Downtown Tuesday: “A Worthwhile Experiment”

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Tuesday night isn’t sexy. At least, not like its twice-removed cousins, Friday and Saturday nights. But what’s becoming special about Tuesday night is the Downtown Tuesday program, which started last February in an effort to bring more locals – not just those close to the city center, but locals beyond Loop 410, affectionately also known as “Looplanders”– to the various downtown restaurants, bars and venues that the “big city, small town” of San Antonio has to offer.

“Tuesday. It’s not a sexy day,” said District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, who initiated the program in partnership with the City’s Downtown Operations Department (DOD), “We picked a day (downtown businesses) were likely to have the very least business and try to increase it.”

District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal

District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal

More than 70 businesses participate in the program by offering happy hour and after-hour drink specials throughout the night. A list of such businesses can be found on the Downtown Tuesday website [PDF]. A common complaint of people that visit that site, however, is its lack of specific information about what is offered at each establishment. That will soon change as a comprehensive list of venues and their corresponding drink specials, happy hour times and featured music will soon be available on a new website, which is scheduled to be launched by the end of this week.

Fellow writers for the Rivard Report Miriam Sitz and Bekah McNeel joined me during a recent Downtown Tuesday “pub-crawl” of sorts – to get a feel for the night. We started in Southtown on a particularly chilly Tuesday at Alamo Street Eat Bar. It was dead. That’s what happens when you make plans and that’s what happens to outdoor venues on cold nights. Fortunately for them, Texan winters are laughably short and warm.

Alamo Street Eat Bar on a cold Downtown Tuesday.

A slow night at Alamo Street Eat Bar on a cold Downtown Tuesday. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Dale Johnson, the bartender and manager at Alamo Street seemed unfazed by the slow night.

“Usually Tuesdays are pretty good,” Johnson said, smiling underneath his signature handlebar mustache.

The Tuesday night special here is a simple $3 Alamo Ale. Various beers are on special throughout the week and a DJ usually can be found playing alternative rock and dance music.  However, unable to relax on the cold outdoor picnic-table seating, we retreated to the car and to our next stop, The Esquire Tavern.

For the three of us, who live in or pretty close to downtown, this trek doesn’t usually require driving. We made an exception on this night to spare us shivers and take advantage of the free public parking.

The Esquire was slow, but enough elbows were in attendance to span the 100-foot historic bar. We asked a bartender about Downtown Tuesday specials.

“Downtown who?” he replied.

A sentiment that was awkwardly echoed a few times during the night.

We compromised on a gin and (house-made) ginger beer cocktail called a Bee-Sting and some fried pickles. According to their website, the Tuesday special is fried chicken and $3 San Antonio draft beers. Live music from Ken Little and the Lonestar Swingbillies and The Tomcat Miller Trio make it “Two Step’n Tuesdays,” that draws a steady local crowd.

Esquire Chef Brooke Smith

On the weekends, the Esquire is packed with locals and visitors alike, but during the week, a steady stream of downtowners frequent its dimly lit, old-timey interior while Chef Brooke Smith works in the bright kitchen. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Most regulars and servers might not notice the slight influx of people on Tuesdays that managers and owners do. Esquire Chef Brooke Smith said that, from the kitchen’s perspective, sales have been up Tuesday nights.

Downtown Tuesday may lack the flash and flair of a First Friday Art Walk and other monthly activities, but it seems organizers and participating businesses are playing the long-game of infiltrating the San Antonian’s weekly routine. It’s a slow process. Most venues’ Tuesday specials and musical accompaniment are variations on other week-night specials.

Oysters chilling at Luke River Walk.

Oysters chilling at Lüke. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Carrie-Ann Silvers, director of sales and marketing at Lüke San Antonio, has noticed much more traffic on Tuesday nights from a mix of visitors and locals. So much so, that the jazz band – the Brent “Doc” Watkins Trio (South Texas Jazz) – that had been performing for Sunday brunch switched to Tuesdays for the larger crowd.

“Our Tuesday happy hour business has greatly increased,” she said, “We’ve even extended it to 8 p.m.”

She estimates that Downtown Tuesday program – and the free parking – brings in about 30 to 50 more customers on average.

A few months ago Bernal informally asked his Facebook followers: What keeps people from visiting downtown?

He got about 136 responses, he said, most were comments about the lack of cheap or free parking and lighting – as he predicted.

“A lot of folks had thought (people who don’t live downtown) didn’t have an interest in coming downtown … but that’s not true, there are just some barriers to get over.”

Free parking is the biggest draw, he said. According to the DOD, there has been a 42 percent increase in public parking on Tuesdays compared to last year’s numbers. Program organizers hope that the cumulative 31,149 more cars in the past year, has meant more customers for downtown businesses.

Weeknight nights are generally slow for most businesses. That is, unless there is a reason for people to come. What Downtown Tuesday hopes to be, Bernal said, is a catalyst for residents and visitors to explore the inner city and to come back for more on any night of the week.

“Some Tuesdays are busy now, some aren’t,” Bernal said. “At the very least I believe it’s a worthwhile experiment … (downtown businesses) aren’t falling over themselves saying I’ve revolutionized their business and made them thousands of dollars, but we give them just a few more folks a night … and they appreciate that.”

The most important part of Downtown Tuesday’s success, said Jim Mery, interim director of the DOD, is maintaining the various, smaller events that take place during the year – giving people something to do while they’re downtown. These are smaller events that aren’t meant for the weekend such as the Holiday on Houston Street, Bohanan’s tree lighting, the Evening in Travis Park series and holiday caroling.

“We’ll continue to be creative with ideas to get people downtown, “ Mery said, who welcomes feedback from businesses and customers through the Downtown Tuesday email.

We ended our night by taking a trek down the River Walk for drinks at Ocho at Hotel Havana. It was getting late –  the DJ packed up while we were enjoying our last drinks but the black and white movie “I Am Cuba” (1964) was still projected on the exterior patio wall. A group of gentlemen in suits enjoyed cigars on the balcony edge while we said our goodbyes and walked back to the car.

Tuesday has a long time to go before it’s “The New Friday,” as its motto suggests – after all, it is a work and school night. But it seems to be making headway in downtown’s struggle to have a balance between its visitor and local population.

Miriam Sitz enjoys a cocktail at Ocho.

Miriam Sitz enjoys a cocktail at Ocho. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Miriam Sitz, of Accion Texas and Bekah McNeel, of  Ker and Downey and Read the Change, contributed to this article. They are both regular contributors to the Rivard Report and classy company downtown or anywhere.

Iris Dimmick is managing editor of the Rivard Report. Follow her on Twitter @viviris or contact her at iris@rivardreport.com.

7 thoughts on “Downtown Tuesday: “A Worthwhile Experiment”

  1. Free parking only makes a difference to people who would worry about $3. Their immediate next concern is going to be that everything downtown costs a few dollars more, and the city can’t just waive that. I don’t think these people are a factor in anyone’s bottom line.

    What would bring out more people who want to spend money? Fill the empty storefronts! That would also take care of the “its so dark downtown” concerns.

    • You might be right. But maybe the idea of having to pay for parking is more of a deterrent than the actual cost … It’s just one more thing to spend money on. Since downtown prices are a little higher, this may even out the costs in visitors’ minds.

      I agree on the storefront front! During my conversation with Diego Bernal he also brought up the X Marks the Art project (http://xmarkstheart.wordpress.com/) that’s going on downtown. It showcases local artists’ work in the windows. This project doesn’t fill the space with business, so it’s a temporary fix for the darkened storefronts (stay tuned for more on this downtown issue on the Rivard Report soon). Maybe the installations will attract business owners … we’ll see. A new installation, CUT and PASTE, should be completed mid-December.

      X Marks the Arts is a collaborative effort between the City of San Antonio’s Center City Development Office and Public Art San Antonio, a division of the Department for Culture and Creative Development.

  2. I’m a fan of this program, and I have helped work with the city on their outreach and social media efforts. I think this is a very fair evaluation of this grassroots initiative. Tuesday may not be the hottest night of the week, but good progress in shifting attitudes and broadening awareness of local businesses has been made.

    As locals make it more of a habit to come downtown, more retail and dining options will fill in empty storefronts. The progress in revitalizing our city center is palpable, and Downtown Tuesday is just one of many initiatives contributing to the shift to make our downtown a vibrant destination for locals to live work and play.

    As a downtowner, I encourage my friends to join me for happy hour on Tuesdays and help dispel their concerns like “downtown is confusing, it’s hard to find parking, there’s nothing but tourist traps and shady dives.” Once you’ve been to The Esquire, Luke, Friendly Spot, Bohanans etc and see what a great variety of entertainment options our city has, people are likely to come back.

    In the immortal words of Dr. Leo Marvin, “Baby steps.”

  3. I think Awesome SA, to cite one example, was influenced positively by the City’s ‘Downtown Tuesday” initiative. That will be evident tonight when we announce our second $1,000 recipient for an Awesome idea at the Alamo Street Eat-Bar. Most of the attendees probably will come from the central city, but some undoubtedly will come from hither and yon, and part of the attraction for everyone is there is “something new to do” on a Tuesday night downtown.

  4. It will be good to have a better website for Downtown Tuesday. Maybe then there will be actual events posted. Currently it lists bars, restaurants and a very few other businesses that don’t seem to know that they have a special.

    We go downtown between 5 and 7pm. Understandably, when we’re at the restaurants, it’s empty. However, it’s AFTER eating that we want something to do. Something that isn’t a bar (we don’t drink) or a restaurant (we just ate) or the mall.

    Currently, if I want to know what events are happening downtown, I have to check 5 to 7 different websites. 99% of the time, there’s nothing we’re interested in doing downtown on Tuesdays (and 95% of the time I don’t find the things we are interested in doing on the weekends until too late to do them since I have to check several websites to find even one thing). So, we go eat about once a month on Tuesdays, wander the dead streets, go home. We try to support downtown businesses but they sure make it hard to do so.

    It’s a shame that businesses can’t be convinced to stay open late on Tuesdays, maybe set up a table on the sidewalk with things on special, or set up in Alamo Plaza, have a band and “market” at least twice a month, etc. Something to do besides drink and eat.

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