Hotel San Jose: an Austin Tradition

Famous (and rightfully so) hotelier Liz Lambert crafted a masterpiece on Austin’s South Congress Avenue when she flipped the original uber-modern Hotel San Jose built in 1939.  As chronicled by the hotel’s documentary, The Last Days of the San Jose, Lambert had a seemingly unconquerable task ahead of her, refurbishing the deteriorating and violent scape of the San Jose frequented by crackheads, prostitutes, and once- a stabbing, and all too often guests unable to pay the hotel’s rate offering only what they could.

Everything about the hotel is a contradiction- a beautiful contradiction that is. With stucco walls and cacti aside ivy-covered walls and complimentary baskets of apples scattered throughout the premises, Hotel San Jose is both modern and simple, Feng Shui-appropriate and exquisitely quirky- yet surprisingly calm and invigorating. A place you would go when you want both serenity and hipness, tastefully paired with house-made white wine sangria and Polaroid cameras available for rent to snap nostalgic photos of the cozy corners San Jose has tucked away behind desert flora and ’50s inspired lawn furniture. Vintage typewriters are also available to rent during your stay, so you can write haikus under a shade-tree, a love letter in the comfort of your bed, or maybe a death threat while under the influence. Either way, the unusual amenities are quite romantic.

The courtyard is chill and funky, while hipster servers take orders in high-waisted pencil skirts and short, perfect bangs- orders for fun beers like Ephemere and the new house charcuterie board. Neighboring the hotel pool, the courtyard births an ambience of 1950s eclectic-ness with Jetsons-y touches and rock-n-roll artistic-ness.

Tucked into the overgrown walls of San Jose, it almost feels as if you’ve entered a desert fortress somewhere completely other than this too-hip-to-be-trendy section of South Congress Ave. The rooms are simple and complex, masterfully done. The walls are white. The floors are white. The bathroom is white. A colorful tapestry adds a splash of color to the bed and an antique school desk sits perfectly under the bright window with a single, fresh white flower on its top.  A typed Billy Collins poem called “Morning” on nothing other than plain, white paper is tacked to the bathroom wall with a sewing pin. Simply, yet boldly stated.

The mini-bar offers irresistable novelties as well. My weakness? Cracker Jacks. Cracker Jacks ignite the inner child and when paired with a full bottle of Blanc du Bois (made with Texas grapes) from Georgetown Winery (30 minutes north of Austin), it’s easy to please the aging drunkard as well, similarly to the contradicting presence of San Jose itself.

Within walking distance of some of Austin’s most iconic local businesses, San Jose’s location is prime for those who seek exploration. Nearby is Pink Hair Salon, offering one of the city’s only beehives (yes, really!); Home Slice Pizza, which hand-tosses dough as you wait and is arguably the BEST pizza in town; Boticelli’s, an Italian restaurant with a delightful beer garden and outdoor films on Sundays (my favorite that I’ve caught thus far? Mr. Mom); Uncommon Goods, perhaps my favorite salvage and vintage shop ANYwhere; the Continental Club, featuring great bands nightly; and Hey Cupcake (if they haven’t discontinued it for ethical purposes, the Michael Jackson is my favorite- white on the top and black on the bottom). And those are just a few of the nearby treasures.

San Jose is what happens when the cardigan-wearing librarian girl has a naughty love affair with the leather jacket-clad Jimmy Dean look-a-like. And there’s something sexy about that. Though it makes no sense to those who’ve yet to visit, San Jose is the perfect reflection of an institution and rock-n-roll, truly creating a School of Rock appeal.

By: Ashley Halligan

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