I spent New Year’s Eve with my family at the historic Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. It’s on West Houston, a glorious street during the holidays – with the trees bejeweled in a prismatic display of lights that look as if a rainbow exploded among them. Walking up that street is like walking through a Christmas tree, without having to worry about branches.
I tried diligently to get my thousand dollar camera to see the lights as I was seeing them. Evidently my camera needs glasses. It just couldn’t see the vibrant colors I was seeing.
After checking the family into the Gunter I realized that there was a much larger room across from us. I asked about it at the desk and the clerk, or “rooms ambassador” as they prefer to be known, said that that was the Presidential Suite. Being the last night of the year, I was willing to spring for it, but he said, “Oh you don’t want to stay there. It’s the most haunted room in the hotel.”
Strangely, I found that a recommendation. I said, “Sold.” He said: “Sorry, it’s occupied,” but he did not specify whether by people or spirits.
All the hotels in downtown San Antonio are supposedly haunted, I told him. The Menger is a sanctuary for many a well-known ghost. I myself, twenty years ago, passed Richard King in an ancient hallway at 2:30 a.m returning to my room after a long night at the Roosevelt Bar. I’ll admit, though, the apparition may have been induced by a tequila haze. In the restaurant there, I’ve been told, they always leave a certain chair free in case a little girl ghost wants to sit there.
The Gunter spiritualist told me that the Menger’s hauntings were nothing compared to the Emily Morgan, which he said was the most haunted hotel in America. I’ve heard that claim before.
He said it was because they had a crematorium there once upon a time and so many spirits were released in that process and chose to hang around. I didn’t vet his claims. When it comes to ghost stories it’s best to leave logic out of the mix. I prefer to just enjoy the story and the enthusiasm of the teller.
I didn’t experience any ghosts myself at the Gunter. True believers I’ve known say that I never will because I don’t have the sensitivity or spiritual acumen to see them. I’m evidently psychically challenged.
I did however, manage to take the wrong elevator in the hotel and ended up on the roof, which was a most fortunate accident as it gave me a panoramic view of the fireworks being shot into the sky all about the city. The buildings themselves were dressed in their holiday-best lighting, gorgeously set off by the dark winter sky behind them. If they could have, they would have been taking selfies.
Houston Street has a lot packed into just a few blocks. Just a couple of hundred steps from the Gunter is Bohanan’s Steakhouse. Many critics say that it is among the top five best steakhouses in Texas, which for me translates to top five “in the U.S.,” and therefore probably the world. I once went in there to make a reservation and they said, “What day next month would you like?” You really have to call in advance.
Go just a couple of blocks more and you will find the Texas de Brazil, also well known for excellent steaks. The proximity of these two restaurants made me realize that that’s a lot of meat on one street.
Also on Houston Street is the famous Majestic Theater with regular, national headliners performing there. La Panadería is nearby and offers, in my opinion, the best selection of classic pan dulce you can find anywhere. The conchas are deliciosas.
Sadly, they were not open on New Year’s Day, so I hopped across the street to load up on Voodoo Doughnuts which are all Texas-sized. The bear claws are as big as your face, and should be called “Grizzly Bear Claws.”
Houston Street gave us a beautiful start to the New Year. I hope that wherever you were, you had a similar satisfying evening.
Make it a resolution sometime this year to stay a weekend in a classic, historic hotel in downtown San Antonio, where the hospitality is great, the local cuisine unsurpassed, and the ghosts are free.