With the sound of fast-approaching engines roaring in your ear, you jam your foot down even harder on the gas pedal and narrow your eyes at the upcoming left-hand turn, determined not to let up even for an instant. If you do, there’s a good chance that your new view will consist of your competition gloating triumphantly while they zip past you on the track. You may only be driving a GT-5 Sodikart, and not a tricked-out racecar, but you absolutely refuse to let any of the other adult or—gulp—junior drivers beat you.
Track 21 lets speed-demons careen around one of three indoor go-kart tracks at speeds of up to 40 mph as they try to edge past other karts, competing with fellow birthday partiers or coworkers to reach the finish line before it decides to become a finish wall. In case competition gets too fierce, the karts are surrounded by heavy nylon bumpers and rubber blocks designed to absorb impact from all sides.
Friendly rivalries continue on foot inside Area 21, a two-story laser-tag battleground beset with fog, obstacles, and space-age scenery. Sharpshooters zap each other's targets in pursuit of a grander mission, such as capturing the opposing base or stealing the enemy's supply of light, before matches end and scores are tallied on a stats sheet. Glowing decor also illuminates a jungle-themed nine-hole mini-golf course, where gorilla and lion statues bask in the black lights. Track 21’s arcade demands timing and button-smashing dexterity from gamers, and a track-side casino sets up rounds of blackjack, poker, and craps.
Albert Friedrich poured the first foamer at The Buckhorn Saloon in 1881. Early in his bartending days, Friedrich began accepting horns and antlers in exchange for whiskey and beer, leading to a unique collection now exhibited in The Buckhorn Museum. The historic tavern claims that Teddy Roosevelt once recruited Rough Riders from among its patrons, and it is also rumored as the place where Pancho Villa plotted the Mexican Revolution. An original handcrafted marble-and-cherry-wood back bar and other historic furnishings still reside in the saloon, where guests now swig locally brewed beers and challenge each other to taser duels. Visitors come face to face with the taxidermal heads and other artifacts from more than 520 species, including a 1,056-pound black marlin and a prehistoric irish-elk skull and antlers. The museum also lays claims to a preserved whitetail deer and the rattlesnake rattle artwork of Friedrich’s wife, which guests can show to their own pet snakes as a cautionary example of what happens to misbehaving reptiles.
Adjacent to The Buckhorn Museum, The Texas Ranger Museum houses Texas Ranger paraphernalia such as sawed-off shotguns, badges, and photographs. At Ranger Town, young whippersnappers delight in glimpses of life during turn-of-the-century San Antonio, as depicted by a re-created jail, smith, and telegraph office, as well as the Bonnie and Clyde exhibit, where a '34 Ford V8 Deluxe sits anxiously awaiting its next adventure. On their way out, visitors can drop in at a museum gift shop that traces its own origins to 1920, when it was a curios store.
Nestled inside a sprawling yellow house first built in 1963, Mapleshade Spa retains much of its structure’s original charm. Out front, a set of wind chimes and a swing rock gently in the breeze above a huge wraparound porch. Garden fountains send up spouts of water amid colorful, aromatic thickets of rosemary, thyme, mint, lavender, and roses scattered beneath the boughs of large trees.
This bucolic setting surrounds Mapleshade Spa’s eight treatment rooms, where aestheticians set to work pampering their clientele with botanical skincare products from Pevonia and Éminence Organics. To account for different skin types and concerns, the staff offers more than 10 types of facials—all of which can be performed outside if desired—and an array of body treatments, including massages and body wraps. Stylists trim and highlight tresses in the hair salon while nail techs brush Shellac polish onto digits in both public and private nailcare areas. Mapleshade Spa frequently hosts spa parties to celebrate special events or provide a day away from clingy parole officers.
The sandwich at the center of Big Daddy's Burgers & Bar’s monster burger challenge certainly earns its title. Atop a three-pound beef patty, Chef Justin Trapani adds a pound of fries or hand-breaded onion and poblano rings, cheese, and three sauces. A place on the wall of fame, a T-shirt, and free meal awaits anyone who can devour the beastly burger in 33 minutes or fewer.
Though not as intimidating as the monster, Justin’s other 24 gourmet burgers likewise cater to hearty appetites. For the Big Lebowski burger, for instance, he stuffs a half-pound of beef with cheddar and pork belly before topping it with wasabi mayo and, upon request, dressing it in sandals and a bathrobe. A fried egg crowns another half-pounder served between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Diners can bolster these already loaded burgers with toppings such as house-cured pickled jalapenos or plum-ginger sauce. They can even customize patties and buns; Justin happily switches either with options such as a panko-crusted shrimp patty or a jalapeno-cheddar bun.
To complement Justin’s impressive burgers, which continuously emerge from grills until 1:30 a.m., bartenders serve myriad wines and beers, including 11 Texas brews. Specialty drinks include flights of frozen beverages such as screwdrivers, as well as adult shakes such as Strawberry Fields Forever, a blend of strawberry puree and strawberry-flavored vodka. The bar stays open until 2 a.m. every night, giving patrons ample time to savor libations while enjoying the flat-screen TVs or weekly live entertainment.
More than 325 bottles of international wine fill Zambrano Wine Cellar’s shelves and its climate-controlled wine cellar, arranged by chef, wine enthusiast, and owner Cef Zambrano. When not hobnobbing with celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Nolan Ryan, and Katie Couric, Zambrano coordinates a menu of bistro fare to harmonize with his library of wine selections, which received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence in 2009. Zambrano presents updated takes on Mediterranean favorites, crafting small plates of escargot broiled in garlic butter and shallots, as well as four types of bruschetta topped with tomato, chicken, duck, or fillet tips. Diners can dive into shared nibbles with custom plates of international meats and cheeses or pizzas topped margherita-style or with signature spanish ham.
Zambrano’s prized glass wine cellar sits behind a smooth stone bar, inlaid with variegated amethyst that glows as it catches the light better than an outfielder with a magnifying glass. While perched at its high-backed leather banquettes, diners can sip from the 50-plus list of wines by the glass while gazing at a flat-screen TV in the corner or admiring the custom art on the dining room’s exposed-brick walls. In the front of the dining room, gauzy orange curtains frame sheets of sunlight that illuminate simple wooden tables, each adorned with a single flower that provides color and an amuse-bouche for hungrier guests. A sidewalk patio offers al fresco dining and bustling sights of Sundance Square.
The Great American Land and Cattle Company provides steaks that are cut onsite and cooked precisely to specifications. They arrive with an eclectic smorgasboard of sides: pineapple coleslaw, fries or veggies, and "Texas caviar"—that is, beans. The most popular cut is the tender ribeye, but the menu has all degrees of fanciness covered, from filet mignon to country-fried steak in gravy to steakburgers. If you'd like yours extra-spicy, you can order it tampiqueña—covered with grilled onions and green chilies or jalapeños.
Though the company produces its many seasonings and sauces with steak in mind, the kitchen's not a beef-only zone. It also makes room for pulled-pork sandwiches, Cajun-style chicken, and charbroiled cold-water lobster tails, among other proteins. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, music and other live entertainment drifts through the dining room and onto the patio as the mountains in the background sway gently to the beat.
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