(This is a slightly reworked piece I did for a local real estate blog, which alas seems to have gone dormant – enjoy! CH)
For much of the 19th century and into the early Twentieth, it was a popular San Antonio custom. Various of the public squares, notably Military Plaza and Market Square were the domain of the Chili Queens who established a custom of setting up tables and benches along the edges of the squares, in the early evening and selling chili-by-the-bowl to all comers. They would bring huge kettles of chili which they had made over their own home cook-fire during the day, and keep it warm through the evening and into the wee hours over an open fire. The chili vendors would entice customers to their own particular stands by hiring musicians to entertain diners. There are some splendid descriptions of how marvelous this would have appeared – lantern and starlight shining down on the tables, gleaming on glass soda bottles, while the scent of the chili and the mesquite smoke from the fires which kept it warm hung on the night air. (I used this scene several times in Lone Star Sons, and in Adelsverein – The Sowing.) During South Texas summers before the invention of air conditioning, this likely would have been about the most comfortable dining venue for working men, for those out for an evening of gambling and drinking in the various saloons … and in later decades, for those visiting from the North or the East, desirous of absorbing a little exotic local color.