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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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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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, 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.