Embassy Suites and Lüke extend Houston Street
Last night I attended the grand opening of Lüke, the latest addition to San Antonio’s downtown dining experience. The restaurant is locate beside the new downtown Embassy Suites hotel on Houston St. While in the same building as the Embassy Suites it’s not associated with the hotel. Lüke is a creation of famed Chef John Besh from New Orleans and brings a lot of the Cajun seafood flavors to the mix. Steve McHugh is the executive chef, having moved from New Orleans to open the restaurant. Steve is also a downtown resident, helping partake of the downtown resident experience in San Antonio. But what is more interesting about both the opening of Lüke and the Embassy Suites is that they have broken across the Riverwalk boundary on Houston St. and continued development down the street.
You see, almost everything entertainment related on Houston St. is located from the Alamo to the eastern banks of the San Antonio River. In fact that stretch of Houston has become quite busy with the number of restaurant and hotel openings along the street. But nothing really seemed to cross the river and continue the growth westward. There are a few businesses such as GDC and Frost Bank but everything west of the river pretty much closes up at 5 p.m. and on the weekends. That makes that stretch of Houston pretty desolate after hours.
My building, the Vistana, is located at the western end of Houston along with Milam Park and Christus Santa Rosa Hospital. Still, neither really has any draw except for residents or people at the hospital. One of the hopes was that the Alameda Theater would finally be restored and start to draw other opportunities to that area. However, due to mismanagement of funds and a poor development program that’s probably not going to happen any time in the near future.
That doesn’t mean all development has stopped. Subway has just opened in the retail area of the Vistana and is doing quite well. Taco Garage, an eclectic taco restaurant from 09 land, will be opening in the space formerly occupied by the IHOP Cafe. Both could provide new entertainment draws to that area of Houston St. and possible help start a new drive of development down the street. Having two food shops that don’t close their doors at 5 or on the weekends gives people a reason to walk down Houston or stay after work.
If this western anchor of Houston starts to thrive it’s very possible more development could be explored in the Alameda Theater building and some of the parking lots located along Houston. While there’s always a need for parking in downtown San Antonio, the best use for that land on Houston would be for business such as hotels, office buildings or residential buildings. All three could have retail located in their first floor to provide a mixed use environment on the street.
Houston St. has a lot of potential due to its walkability appeal. The street was narrowed many years ago to create wide sidewalks all the way down the street to the Alamo. It has a lot of pedestrian traffic in the tourist area of downtown, thanks to the many restaurants, theaters, hotels and residences along that stretch. Even though traffic is a nightmare on the street that should be enough incentive for people to park a few blocks away and walk to the street instead of trying to treat it like a suburban strip mall.
While the formula I describe may not happen for a while, if at all, it does open some more conversation about what the shape of downtown should be as we move forward. Over the past few days I’ve had conversations with Ben Brewer of the Downtown Alliance and Irby Hightower of Alamo Architects about a different approach to downtown residential development. I’ll explore that in a later blog.
For now, I encourage you to check out Lüke and experience the great tastes of New Orleans right on the banks of the Riverwalk. It’s really a great restaurant and the atmosphere is very casual and enjoyable. Average Joe and Oh My Puddin have written reviews of the restaurant. Try out the shrimp and grits if you go. That has to be one of my favorites.