The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, February 14, 2003, Columns

The Havana Riverwalk Inn has been selected by readers of an online travel service as the "most romantic hotel" in San Antonio. Nestled in the older area of Downtown, the boutique hotel has the body and character of a 90-year-old and the vigor of a teenager. This hospice offers an alternative to the cookie-cutter plastic of the chain hotels.

There is very little that is plastic in the 1914 Mediterranean-style hotel with distinctive twin towers on the front of the building. The dark wood floors, banisters, and trim are polished to a nice shine. Everything looks solid and comfortable in a well-worn way.

The hotel was built by a local businessman for clients of his grocery and cigar business during the Roaring Twenties. By World War II it was converted into a boarding house for telephone-company workers from the headquarters building a block away. It stood vacant for many years until Theresa Greer purchased the property.

When the three-story structure was remodeled in 1997, the historic integrity had to be maintained, says manager Peter Holloway, in order for the inn to be listed with the National Trust Historic Hotels of America ( Nearly 200 guest houses around the country are listed, including the Driskill Hotel in Austin, the LaSalle Hotel in Bryan, and the Hotel Galvez in Galveston.

"Things had to be modernized like shared bathrooms and air conditioning," Holloway says. My wife summed up her description of the hotel by calling it: "old-fashioned wrapped in modern amenities."

Each of the 27 rooms is appointed with European, American, or Asian antiques. Many of the rooms have themes that have evolved over the years. For instance, the "Shoe Room" on the third floor has antique, high-top shoes nailed along the wall where it meets the ceiling.

There also is the "Religious Room" with wooden crosses and the "Sailing Room" decorated in a nautical theme. The "Button Room" got its name when someone pinned a loose button to a picture frame in the room. Since then guests have added to the collection, Holloway says.

One of the favorites is the "Room of Threes." There are three Stetsons hanging on the wall, three windows overlooking the River Walk, an antique radio with three knobs, and every picture in the room is of three people.

"[The Penthouse] is very, very romantic, even for an old couple married 20 years," a guest wrote. The two-level suite is a striking mix of antique furniture and lamps. "We call it our 'Oh, my god' suite," Holloway says, "When people see it, they say 'Oh, my god.'"

Although the hotel is a lot of fun and the rooms are comfortable, for persnickety guests the noises of the hotel might be disturbing, especially if you retire early. The best solution seems to ask for a room on the second or third floors.

Much of the noise that invaded our first-floor room came from the Club Cohiba, the bar in the basement. Decorated in antique mirrors, it is a speakeasy where locals retire for an evening of cigars and martinis in large groups and couples looking for a dark corner.

The inn also boasts a wonderful bistro with an upscale Latin menu. In a separate building behind the hotel, Siboney offers a wide variety of tapas frescas, chicken, shrimp, and steaks. Two kinds of tres leches (three milks) cake accent the tempting list of desserts.

Most of the restaurant's menu can also be ordered through room service. Drinks from the bar or meals from the restaurant can be enjoyed in the covered arbor along the side of the building overlooking the river. There are two balconies on the front of the hotel and a rooftop patio garden on the back of the building.

The Havana Riverwalk Inn is about nine blocks northwest of the Alamo at 1015 Navarro. The streetcar route comes within a block of the hotel and goes to the Downtown tourist sites. Call it boutique, call it funky, or call it bohemian, but you will never call the Havana ordinary. Room rates run from $109 to $599 for the Penthouse suite. For more information, call 210/222-2008 or go to

610th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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