WHY A MOTEL IS THE STAR OF AUSTIN’S HOTEL SCENE RIGHT NOW

4 -min. read

Austin gets a lot of play in the spring during South by Southwest, but looking at our Master List of Hotel Openings recently, we noticed quite a bit of hotel action happening there throughout the year — and, let’s face it, the summer and fall are probably better times to enjoy the city without the tech crowds tweet-ranting about the lack of Uber.

So, what’s new? The summer sees three well-known brands opening up Austin outposts, including Aloft Austin Downton and Element Austin Downtown, both opening July 27. Then, in September, along comes Fairmont Hotel Austin. We don’t have to explain Aloft and Element, since their properties are pretty consistent despite location—although we do like the look of the outdoor terrace at this shared location on East 7th Street. Obviously the Fairmont is a higher-end option, and it’s a brand new build in a shiny 37-storey tower. In other words, it’s a big hotel, with 1,048 guest rooms and suites. It’s connected to the Austin Convention Center.

[Photo: Nick Simonite]
What’s interesting about the Austin scene, however, is that this year’s unique opening actually belongs to a ‘motel’. Once upon a time, ‘motel’ meant a generic roadside room for a quick stop on a long drive, and was the preferred setting of seedy on-the-road room scenes in indie movies. But the new iteration of the Austin Motel reinterprets the word as something both simpler and much more textured than any of the aforementioned brands are offering in their more expensive rooms. (Perhaps it was bound to happen—hostels have been hipsterised, motels had to come next.)

Austin Motel rooms [Photos: Nick Simonite]
The Austin Motel has been around since 1938, but this March it debuted a new look courtesy of Liz Lambert’s company Bunkhouse, which took over the quirky property and turned it into an even cooler-looking destination for the modern traveler. The original midcentury architecture is an ideal palette for Lambert’s colorful, playful aesthetic, and the 50s style pool conjures up Palm Springs-esque parties and lazy afternoons. The 41 rooms have custom vinyl beds (their design a nod to the iconic motel sign), classic push-button phones and vintage silkscreened music posters.

Austin Motel lobby store and courtyard [Photos: Nick Simonite]
We love the look of the patio bar, Fine Foods (heeeey, frozen drinks), the party-light-strung courtyard, and the general store/check-in area, Bodega, where you can pick up kitschy-cool souvenirs along with snacks and drinks to take back to your room. There’s also a food trailer set-up called Jo’s Burger Box.

Outside the lobby and poolside at Austin Motel [Photos: Nick Simonite]
Even better, the motel just launched some fun cultural programmes, including water aerobics classes, DJ sets and happy hours. This week, until June 11, you can also catch the #KreweTinyHouse at Austin Motel for a visit from New Orleans. It’s a good chance to see the tiny house craze in person and perhaps pick up a new pair of shades. (The #KreweTinyHouse is “an exploration of retail minimalism” and a mini of an iconic NOLA shotgun home.)

Lobby at Hotel San José [Photo: Allison V Smith]
The good news is, if you dig the Austin Motel’s new vibe, there’s more where that came from in the Texas capital. Lambert’s company Bunkhouse also has sister properties in this South Congress area—Hotel San José, whose 40 rooms also come from an old roadside motor court hotel past; and Hotel Saint Cecilia, which has just 14 rooms in a Victorian home from the 1880s (we dig their blue rooms). Both properties also have lush outdoor spaces and distinct designs inside that will have you taking copious #homeinspo notes.

See you in Austin, y’all.

Suite and poolside at Hotel Saint Cecilia [Photos: Nick Simonite]
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Rebecca Wallwork
Rebecca Wallwork is a writer based in Miami Beach, although you’ll also find her checking out the newest hotels in New York City. She is a former contributing editor to HotelChatter, and loves dogs and books as much as she does hotels.

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