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The Standard Hotels, owned by hotelier André Balazs, purchased a 51% stake in the Austin-based Bunkhouse Group of hotels, which might seem a little random to hospitality fans unfamiliar with the Texan properties.
Until you actually visit them, that is.
Bunkhouse operates Hotel Havana in San Antonio; Hotel Saint Cecilia, Hotel San Jose and neighboring Jo’s coffee shop in Austin; and the wildly inventive little vintage trailer camp, El Cosmico, in Marfa.
Considered the hottest rooms in Austin during the annual South by Southwest tech/music/film festival, the two hotels in the Texan capital are both located in the artsy South Congress area across the Colorado River from downtown. Area restaurants include the retro cafe at the Austin Motel and the bright yellow shipping container-housed Burro Cheese Kitchen.
Hotel San Jose consists of 40 raw concrete bungalows and motel roms with arid grounds pocked with agave plants, and iron and wire balconies draped in native vines and assorted greenery. There’s a small pool and inner courtyard noticeably un-decorated, and a crowd of creative types with a lot of beards, tattoos and boots. Old blues concert posters cover the wall throughout the little lobby, next to a tiny bar with no seats that looks like a kitchen pantry in Dwell.
The laconic Texan desert design vibe dovetails with the creative energy at The Standard properties in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. The Bunkhouse hotels are very much an artistic expression of owner Liz Lambert, who left her native roots in Texas as a young girl to become a big city prosecutor in Manhattan, before returning to Austin to build hotels.
“I think our guests come away inspired,” said Lambert in our Q&A with her last year. “It’s a real chance for people to kind of get out of their day to day life, and you know, travel someplace where there’s less clutter and really beautiful gardens. I think it gives you a second to step aside.”
A block down the street from Hotel San Jose, you turn right at Academy and walk up the hill into a heavily treed residential neighborhood. A little neon sign and gated driveway welcome you to Hotel Saint Cecilia, which is really a house pretending to be a hotel. Located on the driveway, the bar has large brown leather couches with a fun mix of polished people you’d expect to see sipping lattes at The Standard East Village bistro on a Tuesday morning.
The bar at Hotel Saint Cecilia is private, open only to guests, members and wayward writers seeking an exception. Adjacent, there’s a long lawn and a huge oak tree with limbs extending to a discreet pool hidden behind hedges.
There are really only half a dozen hotel groups operating today at this level worldwide—Ace, The Standard, Bunkhouse, Unlisted Collection, Singita and Grupo Habita, where every property pushes new boundaries and every hotel offers a different guest experience.
The fact that two of them are merging makes sense as long as Lambert keeps creative control and Balazs keeps his hands off, which according to this Wall Street Journal story, he will. Hopefully, The Standard Hotels’ influx of cash will lead to new Bunkhouse boites beyond the Texas border.
Greg Oates covers tourism and hospitality development.