The Menger Hotel in San Antonio dates back to 1859, just 13 years after Texas was admitted to the Union, and 23 years after the battle of the Alamo. With its three-story high vaulted Victorian lobby housing an intricately designed stained glass window overhead, its Corinthian columns and wrought iron railings, its fine antique settees and Colonial Room restaurant, the Menger still holds an old world charm. None of it is more striking than in the Menger Bar itself.
The bar was designed as an exact 19th century replica of the House of Lords Pub in London. It boasts an inlaid cherry wood ceiling, beveled mirrors from France and decorated glass cabinets. A brass rail runs along the base of the bar. To the right, mounted on a stanchion above, rests the head of a huge moose. Photographs of Teddy Roosevelt decorate the walls and the corridor that leads into the hotel itself. Unlike most drinking establishments these days, smoking is actually permitted in the bar. You can even enjoy a fine cigar from the selection on display below the bottles of liquor behind the bar.
It was here that Teddy Roosevelt began recruiting volunteers to serve in the American cavalry unit that fought in Cuba during the Spanish American war. Several photos capture his band of Rough Riders mounted on horseback or posing for a group shot at the top of San Juan Hill.
While seated at the bar with your feet resting on the fine brass rail and the smell of cigar smoke wafting up to your nostrils, you can’t help but think of T.R. and his band of men. The regiment was disbanded shortly after service in Cuba. Roosevelt went on to become President after the turn of the century. He viewed the presidency as a bully pulpit, from whence he chose to preach his philosophy to the American people. Here are a few excerpts from his finer speeches:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat. “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
There are good men and bad men of all nationalities, creeds and colors; and if this world of ours is ever to become what we hope some day it may become, it must be by the general recognition that the man’s heart and soul, the man’s worth and actions, determine his standing. Letter, Oyster Bay, NY, September 1, 1903
This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in. Chicago, IL, June 17, 1912
The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else. “Roosevelt in the Kansas City Star”, 149, May 7, 1918
In his recent New York Times column A World of Difference, Bob Hebert writes: “We’re now in a ridiculous period in which politicians are concerned about appearing too well-spoken and too intellectual — elitist — as if mangling the language while downing a shot and slurping from a mug of beer were sure signs of fitness for high office.”
Maybe we need a man like T.R. these days too—a man who can lead us out of the morass in which we as a country find ourselves; a man who can once more instill in us as a nation the notion that we are capable of rising to the occasion at hand; a man who can goad us into believing in ourselves once again.