Despite Austin’s self-professed wackiness, the city’s hotel scene is mostly a sea of cookie-cutter chain hotels. A rare exception is the funky Hotel San José, which opened about a decade ago in a restored motel.
Raising the city’s boutique quotient is the Hotel Saint Cecilia, opened in 2008 by the same hotelier, Liz Lambert. Named after the patron saint of music, the Saint Cecilia — which features turntables in every room and has an extensive library of vinyl records — is already a favorite of big-name musicians who swing into town to play on the city’s countless stages.
Tucked away on a residential street in South Congress, a trendy neighborhood just over Lady Bird Lake from downtown Austin. A short walk away are chic boutiques, restaurants and one of Austin’s oldest music halls, the Continental Club.
The hotel occupies a white-clapboard Victorian house and several bungalows, on a small estate with oak trees, cactuses and topiaries. Each of the 14 rooms is different, but they all have an eclectic mix of vintage furniture and edgy art, monogrammed sheets and those astronomically priced mattresses made by the Swedish company Hästens that start at $8,000. My room, Suite Three, was in the historic house; it was compact but comfortable, with 11-foot ceilings and ornate Victorian millwork painted glossy black. Cool design touches included a headboard upholstered in red mohair velvet, a Turkish kilim rug and a tufted leather sofa in pea-green. A psychedelic video, by the Marfa, Tex., artist Adam Bork, was installed in the nonworking fireplace. Other rooms have outdoor showers, screened porches and a piano.
Beautiful to look at, with a black penny-tiled shower, brass fittings and a bathtub. Toiletries include fig soap and other Côté Bastide products. Fancier items like an old-fashioned shave brush and Portuguese toothpaste are for sale. Small caveat: the shower floor angled slightly, sending water into the center of the room, soaking my socks.
Everything you’d expect: free Wi-Fi, iPod sound system, flat-screen television and DVD player. And plenty of pleasant surprises, like a lap pool lined with beanbag chairs and curvy deck chairs, free bicycles for exploring the city, and a guest lounge with a fireplace and creative cocktails at the bar. Best was the in-room minibar, with more than 40 items from around the globe, including Scottish shortbread, Dutch peppermints, three kinds of cheeses and Russian caviar accompanied by mother-of-pearl spoons.
A streamlined “breakfast in your room” menu is offered from 7 to 11 a.m., and includes a Gruyère omelet topped with truffle oil ($15); homemade scones served with fresh lemon curd and guajillo honey ($18) and a Bloody Mary made with fresh heirloom tomato juice ($14). My room had no table, so I ate in the sunny courtyard. Service was prompt, warm and friendly.
Rock-star style and Southern hospitality make a rare and beguiling combination. Everything about this hotel is thought out and well considered, from the plate of locally made sweets that greet you in your room to the handwritten note nearby. Studio rooms start at $295.
Hotel Saint Cecilia, 112 Academy Drive, Austin; (512) 852-2400; hotelsaintcecilia.com.