In 1855, German immigrants William and Mary Menger built a one-story boarding house and brewery on the dusty plaza next to the Alamo. A sheep pen (where Rivercenter Mall now stands) served as the Menger’s other neighbor. Mary’s cooking and
William’s beer proved so popular that local hacks picked up guests at Main and Military plazas and brought them to dinner. Travelers from New Orleans and California arrived by stagecoach.
Within four years, the Mengers erected a two-story stone hotel on the site, and other additions followed. Prominent military personnel stationed at or visiting nearby Fort Sam Houston—such as generals Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and John Pershing—frequented the Menger. Poet Sidney Lanier praised the atmosphere and many of O. Henry’s characters in his short stories had dealings at the Menger.
In 1876, before John Bet-A-Million Gates made his first million, he set up a barbed wire fence in Alamo Plaza in front of the Menger and filled it with Longhorn cattle to demonstrate to the skeptical, big time ranchers who stayed at the Menger that barbed wire would hold the restless cattle. The performance proved so successful that orders for barbed wire poured in with such fury that the company Gates represented had trouble meeting the demand.
Theodore Roosevelt stayed at the Menger first in 1892 while on a javelina hunting trip. The hotel’s famous solid cherry bar with its French mirrors and gold plated spittoons is a replica of the taproom in the House of Lords Club in London and is touted as the locale where Roosevelt in 1898 recruited the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, the regiment known as the “Rough Riders” of the Spanish-American War.
The Menger’s Colonial Dining Room grew famous throughout the southwest for its wild game, mango ice cream, and snapper soup made from the turtles caught in the San Antonio River.
The hotel grew until it eventually encompassed the entire block, changing to Kampmann family ownership and then to the Moody family interests. Today, the owners are the Galveston-based 1859 Historic Hotels, Inc.. Through the years, each owner added to the charm of the prestigious structure. The last restoration in 2016 increased the hotel to five stories and 316 guest rooms and suites. The Menger remains part of San Antonio’s heritage from the days the city was known as the “Paris of the Wilderness.”
Gold plated spittoons? Aye carumba!
Paul and I stayed at the Menger to celebrate our divorce. dv
I had forgotten that story. Thanks, DV
Very interesting, Myra. I stayed there once in the late 60’s and have walked past it many times between the Alamo and the Rivercenter Mall.
Good memories have been made there.
Five years old! I love your story. And I especially love that your dad came safely home. Thanks for sharing that memory.
Just read your story about the Menger Hotel. It is the first hotel I ever stayed in. I was 5 years old and we lived in Harlingen. We went to see the Alamo just before my father, who was in the Marine Reserves, had to report to Camp Pendleton, California as part of Eisenhower’s call up of the WWII vets to go fight in Korea. Thank you for the memories. PS My dad made it back in 1955. We lived in California. But came back to Texas in 1956.
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