When my wife and I travel, we typically do not give much thought to the hotels we stay at as long as they are clean and conveniently located. We always stay so busy that our room is only used for sleeping and showering. Occasionally though, we come across a hotel that is so interesting and historically significant, that we are willing to increase our budget to stay there. The Menger Hotel, in downtown San Antonio, is just such a place.
It was opened by William Menger and his wife Mary in 1859 adjacent to the Alamo Mission. Over the years, its guests have included such notable figures as: Sam Houston, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Oscar Wilde. The Famous Menger Bar was where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders prior to setting out for Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Today the lobby of the hotel is adorned with historic photos, ornate furnishings, paintings, and artifacts that would be the envy of any museum. The Menger mixes historic elegance with all the amenities one would expect to find in any upscale cosmopolitan hotel, including the largest heated pool in San Antonio.
In 1855, businessman William Menger opened a brewery on part of the Alamo battlefield, and it was such a success that he soon needed a place to accommodate all his guests. William and Mary hired architect John M. Fries to design a hotel, and in 1859, the fifty-room Menger Hotel opened. Multiple renovations have been made over the years, and today the Menger has five stories with three hundred and sixteen rooms.
In the opening days of the U.S. Civil War, the Menger housed troops prior to their departure to the fighting. As the war dragged on, guests were hard to come by and the hotel fell on hard times, so William and Mary opened it up as a hospital, where they fed and housed many wounded soldiers. After the war, the Menger had developed such a following, that it once again became THE place to stay in San Antonio.
When William Menger died in 1871, some thought it would be the end of the grand hotel, but his wife Mary expertly took over the day to day operations and quickly breathed new life into the aging establishment. With the arrival of the first train service to San Antonio, the popularity of the Menger grew, and in 1879 Mary made a considerable investment to modernize the hotel by adding bathrooms and gas lighting.
In 1881, due to declining health, Mary Menger sold the hotel to J.H. Kampmann, who had been the original contractor hired to build the Menger. He made what may be the most popular addition, when in 1887, he built the now famous Menger Bar. It was designed after the House of Lords pub in England, and with its mahogany bar and tables it evokes a unique old-world charm. This is the very bar where Teddy Roosevelt handpicked the men who would accompany him to the fighting in Cuba.
The hotel has changed hands several times over the years, but it has never lost the original mission it was tasked with by William and Mary, to pamper each and every guest and treat them like family. The hotel is located in Alamo Plaza, in Downtown San Antonio, and is convenient to the world-famous Alamo and River Walk, as well as the myriad of historical sites that the city boasts. The next time you’re in San Antonio, which should be at least once a year because it’s awesome, live like a cattle baron and pamper yourself in Old West elegance at the Menger Hotel.