Despite the fact that Austin is frequently cited as the fastest-growing city in the United States, as well as being home to Dell, Whole Foods Market, South by Southwest and the flagship campus of The University of Texas, I have always found its roster of hotels to be surprisingly unimpressive. The Driskill, a Texas classic dating to 1886, has its admirers — I number among them, though I don’t feel quite able to give it my unequivocal endorsement — and upscale chains like InterContinental and W hotels are well-represented. And then there are the self-consciously hip places like Hotel San José. I had hopes for Hotel Ella, housed within a 1900 Greek Revival mansion, but ultimately, at the end of a second visit, I left disappointed.
January 2016 saw the debut of the 319-room Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt (named for the late Texas singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt), so on a recent trip to Austin I checked in for a two-night stay. It turned out to be one of those properties that has considerable merits but also serious downsides. When I arrived in the late afternoon, the receptionist was distracted and unable to give me her full attention. The large, open lobby-lounge seemed stylish and congenial, as did the adjoining Café 605. However, no porter was on hand to help carry my bag, and as I stood waiting for the elevator, the man next to me inquired mournfully to no one in particular, “Am I imagining things, or did that music just get even louder?”
My Queen Queen Spa Studio proved to be spacious but rather stark, with a large, well-appointed bath but little atmosphere. Dinner that evening at the hotel’s highly regarded Geraldine’s was enjoyable in many ways: My beet salad and wagyu beef were both delicious, and the staff were friendly and helpful. However, the experience was marred by a corporate hospitality event — name badges and all — that was taking place in the middle of the restaurant at the same time. I did not stay for the live music that was scheduled to begin at 9. The hotel’s pool deck is attractive, and its outdoor bar area is, I am told, an important dating venue for the movers and shakers of Austin’s high-tech industries. But ultimately the Van Zandt is unlikely to enthuse most Hideaway Report members.
Expansive public areas; attractive pool deck; excellent restaurant.
Patchy service; loud music in public areas; some rooms overlook Interstate 35.
The live music staged at Geraldine’s each evening has quickly become an Austin must-see.
Another recent addition is the 83-room South Congress Hotel, which opened in September 2015. A stylish property, calculated to appeal primarily, it would seem, to millennial music producers, it too is not without merits. Chief among them are the excellent American bar and grill Central Standard, helmed by chefs Michael Paley and Amanda Rockman, and the 12-seat Otoko Japanese omakase restaurant, where chef Yoshi Okai blends Tokyo-style sushi and Kyoto-style kaiseki into a distinguished (and ecstatically reviewed) tasting menu. My agreeably spacious Poolside junior suite came with attractive custom furnishings and a well-equipped bath, but the unadorned concrete pillars and ceiling struck me as bleak enough to provide a set for a remake of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.”
Helpful staff; distinguished restaurants.
Some aspects of the modernist design are bleak and depressing.
The South Congress neighborhood has numerous restaurants and some interesting boutiques.
So despite zealous research, I am no further forward. I recommend the 291-room Four Seasons Hotel Austin, which, while not one of that distinguished company’s most illustrious properties, is still extremely comfortable, with excellent steaks and seafood at TRIO, its principal restaurant. The hotel is currently undergoing an upgrade and renovation, which was the cause of a good deal of intrusive hammering and banging during my recent stay, but when the work is complete, it should be significantly enhanced.
Comfortable accommodations; well-trained staff; riverside location.
The atmosphere can seem rather corporate.
Current renovations are scheduled to be completed in summer 2018.
Finally, that leaves the 14-suite Hotel Saint Cecilia — named for the Roman martyr and patroness of musicians — the one boutique property in Austin that meets the standards that Hideaway Report members customarily expect. Centered on a renovated Victorian house and set on a quiet side street in the South Congress neighborhood, its bungalows and studios are quirkily elegant, with some providing amenities such as private gardens, outdoor showers and fire pits. The hotel has no restaurant, which is undeniably a drawback, and some people might find it a little too trendy for their tastes, but most guests, I suspect, quickly come to appreciate its tranquility, imaginatively appointed accommodations and consistently obliging staff.
Tranquil atmosphere; spacious and imaginative accommodations.
Lack of a restaurant.
Suite 4 has a living room, writing space and a private yard with an outdoor fireplace, seating area and porch.