Sometimes it's hard for outsiders to fit in here—especially when said newcomers are big hotel chains. Oh, they might make a halfhearted attempt, throwing some silkscreens of longhorns or guitars on the walls. But for those who care about how the city presents itself when welcoming visitors, such pandering will not stand.
Boutique hotels in general, and Hotel Van Zandt more specifically, do a lot to heal the pain caused by that sort of ahistorical, everybody-knows-this-is-nowhere atmosphere that pervades so many of the new, high-rise hotels here.
Opened in November 2015, the Van Zandt is run by Kimpton, a national hospitality group, and was designed by Mark Zeff, who is based in New York. But its owners and developers, JMI Realty, made sure the space is imbued with the spirit of its inspirations—Isaac Van Zandt, The Republic of Texas ambassador to the United States, and his great-grandson, the legendary singer and songwriter Townes Van Zandt—as well as a sense of the value the city has placed on musicianship.
The value it places on Austin's musical legacy and creativity pervades the hotel, perhaps a little ironically located in the Rainey Street neighborhood, which is more about eating and drinking than live performance. It hosts live performers 365 days/week in its glowy, cozy restaurant bar, Geraldine's. During SXSW, Geraldine's will continue that musician-friendly policy rather than packing the stage with showcases. It provides a quiet, lovely sitting area for musicians it calls the Writer's Lounge rather than just "backstage." Even the background music is curated according to the area and time of day it's playing.
The ways in which Zeff has incorporated that sensibility into the hotel's decor is meticulous without being literal, paying homage not only to its namesakes but the Hill Country seen out the windows. It's all interpreted through a rich palette, offering not spare, minimalist West Texas homage but an Austin interpretation of the lush life, pushing the bombast, but never going over the top.
↑ The hotel's spacious lobby and lounge areas feature light fixtures made from horned instruments, lighting fixtures made from stage lights, and "birds" made from vinyl records, by everyone from Puccini to the Guess Who, with, yes, some Townes Van Zandt in the mix.
↑ Conference and special events rooms carry out the theme and design palette, with a glorious, peacock blue bringing drama to the largest rooms, while others veer into rustic, writer's cabin territory.
↑ Rooms, views, and huge tubs from which to contemplate the Colorado River aka Lady Bird Lake
↑ Geraldine's, where the hotel books music every day of the year.
↑ Located in the bustling Rainey entertainment district, the Hotel Van Zandt manages to feel small-scale and tucked away.