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See Austin Motel’s rad upgrades, revealed during SXSW

Iconic local travel lodgings get bold new look

Austin Motel sign with a marquee that says “Let Love In”
Austin Motel on South Congress
Nick Simonite (all photos)

When word came down in May that the Austin Motel on South Congress Avenue had been sold, there was initially a little concern from some quarters.

The hotel, which truly deserves the overused appellation “iconic,” had operated as a family run business on the strip since 1938 and was legendary for its quirky décor, unique atmosphere, and rates that stayed reasonable while those around it skyrocketed.

Luckily, though, the hotel was purchased Greenfield Partners, which had previously purchased Liz Lambert’s groundbreaking San Jose hotel on South Congress, chose her hospitality group, Bunkhouse, to manage the property, with Lambert herself overseeing the renovations.

Lambert, whose original foray into the industry was a forward-thinking renovation of Hotel San Jose, at the time a run-down motor court, has worked through Bunkhouse to realize a number of hospitality projects with a unique, now-recognizable design sensibility: Hotel Saint Cecilia and a new project off South Congress, Hotel Havana in San Antonio, Marfa's El Cosmico, Hotel San Cristobal in Mexico.

Lambert and Bunkhouse brought that sensibility to the Austin Motel, updating its 41 rooms in trademark, loosely modernist style with Western touches and capturing the casual, fun vibe of the beloved site’s past.

Hotel room with king-sized bed, bright orange puffy headboard and bed frame, bright orange and red wallpaper in lip pattern, a red landline telephone shaped like lips on a white nightstand, and pale clay tile floors. Nick Simonite

The refurbished hotel reopened during SXSW, co-hosting a series of panels with booking rooms through app One Night March 10-14, the first four days of the festivals.

Nick Simonite

The group kept such beloved and historic features as its distinctive signs and kidney-shaped pool, to which it added a bar. (The group will also host public performances and events in and around the pool, continuing to tap into the local creative community (including its sometimes brilliantly off-kilter side.)

Rooms now feature custom vinyl tufted beds—a gesture toward the iconic sign—along with golden, wall-mounted wood desks with burgundy laminate tops, 1950s-inspired seating, quirky wall robe hooks by Eric Trine, classic push-button phones, and vintage silkscreened music posters. Rates start at $125/night.

The lobby space now contains a travel store/gift shop and offers refreshments for sale. While the Snack Bar, the diner that formerly occupied the attached space, has been closed, the space is being renovated for a new restaurant.

The hotel’s redesign also included collaborations with several local vendors, including landscaping by Mark Word Design, the pool bar by Jack Sanders and Design Build Adventure, and custom woodwork by Enabler.

Snack Bar Is Closing, Marking More Change for South Congress [Eater Austin]