Diving under Houston street, comprised of steps leading into dim lights and cool air, a cave like entrance takes us into a cocktail bar dubbed “The Last Word”. With wooden accents, leather reading chairs, and lovingly illuminated portraits of famous writers, The Last Word promises to be a step above other establishments, both in company and in service.
“I’ve picked up a couple of domestic beers, trying to bring in some more domestic products so I can showcase San Antonio to the variety of people who come in here” says bar manager and recent San Antonio transplant Antonio Matta. Matta, age 37, has only lived in San Antonio for about six weeks. In the past, he had picked up shifts at The Last Word when traveling down from his home in Austin to San Antonio for the Cocktail Conference. His frequent visits soon cemented a strong relationship between himself and the owners. Before long, he was interviewing for a permanent position. “This year at the end of the San Antonio Cocktail Conference I came down again. My situation just kind of opened up a lot in Austin and I was looking for a little change. So, I talked to these guys, we sat down and had breakfast on a Monday and, you know, I kind of pitched my vision for the place. They were into it.”
As a part of Antonio’s vision, the bar would become more accessible to a variety of people. As Matta puts it:
“I wanted it to be a little more approachable to your average customer while still being creative
We asked Antonio about his thoughts on the Houston Street area. “There’s a nice little cluster of cool events here. I obviously love the Esquire Tavern. Anyone who comes to San Antonio and they don’t go to the Esquire Tavern, they’ve messed up” he jokes. “Sip coffee is a good place to go hang out. And I love The Texan II. Which is just a great little dive bar completely free of pretention.” He also expresses his fondness for the people who work on Houston Street. “(I like) having a good group of service industry folks in this area -cause there’s so many bars and restaurants- we catch a lot of those kids coming off work and they’re always a lot of fun to deal with… so it’s easy to have that.” In addition, he comments on the influence of The Majestic Theatre and The Aztec, bringing in people who appreciate the arts, especially live music. “So, we have people who are excited to be coming in for live music and that sort of thing and that’s a big part of my life too.”
When the topic of conversation shifted to the downtown area, and the perception people have of it, we could tell Antonio had a lot to say. “I know that because parking is such a pain a lot of people don’t want to come to downtown San Antonio” he admits. Matta quickly explains what The Last Word is already doing about the perceived problem, “What we have with our bar family is a shuttle service that works on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that will shuttle you between our four family bars. Those are Rumble, Stay Golden, Brooklynite and, obviously, us at The Last Word. (Our partner bars) are places where it is significantly easier to find parking. So, you can park the car near one of those spots and hop on the shuttle and go between any of our family bars. That makes it easier for people to get down here and not have to worry about the whole parking thing.
Antonio left us with a few closing thoughts on his experiences since moving here. “Certainly, San Antonio is drastically different from Austin. You’ve got a lot more racial diversity which I think is great; for me personally I like to see that sort of thing.” He also noticed a definite personality in the city’s disposition, “(There’s) more of a laid-back culture as far as what everyone’s expectations are when they go out. It’s a lot of fun to have people coming in who are just excited about what we’re doing here and not being super hung up on a lot of overly petty details.”
It’s a lot of fun to have people coming in who are just excited about what we’re doing here and not being super hung up on a lot of overly petty details.
Antonio jokes with one of the other managers, Rob, as we prepare to leave. The two are living together temporarily. “His wife’s jealous that the dog likes me,” he proclaims. Rob nods in agreement and laughs. Matta manages one last quip when we ask him if he has a message for locals who don’t usually come downtown. He pauses and puts his finger on his chin as he thinks. After a moment, he says “Yeah- It’s not as bad as you think it is.” His understatement elicits a laugh from the group. I suppose it was poetic justice that the bar’s manager got the last word.