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

From Quiet Inns to Pinnacles of Opulence; the Quirky & Decadent Accommodations of Austin

Austin, Texas is a city renown for its beauty, quirkiness, famous music scene, outdoor recreation, and for being the capital of a state seemingly much unlike itself. A jewel in the center of the big ole state of Texas, Austin exists independently from some of its more conservative and “country” counterparts, creating the offspring of a mid-Texas melting pot, a common relocation spot for like-minded nomads, and a platform for music junkies, artists, techies, and still- cowboys and cowgirls. An unusual union it is and that is what makes it beautiful, admirable, a destination and a home. Like its anomalous ingredients, the very bewitchingly undefined (and unrestricted) core of Austin continues to exist in its myriad range of accommodations. Decadent or funky, quaint or majestic, Austin, Texas has it all- and more- and surprisingly, unlike other cities, within a very friendly distance of one another and within friendly distance for exploration of Austin’s favorite landmarks. And this is what we will explore.

Round One: The Driskill

Perhaps the most majestic hotel in all of Texas is the opulent and historic Austin landmark- the Driskill. Founded in 1886, the respected member of The Historic Hotels of America, boasts a history rich with presidential love, the success of a wealthy cattle baron (The Driskill’s founder: Jesse Lincoln Driskill), and as a setting for many movies including Sandra Bullock’s flick: Miss Congeniality. A favorite resting place of Lyndon B. Johnson, the Driskill was the location of his first date with future Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson, where they met for breakfast.

The Driskill stands majestically over downtown Austin’s famous 6th street, towering far above the city’s music venues, dive bars, art galleries, eclectic restaurants, and crowds consisting of the University of Texas college crowd, young professionals, trendy artists and musicians, country folk, travelers, and everything in between. You name it, Austin has it.

The Driskill prides itself on historical preservation and continual modernization. Original marble floors, columns fit to support a medieval palace, and a stained-glass dome exist amongst modern amenities, tastefully implemented as to not overpower the opulent history, yet to satisfy the modern traveler’s expectations. It’s a truly beautiful union.

Having two well-known, highly-(re)visited, and unbelievably delicious restaurants, the Driskill continues its luxe expectations in all avenues of its continued success as a luxurious hotel landmark and a culinary Austin, (hell, a continental US) jewel. The 1886 Cafe and Bakery has an eclectic breakfast and lunch menu as well as traditional baked goods and down-home cookin’ (alongside a casual, yet elegant setting). Seasonally changing as the chef’s creativities take new winds and avenues, the menu maintains its traditional staples while still offering surprisingly unusual pairings. Perhaps my favorite seasonal dish- the salmon Benedict with a mango hollandaise. But don’t overlook the gingersnap pancakes, jalapeno corn biscuits, or the Gulf shrimp and lump crab crepes.

For a more formal dinner, the Driskill Grill, is an award-winning restaurant exemplifying culinary perfection and an old-Texas yet extravagant atmosphere (think overstuffed leather couches, cow-hide rugs, and hidden nooks in the Driskill Bar area- and rich wood walls, white table cloths, and candlelight in the actual restaurant). The menu is local yet wordly- emphasizing expert twists of wild game and world-class ingredients. Both innovative and classic, the Driskill Grill is sure to please any pallete. Some house specialities include a cherry wood smoked quail with polenta and mushroom, an herb crusted axis venison with a wild mushroom risotto and fresh plum chutney, and a cinnamon dusted duck breast. The Driskill Grill also has an extensive caviar and artisanal cheese menu. Having two distinctively different establishments for dining, the Driskill fairly encompasses both casual dining and decadent four-star cuisine.

Whether seeking romance, indulgence, lavishness, or serenity, the Driskill offers exquisite flawlessness favorable to any traveler’s budget- from the intimate and reasonably priced Curio rooms to individually themed suites suitable for royalty.  Despite its grandeur, the Driskill is a truly unbiased destination.

Round Two: Lost Parrot Cabins

Located conveniently near Austin’s famous Lake Travis, is a delightfully tropical land of private, colorful cabins, island fever, live in-house music on summer nights, a quasi Mexican art gallery, and an unbridled view of hill country at its finest. Lost Parrot Cabins exemplifies a Caribbean-style mini resort tucked away in the central Texas hillside, with seven delightful bungalows with welcoming whimsical names like: Mermaids in the Night, Mexican Wind, Mango Moon, and Little Miss Magic. All are tastefully decorated with multifarious collectibles, hand-picked from world travels by the owners & innkeepers: Cat Flood and Cliff Bennett. With useful amenities like a mini or full kitchen in each bungalow, the assorted additions like fireplaces, private porches, hammocks, vintage hardback books, and retreat-like appeal are all flavorful extras.

The emphasis on uniquity in each quirky detail of the bungalows and the grounds adds a rich personality and colorful gallery-esque escape in the unexpecting country roads of Travis County.  It’s truly the offspring of Jimmy Buffet, Mexico, and a painter’s pallete at Lost Parrot Cabins, and still somehow tasteful, inviting, and mistakingly tropical.

The grounds of Lost Parrot Cabins include a BYOB bar, hot tub, pool, and a handcrafted stage poolside for musical performances and mingling on warm hill country evenings, all continuing the flow of Mexican art, collectibles, and idosyncratic beauty and color. Some nights, Cliff Bennett, one of the two innkeepers, busts out his guitar for a performance alongside his amazingly talented (pre-teen) granddaughter, playing everything from Janis Joplin to Johnny Cash in a harmoniously perfect show, with the comforting undertone of genuine familial love. It’s the small moments like this that emphasize Lost Parrot Cabins, as a family-operated passion, thus a cozy nook for relaxation and intermingling.

Stay up as late as you want poolside, perhaps with tropical beverages to highlight this hand-crafted paradise, soak in the hot tub under the Texas moon, cook out at the community grill under a canopy of artsy details, or hibernate in the private bungalows for exclusive peace and quiet. Join the communal breakfast at the BYOB bar each morning alongside the friendly innkeepers. Or trek off to Austin’s Lake Travis for a day of water sports or lakeside dining. Within a short drive there’s also Hamilton Pool, hill country hiking, or zip-lining through the forests. Whichever avenue you choose, this tropical escape is truly a rarity and a hidden masterpiece.

Only partway into our exploration of Austin accommodations and we can already see the distinctive array of places to tuck in and get some Zzzs. And we still have many more corners of this diversified city to traverse.

By: Ashley Halligan

Photos from: pillowsandpancakes.com