by Jerry Adams, copyright © 1998, all rights reserved
MENGER HOTEL / BAR / SAN ANTONIO, TEX.
GOOD FOR / ONE / DRINK.
nickel - round- 24mm (circa: 1880s; estimated value : $60-$90)
This token is listed in the 1973 TAMS Texas supplement by Fowler, Strough and Roberts. It is also listed by B. P. Wright in American Business Tokens as number 1520. George and Melvin Fuld list this token as their number TEX 171.121.1 on page 33 of Token Collectors Pages.
A recent mini-series on cable television about Teddy Roosevelt and the "Rough Riders" reminded me of the ties between the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas and Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt is said to have frequented the Menger during the months that the Rough Riders were forming and training in San Antonio.
William Menger, a German immigrant, arrived in San Antonio in the early 1840s, and with a partner Charles Phillip Degen, opened a brewery. His wife joined in his other business venture, which was a small boardinghouse on Alamo Square. By 1857, the boardinghouse was so profitable, that they decided to expand. They retained local architect John M. Fries, who designed a two-story cut-stone building with Greek Revival (classical) details. This was the start of the Menger Hotel. The foundations were laid in June of 1858, and work was completed by January of 1859. The initial success of the new "Menger Hotel" prompted William Menger to start plans on an addition even before the original building was complete. The addition was located between the brewery and the original hotel building. The newest construction quickly started on the 40 room annex and was completed within a year.
One of the unusual features of the hotel was a tunnel which opened off the basement, which connected to the adjacent brewery. Menger himself would often lead small groups of selected guests through the tunnel on tours of the brewery.
William Menger died in March 1871. His widow and son assumed management of the hotel. As the railroad arrived in San Antonio in 1877, the Menger Hotel was becoming well known throughout the South. The cuisine at the Colonial Dining Room included wild game, mango ice cream and turtle soup.
In March of 1879, gas lights were installed, which put the Menger on the forefront of technology of the day. An east wing was added in December 1881. Mr. Hermann Kampmann became manager in 1887, and he was the individual responsible for the installation of a new bar. I believe that this is about the time that the token described above was first used. The bar was a replica of the one in the House of Lords Club in London. The expense for this bar interior must have been enormous. It contained a solid cherry bar, cherry paneled ceiling, French beveled mirrors, and gold plated spittoons. Mint juleps were served in solid silver tumblers, and beer was chilled in a spring that ran through the courtyard of the hotel.
Menger Hotel circa 1911
Over the period that the Menger has been in operation, a long list of famous guests have passed through the doors. Those guests included: John J. Pershing, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, William Sydney Porter (O. Henry), General Philip H. Sheridan (1873), Secretary of War William W. Belknap (1873),and General Ulysses S. Grant (1880). One of its most famous guests was Theodore Roosevelt.
Theodore Roosevelt had first visited the Menger in 1892, while on a javalina hunt. As the Spanish American War broke out, Roosevelt and Leonard Woods returned to San Antonio and the Menger Hotel in the spring of 1898, to recruit the 1st United States Cavalry Volunteers. This regiment of unconventional warriors consisted of a very select group of men recruited from cattle ranches, mining camps, and law enforcement bodies. The became known as the "Rough Riders." The Rough Riders decked out in their slouch hats, blue shirts, spotted bandannas, brown trousers, leggings and boots, must have enjoyed the elegant surroundings of the Menger Hotel.
One other interesting story about the Menger, concerns cattle baron Captain Richard King. His family was owner of the King Ranch in South Texas. He enjoyed going to San Antonio with his family and staying at the elegant Menger. On one visit, Captain King arrived at the hotel ahead of his family, and headed to the Menger Bar to have a drink. When he went upstairs some time later, Mrs. King complained that she had ordered water for the pitcher on the her washstand, and the water had not been delivered. King, perhaps a bit cocky from his earlier visit to the bar, picked up the water pitcher, walked to the balcony overlooking the lobby. From there he hurled the pitcher to the marble floor below, where it smashed into many pieces. He then called out the desk clerk "If we cant get any water up here, we dont need a pitcher." Needless to say, several pitchers of cool water arrived at their room shortly.
The hotel was enlarged again in 1909 by London born architect Alfred Giles, who altered the main facade by adding Renaissance Revival details in cast iron, pressed metal and brick, and redesigned the rotunda. The hotel was an important focal point for the visiting dignitaries to San Antonio as well as a meeting place for local social events. Business declined during the Great Depression, but the building was remodeled again in the mid 1940s. A new wing was added in 1951. In 1976, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
references: The Handbook of Texas; Texas Public Buildings of the Nineteenth Century by Willard B. Robinson; Seeking Pleasure in the Old West by David Dary
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updated 5 feb 2000