Austin’s Hotel Style: Past, Present, & Future

We Austinites tend to have a difficult time agreeing on some things – Tacodeli vs. Torchy’s, Lady Bird Lake vs. Lake Travis, bike vs. bus.

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But one thing we’re all in unanimous agreement about is the fact that the Austin skyline looks vastly different than it did only a handful of years ago.

Austin is home to fewer than a million residents, yet there are more than 150 hotels within the city limits – each with characteristics as varied as the restaurants and shops lining their ground floors. And in an effort to accommodate the endless stream of visitors, there seems to be no end in sight to the hive of hotels, big and small, popping up around the city.

A look at some of Austin’s lodging options – the most iconic, the newest, and the most highly anticipated – tells a tale of the demands of our growing city, past, present and future. Where have we been? Where are we going? And will our city be able to maintain our deeply ingrained Austin state of mind amidst this exponential growth?

PAST

The Driskill was built as a landmark hotel befitting Austin’s stature as Texas’ Capitol city…[it] became an epicenter of the city’s political activity.

Let’s go all the way back to 1886, with the creation of Austin’s oldest and most iconic hotel, The Driskill. Initially created to rival the hotel palaces in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco; The Driskill was built as a landmark hotel befitting Austin’s stature as Texas’ Capitol city. And two years later, with the opening of Texas’ Capitol building, The Driskill became an epicenter of the city’s political activity – it even served as the location for several gubernatorial inaugural balls.

Says general manager Scott Mason, “The Driskill is timeless. The hotel reads like a storybook, a tale of authentic Texas – progress, politics – and of being authentically Austin.” And anyone who’s ever stepped through the hotel’s entrance instantly understands what Mason is talking about. The columned lobby, grand marble floors, and stained-glass dome combined with touches of Southern opulence immediately transport visitors back to a time when Austin was much smaller and more easily defined. In the 125 years since its opening, The Driskill staff has worked hard to ensure that old-Austin feeling remains. As Mason puts it, “We believe the hotel is affectionately owned by the Austin community – a historic landmark, a brand of one – that remains our duty to protect and serve.”

For many, The Driskill is a symbol of tradition – of a capital city of decades past. Its staff and repeat patrons are proud of the fact that the décor is unchanged, albeit refinished, after more than a century of business. They take comfort in knowing generations of people have walked through the same front doors, forging their own memories within the familiar, hallowed walls.

“Guest rooms and public spaces reflect a classic time period where generations of families come back to visit and tell their own Driskill stories,” says Mason. “The suites and spaces remain unchanged so stories are easily retold and celebrated.”

A Tour of The Driskill Hotel

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PRESENT

The recently opened JW Marriott – Austin’s newest arrival – tells the story of a city experiencing monumental growth.

The recently opened JW Marriott – Austin’s newest arrival – tells the story of a city experiencing monumental growth. The 1,000-plus room hotel, with its massive conference rooms and prime location in the heart of Austin’s downtown corridor, was built to accommodate Austin’s non-stop deluge of events, including ACL, SXSW, and F1, to name a few. It is the city’s largest hotel to-date, but designers didn’t want that single fact to take away the Austin vibe so they pulled in some inspiration from the city itself – a decision that is most noticeable by the format of the hotel’s restaurant choices. For instance, the walk-up Burger Bar on the exterior of the building was made to mirror both Austin’s beloved food truck scene and the exceptionally popular, line-out-the-door Hopdoddy burger joint.

“The goal of the design was to evoke a sense of the real Austin and create a seamless experience from the exterior to the interior,” says sales and marketing director Jay Spurr. “The muted colors and natural textures like limestone, stained white oak, and chiseled stone conjure images of the natural habitat surrounding the hotel. Combined with the cultural inspiration – the cool, hipster vibe, artisan scene, and music-heavy culture – designers have managed to bring the outside in.”

A Tour of JW Marriot

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FUTURE

Rather than just being a hotel, [South Congress Hotel’s] owners are hoping it will become a connected hub to the neighborhood.

Still under construction, South Congress Hotel is planned for a fall 2015 opening, and its design team is working to help it exude a vibe synonymous with the street after which it’s named. According to co-owner Jesse Herman, South Congress Hotel’s location, separate from the more international hotels, will allow it to more easily adapt to local sensibilities. Rather than just being a hotel, its owners are hoping it will become a connected hub to the neighborhood – especially as Austin extends its reach south.

The design team has spent months to ensure that every component of South Congress Hotel – from the shops and restaurants to the lobby to the rooms – is unique to Austin, creating an aesthetic Herman calls “rustic elegance.”

“The people of Austin are the most inspiring part of the city for me,” says Herman, “So we are simply trying to create something wonderful that we hope they embrace and make a part of the fabric of the community.”

It doesn’t hurt that Austin culinary master Paul Qui is one of those locals bringing the Austin flavor deeper into the hotel’s roots. Qui is set to expand his Austin food empire with the addition of Otoko, a 12-seat Japanese sushi restaurant within the hotel.

A Tour of South Congress Hotel

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The city’s skyline, a variegated mix of traditional and modern, tells a story of our evolution from small political city to connected multi-cultural hub. The style of Austin’s landmark hotels not only align with the era in which they were born, but in the community whose needs they must now fulfill. The future Austin will certainly be different, but hopefully the individuality and independence of the people we celebrate remains in the forefront.


Writing: Rachael Genson – @rmgenson
Images: All Images Courtesy of Respective Hotels

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