It’s a nice day in Austin. The temperature is just flirting with 80 degrees, there are a few scattered clouds in the Texas-blue sky, and there has been just enough time spent sunbathing that a dip in the pool becomes necessary. The pool deck has been piping in upbeat pop, rock, and country for much of the afternoon, but once slipped underwater the cool sounds of a Bach cello suite transfigure the day from one of vibrant energy into a spearmint-cool aura of existential calm.
Such is the power of the Hotel Van Zandt to provide impressionable, memorable moments in a city that sells itself as being an escape from the ordinary. Austin is also a city that can never seem to have enough hotel rooms to support explosive growth in commerce and tourism, and the opening of the 319 room hotel in November 2015 near the convention center and the popular nightlife of Rainey Street could not have been more welcome.
New Texas Cool oozes from all corners of area-typical leather-and-hardwood lobby with plenty of accents that pay homage to Austin’s self-styled position as the national seat of live music. Chandeliers seem to reminisce of a brass section, while vinyl record players take up residence in both the Kimpton-standard Living Room area and in select suites. The wall of the Living Room also boasts a gramophone with a flock of birds fashioned from vintage vinyl records flying out of the horn.
Hospitality commences even before check-in, as waiting guests are offered bottled water or cold Tejas beer while they wait. The Living Room also hosts complimentary evening beer, wine, and margarita happy hours, as well as coffee and tea available during the morning hours (there are no in-room coffee makers, which housekeeping must certainly appreciate even if coffee-before-shower types may not).
Rooms are Texas-sized and offer good views of the city or the lake. Most do not have bathtubs, but the spa rooms that do have magnificent tubs, some of which also enjoy a view of the lake. There are also several categories of suite, the highest of which come pre-stocked with a selection of beverages. Several others have vinyl record players and a selection of records, while at least one also has a piano. The charm continues with monogrammed carpet and, window seating, plenty of outlets, and boot jacks for weary cowboys kicking up their hooves after a long day.
A first for a Kimpton Hotel, the Hotel Van Zandt has a Director of Music who curates the music for public spaces, but who also works with groups, meetings, and banquets to create a playlist that is tailored for their event. The program has been successful so far, and Kimpton is planning to implement a similar position or service type at other hotels.
Also notable at the hotel is the restaurant, Geraldine’s, which offers seating both indoors in a vaguely nautical themed space with cantilevered wood ceilings with rows of bulbs reminiscent of light strings over an open patio, and outdoors on the pool deck. There’s also the Writer’s Lounge indoors where local musicians are welcome to come strum a guitar and write songs while enjoying cocktails such as the Muddy Waters, a combination of cold brew coffee and cognac, or any number of other house-invented or classic cocktails.
Meals at Geraldine’s make the restaurant a destination unto itself. Tacos consisting of smoked Hamachi with candied garlic, Thai tomatillo sauce and cilantro in a gossamer-thin taro shell have a tendency to haunt – at least one patron examiner.com spoke with was an instant convert who returned the very next evening for an even larger order. Other small plates include a sumptuous take on traditional hush puppies, country bread served in a drippy melted raclette, grilled carrots in a delightfully soulful mole, and an earthily umami cassoulet with spicy lamb merguez.
Larger protein dishes certainly don’t disappoint; a lumptuous sumptuous NY Strip Loin, which comes seasoned to perfection and sliced into bites alongside housemade cheddar “tots” and an absolutely unbeatable mushroom fondue was certainly a highlight.
Austin is in the middle of a hotel boom. The JW Marriott Austin, Westin Austin Downtown, and Hotel Granduca Austin were notable openings in 2015. There’s a 1000+ room Fairmont under construction a block away from the Hotel Van Zandt, and the hotel development pipeline for the city is as crowded as I-35 that snakes through town.
But one thing is certain: there’s nothing to match this charming little boutique hotel with engaging staff and a breathtaking view of the lake.
Accommodations and some meals were furnished by the Hotel Van Zandt in preparation for this story.