The Menger Hotel, one of the state's oldest and best-known hotels, was opened by William Menger on Alamo Square in San Antonio on January 31, 1859. Menger, a German immigrant, had arrived in San Antonio in the early 1840s and operated a brewery at the site with Charles Phillip Degen. In 1857 he and his wife decided to expand their boardinghouse. Local architect John M. Fries is credited with designing the two-story cut-stone building, which features classical detail; John Hermann Kampmann oversaw construction of the project. The foundations were laid on June 18, 1858, and work was completed by the end of January 1859. The hotel was so successful that Menger immediately made plans to build an addition between the hotel and his brewery. Construction on a forty-room annex was begun in August 1858 and completed the following year. The hotel featured a tunnel opening off the basement, through which Menger led groups of selected guests on tours of the adjacent brewery. Menger died at the hotel in March 1871, and his widow and son took over the management. When the Civil War and Reconstruction were over, and especially after the railroad arrived in 1877, the Menger became the best-known hotel in the Southwest. It was praised for the cuisine offered in the Colonial Dining Room. Specialties included wild game, mango ice cream, and snapper soup made from turtles caught in the San Antonio River. William Sydney Porter mentioned the hotel several times in his stories. In the winter of 1872–73 Sidney Lanier made his home at the Menger while he wrote the sketch "San Antonio de Bexar." In 1873 Gen. Philip H. Sheridan and Secretary of War William W. Belknap were guests, and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant spent four days at the hotel in 1880. The "eight rooms with adjoining baths" were well known to travelers, who were said to race from the depot to secure such luxuries. In March 1879 gas lights were installed. The hotel was popular with army personnel from Fort Sam Houston and enjoyed a wide patronage.
An east wing was added in December 1881. Hermann Kampmann became manager in 1887 and supervised the installation of a new bar, a replica of the taproom in the House of Lords Club in London. The solid cherry bar, cherry-paneled ceiling, French mirrors, and gold-plated spittoons were the marvels of San Antonio. The beer, chilled by the Alamo Madre ditch, which passed through the hotel courtyard, mint juleps served in solid silver tumblers, and hot rum toddies came to have wide renown. Theodore Roosevelt first visited the Menger in 1892 on a javelina hunt; he returned to recruit his Rough Riders (the First United States Volunteer Cavalry) at the hotel in 1898; in 1905 he was back for a banquet. In 1909 the hotel was again enlarged with an addition to the south side. Architect Alfred Giles altered the main façade, adding Renaissance Revival details in stuccoed brick, pressed metal, and cast iron; he also designed an interior rotunda that provided light and served as a circulation hub. The hotel was a center of San Antonio social affairs and a meetingplace for visiting celebrities. It declined during the Great Depression, but in the mid-1940s the building was reconditioned, and the more celebrated dining rooms were restored. By 1951 a new wing had been added, and the building had been completely modernized under the direction of architects Atlee B. Ayres and Robert M. Ayres. In 1976 the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Alamo Plaza Historic District. The Menger was again renovated in the 1980s.