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Body & Soul: Hotel Emma

San Antonio’s Pearl Brewery is reimagined as a stylish luxury hotel

Written by Jenny Bradley Pfeffer

San Antonio’s Pearl District is home to a diamond in the rough. The Hotel Emma—an industrial-meets-cosmopolitan getaway housed in the city’s iconic Pearl Brewery (which closed in 2001)—sets an imposing yet come-hither tone on the banks of the San Antonio River.

Hotel Emma is the design child of architect August Maritzen. In 2015, designers Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch brought the former brewery back to life. 

Named for Emma Koehler, who was the wife of Pearl Brewery founder Otto Koehler and who operated the brewery after his death, the hotel opened in November 2015 and has since garnered rave reviews.

Much of that is thanks to the design duo of Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch of Roman and Williams, who reinvigorated the building originally designed by Chicago-based architect August Maritzen.

Inspired by the building’s unique history, the design team highlighted the structure’s Second Empire style (think mansard roof and decorative cornices) while embracing its more industrial elements. 

In public spaces, equipment salvaged during the structure’s renovation was reinvented as light fixtures, furnishings, and decorative elements. Architectural pieces—a cast-iron spiral staircase, exposed brick walls, pressed-tin ceilings—were brought back to life, reinforcing a sense of history and stick-to-itiveness. 

Tufted leather club chairs, patterned concrete tile floors, bronze and blown-glass chandeliers, and rugs in dark hues harness the brewery’s masculine features while offering a nod to down-home Texas comfort. 

With 146 guest rooms and suites, The Hotel Emma maintains an intimate, boutique-hotel energy. Accommodations feature exposed brick walls, richly hued textiles, Frette linens, and glazed black beds inspired by the works of furniture designers such as the Herter Brothers. 

As in the public spaces, industrial pieces mix with the high-end. 

In bathrooms, custom glazed tiles and brass fixtures combine to create spa-like retreats.

This being Texas, Southern hospitality takes center stage. Oversize fireplaces surrounded by cozy seating areas encourage lounging on winter days.

Large courtyards inspire outdoor gathering and alfresco culinary comforts. 

And with three eateries on site—Supper, featuring chef John Brand’s seasonally fresh cuisine; Sternewirth, Emma’s hotel bar complete with 20-foot-tall cast-iron tanks from the Pearl Brewery re-imagined as banquettes; and Larder, a gourmet market filled with locally sourced goods—there’s no excuse not to eat well. 

Visit the Hotel Emma.

Interior designers: Roman and Williams
Architect: August Maritzen