A BRIGHT NEW BIRD LEANS INTO THE WIND ON THE SA CULINARY SCENE
By Janis Turk
Carriqui, a new restaurant concept hatched by Silver Ventures, owners and developers of the popular Pearl district, is certainly the bright new feather in the cap of the San Antonio culinary scene.
Pronounced KHER-ih-key, (think “parakeet”), Carriqui is the name for a “Green Jay” bird in Spanish. This bustling eatery opened this past September and is already one of the most talked about new tables in town.
Housed in an iconic San Antonio landmark, Carriqui inhabits what was, for more than a century, a wobbly wooden building leaning precariously on Josephine Street toward Avenue A. For most of the past four decades, it housed the original Liberty Bar.
Today Carriqui is an asset to the Pearl roster of fine restaurants, shops, bars, food hall, and more. However, for long-time locals, change isn’t easy (no matter how necessary it may be): Gentrification comes with a cost. The historic, iconic building that Carriqui now calls home has been drastically altered. The bow-legged, beautiful, beat-up old bones of the place that locals long loved are hard to find; it’s now shiny, well-lit, and lushly landscaped. Still, I miss the days when it tilted toward total downfall. So, I came to Carriqui predisposed to dislike it—not for what it now is, but for what it no longer can be. However, after my first visit, I found it delightful. I may harbor a nostalgic longing for San Antonio’s old leaning tower of Liberty, but certainly, Carriqui offers a new, bright, quality dining experience.
This clean, white eatery with a second-story balcony offers an outdoor seating area with shaded umbrella tables, a sunny bar with dynamic drinks, and a solidly good menu of authentic South Texas fare, along with attentive service. It’s a nice place to meet for a drink after work or sit out on the veranda as the sun goes down; it’s a laid-back spot to linger with friends and enjoy fresh, local cuisine.
Its history is closely linked to Pearl, so it’s fitting that it moved a bit closer to the former brewery.
A Pearl brewmaster, Fritz Boehler, built the original structure in 1890 as a general store and saloon, and its upper floors once served as boarding for brewery staff. From the 1980s-2010, it was leased as the Liberty Bar. Later it became Boehler’s Bar & Grille. Finally, it was chef Andrew Weissman’s Minnie’s Tavern & Rye House.
Longtime locals loved the place famous for its gravity-defying lean. (Would the building fall if you touched the wall?). It was filled with the aroma of hot bread from the oven, set to cool on a table near the side door, as guests entered from the parking lot (now Carriqui’s kitchen door). It had old, rippled glass windows, with a big front one encircled by a blood-orange neon light that gave the place an air of woozy wonderfulness. I’d bring visitors there, and they’d swoon, instantly falling hard for the place like a no-good boyfriend. It embodied the old ice-house soul of a San Antonio that sadly is no more.
Still, the building’s new incarnation as Carriqui is crisp, clean, light, and lovely. Best of all, the food is really good. Now new generations of San Antonians can make new memories in a place tied so tightly to Pearl’s history and the city’s collective memory.
Wisely, the restaurant designers kept some of the building’s finer features, including the second-story balcony and the bar that spans the downstairs. Upstairs seating along the atrium windows is my favorite spot, unless it’s warm enough to dine on the veranda. The first floor is often bustling and crowded. There’s also an inviting little private dining spot behind the stairs and patio seating out front. First-timers will appreciate the friendly waitstaff and flavorful food.
There is a lot to like about Carriqui. We enjoyed refreshing craft cocktails and Carriqui’s upbeat vibe. We liked dipping chips into chunky, zesty bowls of freshly made guacamole and sipping craft-quality margaritas.
Our server explained the innovative concept of Chef Jaime Gonzalez’ carefully curated menu: the Green Jay is a bird that migrates south to Mexico and beyond, passing through San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley. So Carriqui’s menu showcases the South Texas “foodways” with fresh seafood, like Veracruz-style fish, shrimp tacos, and ceviche from the Texas Coast, appetizers like barbacoa tacos and grilled cabrito found in The Valley, and brisket and barbacoa from the Hill Country. Tex-Mex favorites are also menu staples, along with salads and some big (yet pricey) sharable botana (appetizer) platters.
Today, San Antonio’s famous leaning building stands straight and tall, and Carriqui is a bright new bird on the wing of Pearl’s high-flying food scene. I may prefer my memories of the old building, but I’m glad it’s still standing so new generations can flock to Carriqui and enjoy the space as much as I always have.