A new year marks the start of a relocation and expansion of one of Southtown’s most popular eateries.
Lisa Wong, owner of Rosario’s Mexican Cafe y Cantina, 910 S. Alamo St., said construction of a 14,000-square-foot, two-story Rosario’s at 722 S. St. Mary’s St. would begin in late winter or early spring.
The $5 million project will take nine to 12 months to finish, and involve partial demolition of the former El Mirador restaurant building on South St. Mary’s.
Rosario’s is among numerous dining establishments and bars upsizing or opening anew in Southtown, despite the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
San Antonio’s Historic and Design Review Commission recently gave Wong and architect Andrew Douglas of Douglas Architects conceptual approval to proceed.
Wong bought the El Mirador property in 2018 with an eye toward developing a bigger, permanent home for Rosario’s, which originally opened in 1992 at 1014 S. Alamo where Hot Joy restaurant now operates.
A key element in the undertaking includes preserving and incorporating into the new design a caliche wall, once part of a Civil War-era home that over the decades became a commercial building and eventually El Mirador.
The structure, bordering the King William and Lavaca historic districts, is one of the oldest remaining edifices of its kind in San Antonio.
“We are thankful the Historic and Design Review Commission approved the Rosario’s application for the design and demolition of the former El Mirador property,” Wong said. “The approval is with stipulations that are currently being addressed.”
Douglas has said trying to preserve and reuse more of the historic assemblage wasn’t cost-effective. However, he added, keeping it part of the new building would lend itself to the community’s aesthetics.
“Our desire is to find appropriate ways to integrate the remaining materials and elements into the new design, to pay homage to the original house,” he said.
The endeavor will also involve relocating the historic F.L. Dixon House at 519 S. Presa St. to the southeastern corner of the project site.
Pig Liquors currently operates in the former residential building, on the other side of the former El Mirador structure.
Contractors will modify the property to include a parking lot facing Presa, sidewalk improvements and landscaping.
In addition, the King William Garden House, situated a few yards away, will be refurbished and serve as a dining space.
The entire design, according to Wong and Douglas, should be compatible with the neighborhood.
There will also be indoor and outdoor dining areas, a rooftop terrace, various courtyard spaces, and niches on the property to provide flexible gathering spots.
Early designs show an elevator tower, but commissioners and staff asked for its appearance to be softened.
Wong’s team released conceptual drawings to the public ahead of HDRC’s livestreamed Dec. 2 meeting. Wong told commissioners she and her partners have sought input from the Conservation Society of San Antonio, plus the King William and Lavaca neighborhood associations.
“This project is important to me. Being part of this neighborhood fabric is extremely important to me,” she said.
Society President Patti Zaiontz said the group generally likes the goal of preserving the caliche walls, but shared a concern: “The massing of the second-story canopy and fence are out of scale with the neighborhood.”
The KWA’s Architectural Advisory Committee endorsed city staff’s recommendations, but hopes stipulations to ensure the redevelopment doesn’t overwhelm its surroundings are followed, and there’s significant historical preservation.
“Our support for the new Rosario’s is contingent upon receiving a noise-mitigation agreement that will protect residents from disturbing noise levels coming from the proposed dining areas,” stated a committee letter read by KWA board member Margaret Leeds.
Wong acknowledged neighbors’ worries about a din at the new venue: “I’m a restaurateur. I’m running a restaurant, not an entertainment venue. So, I know that we can provide the correct language to give everyone the confidence that they can continue to enjoy the neighborhood.”
Aside from Rosario’s move, Southtown’s social scene has welcomed several newcomers.
Little Em’s Oyster Bar opened at 1001 S. Alamo, the original Friendly Spot site.
The cocktail bar Amor Eterno debuted at 540 S. Presa, replacing Don Martin’s Coffee Co.
Pharm Table relocated from 106 Auditorium Circle to a larger space at 812 S. Alamo, where chef/owner Elizabeth Johnson is expanding her menu of farm-fresh, health-conscious meals with vegan and paleo options.
Bar Loretta is launching in February at 320 Beauregard St., in the former Madhatter’s Tea House and Cafe spot. The menu focuses on contemporary Texas cuisine, complemented by a full bar and market.