A historic gem that's hosted numerous U.S. presidents over the years
Downtown location close to the River Walk and next door to the Alamo
Historic and charmingly old-fashioned without feeling too outdated
Some rooms have lovely Alamo views; several have balconies
Flat-screen TVs and coffeemakers in all rooms
Historic restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a popular brunch
Famous Menger Bar, recruitment site for Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders
Nice heated outdoor pool with hot tub and summer family nights
Decent (but small) fitness center overlooking the pool
Spa offering massages, facials, and body treatments
Room service available until late at night
Ballrooms, banquet halls, and boardrooms for events and meetings
Free Wi-Fi throughout
Walls, particularly in the original building, are thin
Some rooms are small (by modern standards)
Faint smell of smoke in spots (hotel is now non-smoking)
Fee-based valet parking only
Originally built in 1859, the upper-middle-range Menger Hotel is defined by its history and desirable central location. Over the decades, the property has grown from 50 rooms to 316; rooms in the original section can be snug, but they're bursting with character, and all rooms feature flat-screen TVs, coffeemakers, and free Wi-Fi. All meals, plus a popular Sunday brunch, are served in the Colonial Room restaurant and drinks are available from morning until night at Menger Bar, a historic hideaway where Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders. There is a good-sized heated pool in one of the courtyards, plus a small spa and fitness center. Although the hotel's glory days are in the past, it remains one of the city's historic gems. The mid-range Crockett Hotel, built across the street in 1909, is a good historic alternative. It has the same coveted location by the Alamo and slightly lower rates and a free breakfast, but no on-site restaurant or spa, like the Menger.
Once the most famous hotel in Texas attracting U.S. presidents and Civil War generals
The first time you walk into the charming lobby of the Menger, you may feel like you've stepped into a period film set, a historical archive gallery -- or Old San Antonio itself. The original, 50-room property was built in 1859 by William and Mary Menger, German immigrants who founded what is thought to be Texas' first brewery on the same site a few years earlier. It was the brewery's success that created the need for overnight lodging. The Mengers traveled to New York and Europe and brought back pieces from their journeys, filling their hotel with oil paintings and handsome antiques. Mary Menger's wooden piano sits in the original foyer, across from a large-scale painting depicting the Old West. This piece was eventually used in the 1956 Western film "Giant," where it appeared as a prop in the home of a Texan rancher and his wife, played by Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.
Over the years, the hotel underwent several expansions, with rooms and common areas added in 1949, 1966 to 67, and 1989. A second lobby (where the reception desk is now located) was built off of the original. This space is much larger and airier than the original -- a tiered Victorian Renaissance lobby, painted and wallpapered in baby blue and capped with a stained-glass skylight, which feels very much like a product of the mid-19th century. The newer lobby still feels wonderfully historic: The space is chock-full of mounted antlers, flower still lifes, heavy gilded mirrors, and velvet- and leather-covered seating. Wood-coffered ceilings and black marble floors with small white diamond-shaped inlays frame the scene, and a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto one of the courtyards keeps things light. Along an adjacent wall are glass cases displaying hand-written hotel guest logs, hatchets, earthenware, and other artifacts from the late 1800s, when the hotel was in its early days and was a popular stop for cattle deals.
One of the displayed items is a signed letter from former President George W. Bush -- just one of the many U.S. presidents to make an appearance on the Menger's chronicle. Former President Bill Clinton came to the hotel just for their mango ice cream (and requested it for both of his inaugurations), and Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, William Howard Taft, Dwight E. Eisenhower, and Richard Nixon were all guests. But perhaps no other president is as associated with the hotel as Teddy Roosevelt, who set up a recruitment station for the Spanish-American War's First United States Volunteer Cavalry -- better known as the Rough Riders -- outside of the Menger Bar. (Official enlistment papers were signed on tables inside, which are still proudly on display, as well as uniforms and memorabilia from the regiment and Roosevelt himself.) Other notable patrons include William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Mae West, Babe Ruth, Sidney Lanier, Oscar Wilde, O. Henry (who featured the hotel in many of his short stories), Robert E. Lee (who supposedly rode his horse right into the lobby, scooped up the Mengers' two-year-old daughter, and presented her with a gold necklace), and Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mount Rushmore, who had a studio nearby and stayed at the hotel. Menger Hotel is the longest continuously operating hotel west of the Mississippi River.
Next to the Alamo and close to just about everything
Menger Hotel’s coveted downtown location puts you right in the thick of the action: It's right next to the Alamo (which you may even see from your room) and across the street from the River Walk. Downtown San Antonio's numerous historical and tourist attractions are all within an easy walk -- no car necessary -- and the Shops at River Center is attached to the back of the hotel. San Antonio offers lots of activities for families, with the San Antonio Zoo (a 12-minute drive from the hotel), Six Flags Fiesta Texas (a 25-minute drive), dude ranches, and water parks. If golf is your thing, you can pick from dozens of area golf courses. It's a 15-minute drive to San Antonio International Airport.
Traditional rooms spanning various construction stages
As to be expected from a property with a 160-year history, the rooms at Menger Hotel vary greatly in size. Rooms and suites in the original section have proportions that can feel a bit tight to modern travelers, but high ceilings should help with any sense of claustrophobia. Rooms in this section have gobs of Victorian character; details vary, but guests can expect to see decorative items like gilded-framed botanical prints, patterned armchairs with ottomans, and carved-wood furniture, including two-posted beds. In 2015, walls were given fresh coats of paint (in historic hues like avocado green and deep aubergine), wallpapers and upholsteries were redone, and technology was updated (tube TVs were replaced with flat-screens). Original rooms have full or king beds (Menger Petites have full-size beds and Victorian Standard Rooms have either fulls or kings), and most have deep closets and small tiled bathrooms that require a step up from the main floor. The hotel replaced the original pedestal sinks with custom cabinetry, responding to the frequent guest complaint of having nowhere to stash toiletries.
The hotel's original inventory of 50 rooms has grown into 316 (25 of which are suites). Rooms in the newer sections are generally more spacious; the majority have two double beds, though rooms with two queens or one king are available. All rooms have air-conditioning, coffeemakers with free coffee and tea, and free Wi-Fi. Views are mostly of the pool courtyard, garden courtyard, or the Alamo plaza. Some rooms offer private or shared balconies. The two 900-square-Presidential Suites each have four private balconies, as well as dining tables, full sitting areas, wet bars, and jetted tubs.
Traditional Colonial Room restaurant and historic Menger Bar, frequented by Teddy Roosevelt
Menger's one restaurant, the Colonial Room, is original to the hotel -- a fact that's apparent thanks to details like decorative moldings, archways, and Georgian glass windows. The Colonial Room opens for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a popular Sunday buffet brunch, and serves classic American fare like carved roast beef, chilled shrimp, and bread pudding. Try the restaurant's mango ice cream -- former President Clinton is a big fan and requested it be delivered to Washington. The hotel's cherry-wood bar, the Menger Bar, has even more presidential acclaim. It was here, in 1898, that Teddy Roosevelt recruited his Rough Riders for the Spanish-American War in Cuba. (Well, technically the recruitment station was on the patio right outside of the bar, but paperwork was allegedly signed on the tables inside. These tables, as well as other memorabilia from Roosevelt and the regiment, can be seen at the bar today.) The Menger Bar is a perfect replica of the House of Lords pub in London. The bar serves basic burgers, sandwiches, and other pub grub.
Although it doesn't look particularly huge, Menger Hotel's pool is one of the largest in the downtown area. Its patio is fitted with a hot tub and Astroturf and shaded by a few palm trees. In the summer, the hotel hosts family nights with movies and popcorn. A small fitness room with cardio machines and free weights overlooks the pool deck and a spa (operated by a third party) offers massages, facials, and body wraps and scrubs. In addition to the pool courtyard, the hotel has a pretty garden courtyard graced by a gurgling fountain and rocking chairs. A small balcony overlooking this courtyard (accessible from the second story of the original lobby) is occasionally a spot for proposals.
Elegant ballrooms with chandeliers and fireplaces, a wood-beamed banquet hall, and several boardrooms (including the wood-paneled, 24-person Sam Houston Room and the rustic-refined, 45-person Cavalier Room) provide 13,000 square feet of meeting and function space. A business corner near the reception desk allows the use of computers and printers for a fee. Room service is available until late at night, and Wi-Fi is free throughout the hotel.