I have visited the Pearl Brewery complex in San Antonio several times and have loved sharing some of my shopping and dining experiences with you in the past. It is one of my favorite places in San Antonio to visit. A few weeks ago, I took my Pearl experience to the next level by staying at the Hotel Emma.
The Pearl Brewery was founded in 1881, and the Hotel Emma is housed in the original building and has incorporated elements of the brewery as pieces of architectural interest in their decor. I can only describe it as rustic elegance, and that alone is worth the drive to San Antonio. While the decor incorporates some rustic, industrial touches, the Emma experience can only be described as pure luxury.
I have stayed in many fine hotels, and the Emma truly stands out as one of the best. The rooms are luxuriously appointed but retain the charm and elegance of the period when the brewery was built. The crisp seersucker robe, courtesy of Dos Carolinas, a purveyor of luxury custom guayaberas, was one of my favorite touches – second only to the nightly turndown service that included fresh macaroons from Bakery Lorraine on the pillows.
Each afternoon, there is a cocktail reception in the hotel library for guests. While sipping a Santa Rosa, I learned a little more about the hotel’s namesake, or namesakes.
In the new historical exhibit in the hotel, there is one plaque with the inscription “The three Emmas. 1 is great, 2 are sinful, 3 will kill you.” I was intrigued. Otto Koehler, credited as the most prolific manager of the Pearl, was married to Emma for whom the hotel is named, but it turns out, she was not the only Emma in his life, which ultimately led to his demise.
Emma No. 1 was injured in an automobile accident in 1910, so her doting husband hired a live-in nurse, Emma (also known as Emmi) Dumpke – No. 2, to care for her. It wasn’t long before Emma No. 2 was taking care of Emma No. 1 one and Otto.
Emma No. 2 came to the Koehler household with a bonus, her girlfriend, Emma Burgemeister, No. 3, a 5-foot, 10-inch blonde beauty, and in no time Otto was helping himself to this Emma, too.
Nov. 12, 1914, while having a romantic interlude with Emma No. 2, Otto was shot dead by Emma No. 3. When questioned by Alamo City police, she reportedly said, “I’m sorry, but I had to kill him.” The blonde shooter was charged with murder but absconded to Europe, where she worked as a nurse for the balance of World War I. When she finally returned to San Antonio, she stood trial for Otto’s murder, but unbelievably, the all-male jury found her not guilty.
In another shocking twist to this tale, Emma No. 3 ended up married to one of the jurors who set her free. For her part, Emma Koehler, No. 1, recovered from her injuries and after her husband’s death lead the brewery with shrewd acumen. When many other operations of its kind withered on the vine, Emma kept the Pearl going all through Prohibition. When it was finally repealed, she saw to it that the brewery was one of the first and most successful back in production. The only thing more remarkable than the story of the Emma are the accommodations; if you ever have the chance, I highly recommend staying.
While I was at the Emma, I stopped in the Broiler House for happy hour, where I snacked greedily on their sinful deviled ham ’n’ eggs. Overstuffed and topped with black pepper ranch and lemon aioli, they were the perfect complement to my salty margarita.
When I got home, I made this much simpler version. Somehow, the decadence of the deviled ham seemed the perfect remembrance of the life led by Otto Koehler.
Enjoy them but not too much, you know what they say about too much of a good thing.