The St. Mary’s Strip is a Midtown San Antonio entertainment zone. “The Strip” is a part of North St. Mary’s that is roughly defined by Mistletoe Avenue and Grayson Street. It is located just north of downtown. It is near to the Pearl Brewery and is part of a rapidly redeveloping central San Antonio area.
The Strip, in contrast to the tourist-oriented River Walk, caters to locals. Thousands of people visit the pubs, clubs, coffee shops, food trucks, restaurants, and entertainment venues that line St. Mary’s Street west of US Highway 281 and north of Interstate 35 every weekend.
The Strip has been dubbed “San Antonio’s first entertainment corridor,” with some drawing parallels to Austin’s Sixth Street during its heyday. Tobin Hill, the neighborhood in which it is located, was first created as agricultural property in 1731. The “Upper Labor” acequia was built in 1777 on the southern edge of Tobin Hill, along the Rock Quarry Road – the forerunner to the contemporary St. Mary’s Street.
It took a century for considerable non-agricultural development to occur. By the late nineteenth century, the neighborhood was known as the “Old Main Association,” a reference to the part of Main Avenue that passed through it. A series of court disputes unintentionally cleared the way for residential suburbs, and members of the Tobin family built seven houses in the 1880s and 1890s, giving rise to the modern neighborhood’s name. By 1919, the streetcar had reached the eastern border of Tobin Hill, allowing for commercial growth along St. Mary’s Street and other north-south corridors served by the city’s public transit system, including San Pedro and McCullough.
Despite the decline and eventual demise of streetcars in San Antonio in the 1930s, North St. Mary’s thrived as a major northbound commercial corridor extending from the city’s central business area, boosted by the construction of I-35 between it and downtown in the 1950s. The controversial building of U.S. Highway 281 to its immediate east in the 1970s harmed the Strip, which lost much of its traffic to the city’s newly constructed major north-south freeway.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Strip saw its renowned first golden period, with an estimated 15,000 people attending an MTV block party sponsored by Daisy Fuentes and another 12,000 attending a Halloween blowout in late 1990. “The St. Mary’s Strip,” a song written by Art Sandoli and released in the fall of 1985, hailed the newly developed identity of the expanding entertainment district. With the ensuing rise in crime in the neighborhood, this golden age came to an end. Patrons were discouraged from going due to violence, and nightlife began to dwindle in the late 1990s and early 2000s. On July 8, 1990, the murder of Alamo Heights resident George “Tres” Waters III outraged the community, ruining St. Mary’s reputation for a generation. According to David Martin Davies of Texas Public Radio, who worked as a bartender at numerous restaurants along the Strip at the time, crime in the region was “sensationalized and blown out of proportion by the local media.” According to a former San Antonio police officer, most crime in the region is motivated by “quality of life” issues such as parking and loud music.
With an infusion of millennial activity, the area has lately been refurbished. To compliment the charm of some of the older institutions, new bars have sprung up. The Phantom Room, the Strip’s southern anchor, was destroyed by fire in late 2016.