old mental map didn’t know about.
It didn’t help that the “You Are Here” map provided by the city next to the river did not have the promised red dot telling me where we were. Still it was only a minor irritation, because I followed my gut around the obstacles and soon recognized we were on the Hemisfair grounds – then all we had to do was look up.
If I was ever in San Antonio with time to kill, I think I’d kill some of it just enjoying Hemisfair Plaza. It’s a very pretty place, but I had my eye on the top of the tower. There was a booth selling elevator rides and the ticket salesmen pointed us to the other side of the tower for the Chart House Restaurant. We sidled up to the desk and asked if they had room for us. To my great joy, they did.
We had to walk back around the tower to the elevator, but this time we were inside. After a short wait and a quick conversation with a couple of guys who were also on their way to dinner, we arrived. From the picture above, you can tell that it was a pretty spectacular experience. The view alone was amazing. The restaurant was also nice.
I’ve been in Dallas’s Hyatt Regency Reunion Tower and the Westin’s Peachtree Plaza Tower in Atlanta, so I can tell you that the experiences are very similar. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the same architect designed them all. I can also tell you that this was not just a me-too experience. San Antonio is a town very different from Dallas and Atlanta. The spontaneous opportunity turned into a evening I won’t forget for a long time.
We were not seated immediately, but that was OK. We hadn’t had reservations and it was obvious that a lot of other people did. What was not OK, was that if I was going to wait I would have liked to enjoy a drink. The hostess pointed us at several groupings of leather chairs and told us to wait. I assumed it would be a short wait. There was an observation deck above, which may or may not have had a bar, but if I’d known we’d be cooling our heels for a while I would have at least gone exploring.
Still, I wasn’t an unpleasant experience. I sat in the big comfy leather sofa and enjoyed the view. I also enjoyed the arriving dinner patrons. Many were dressed to the nines, suggesting the meal was a special event. The restaurant was also recovering from a big busload of diners. Observing them go down the elevator in batches of a dozen was somewhat interesting.
After the noisy bus tour was back on the ground, a sort of calm settled of the restaurant and I smelled a fragrance I couldn’t at first identify. I pointed it out to Deb and we agreed it wasn’t a food smell and kept trying to guess what it was. Saddle Soap!! The leather sofas had been recently cleaned with saddle soap. There was no residue and the fragrance was subtle, but I enjoyed the little smell association game. Finally, they seated us.
Seated at the Top of San Antonio
We were looking north-ish when we first sat down – sort of toward our lovely Microtel. Not that we could pick it out from up there. As the evening played out we enjoyed the view until we were south-ish, but by then the city had disappeared into the darkness and all we could see was the lights. One disappointment was that you cannot see the Alamo for the big Marriot which is attached to the RiverCenter. That would have been quite wonderful.
What was wonderful was the food. The prices were a little steep. Not that they were expensive for what they offered, they were just more than I usually pay for a meal. We made choices around the outskirts of the menu, not so much for the cost, but because that’s what sounded good. And of course, we ordered Margaritas!
I started with Lobster Bisque – thick, creamy and delicious – just the way I like it. It was not the best I’d ever had, but it was a treat. Deb chose a salad and it was HUGE. Our next course was side orders – sauteed mushrooms, asparagus and an OMG order of Lobster Mac & Cheese. Good thing Deb and I had decreed that nothing had any calories during this entire weekend, otherwise we would have just scored about two days worth of them. OH – and we had a souffle for dessert. My mouth and stomach were in heaven and the view was out of this world.
Since this trip was my belated birthday celebration, when we met Cousin Brenda she had a belated birthday present for me. Along with some lovely fragrance gifts for my house, she also gave me one of those gift cards you can use for whatever you want. What I wanted was dinner at the Tower of the Americas. Thank you Brenda. We didn’t have to wash dishes to leave the tower.
Maneuvering back to the car was no problem. My internal map had synced with the city. We did have an adventure getting back to the hotel. First the GPS couldn’t figure out where we were when we left the parking lot and then there was the back road approach to the hotel, but all’s well that ends well – right?
Our next stop? The McNay! You’re going to love it, so come back next week.