Architecture & Lodging
2009 Readers Poll
2009 Critics Picks
Best Bathroom

Although we admit the ladies' room – with faux candlescapes, ice and rose petals in the sinks, and sumptuous art adorning the walls – is schmancier than the men's, other restaurant rest stops have nothing on the water closets at Vivo. What's that saying? "Don't pee where you eat"? There's an exception to every rule, and this is it. Table for one in the ladies' room!

Vivo
6406 N. I-35 #2343
512/407-8302
vivoaustin.com

Best Bed & Breakfast

Quaint it ain't; this B&B isn't your typical homey retreat. Instead, guests of this sleek and modernist boutique hotel are treated to tip-top design, delish foodstuffs, and some truly fantastic local art (by the likes of Margo Sawyer and Martha Gannon). It's just one more sparkly jewel in South Congress' crown.

Kimber Modern
110 The Circle
512/912-1046
www.kimbermodern.com

John Anderson

Best Cheap Motel

Skip the superchains; the Heart of Texas Motel has class and all the creature comforts many corporate motels don't offer. The Heart, which has weathered its fair share of hardships, including a highway expansion which forced then-owners Brenda and Jim Osbon to rebuild, is a favorite among frequent travelers to Austin. The winning formula: low prices + location + home-away-from-home service.

The Heart of Texas Motel
5303 Hwy. 290 W.
512/892-0644
www.heartoftexasmotel.com

Best Historic Site

It's been a long, hard 20 years for the biggest state capitol in the nation, but in many ways, these have been the most important. On Dec. 19, 1989, the State Preservation Board approved the first-ever master plan for the Capitol Complex, balancing the value of the original 1888 structure with the fact that it's still a working seat of governance. Capitol curator Ali James explained, "It's really important to make sure that the historic structure survives but also that everyone who works here is able to do what we're entrusted to do." Before then, the maintenance of the site had been haphazard, and the building was becoming overstretched for the needs of a modern Texas. It had taken the big fire of 1983 both to shock Texas out of the idea that the building simply needed looking after and to establish the board to care for it. 1983 was also the year that two Travis County Democrats, then-Sen. (now congressman) Lloyd Doggett and former Rep. Gerald Hill, established the Capitol view corridors, creating dedicated lines of sight along which no new buildings can obscure the dome. If it hadn't been for those decisions, there may not have been much of a Capitol to see or any way to see it. But it was the Nineties that was the decade of great restoration and renovation. James joined the board in 1991 as construction began in earnest of the massive underground Capitol Extension ("I got to see not only the building but also the big hole," she said). Since its completion in 1993, she has seen a massive number of changes in the Capitol Complex, all designed to relieve pressure on the original domed building and to preserve it for visitors and future users. James has been there to see "the exterior and interior of the Capitol get done, the grounds get done in '95 through '97, the Capitol Visitors Center restored, and then [the construction of] a little museum called the Bob Bullock." Now the big projects are complete, but the board and its craftspeople are charged with the complicated upkeep of a massive and historically significant structure in what James calls "the off-season" between sessions. Carpentry, plaster repairs, and grounds maintenance happen every day, all part of what she sees as "this constant love affair with the building to ensure it's presented in the best way possible for visitors and our occupants."

Texas State Capitol
1100 Congress
512/305-8400
www.tspb.state.tx.us

John Anderson

Best Hotel

Having fulfilled the promise of its dazzling re-debut as edgy SoCo upstart (has it been almost a decade?!), Hotel San José has settled sweetly into its status as an enduring icon of Austin style and hospitality. The transformed motor court and creative community were always intertwined; now, with its courtyard events and open lounge hours, it’s bloomed into an oasis that beckons locals and drifting sybarites alike.

Hotel San José
1316 S. Congress
512/852-2350
www.sanjosehotel.com

Best Hotel/Motel Pool

There are few contenders in this category that could even begin to approach the height of service, let alone the luxury of the pool, at the Four Seasons. The white Italianate balustrade, top-of-the-line patio lounges, the refreshing list of temptations and libations, the flawless attendants who will bring you whatever you desire as you lazily watch the slow progress of the Colorado River below …. Poolside and beyond, our Four Seasons turns first class into high art.

Four Seasons Hotel
98 San Jacinto
512/478-4500
www.fourseasons.com/austin

Best Hotel/Motel Staff

There are few contenders in this category that could even begin to approach the height of service, let alone the luxury of the pool, at the Four Seasons. The white Italianate balustrade, top-of-the-line patio lounges, the refreshing list of temptations and libations, the flawless attendants who will bring you whatever you desire as you lazily watch the slow progress of the Colorado River below …. Poolside and beyond, our Four Seasons turns first class into high art.

Four Seasons Hotel
98 San Jacinto
512/478-4500
www.fourseasons.com/austin

Best Motel

Long before the stretch of South Congress between Riverside and Oltorf was reincarnated as the revitalized and très funky SoCo we know and love today, there was the Austin Motel. Predating pretty much every other surviving business in the area – Earnest and Jennie Eck Stewart opened for business in 1938 – this most prized of all South by Southwest accommodations remains a year-round bastion of South Austin chic and retro cool. (Added bonus: You can hit the Continental Club's roof with a Lone Star if your windup's good enough!)

Austin Motel
1220 S. Congress
512/441-1157
www.austinmotel.com

Sandy Carson

Best New Building (Past Five Years)

Remember Palmer Auditorium? That green hulking mass of a dome was reborn at the beginning of 2008 as the Long Center for the Performing Arts, and Austin is all the better for it! After almost a decade of planning and financial calibration, the completed center looks architecturally toward the future while retaining elements of its former life (the "ring beam" and the repurposed green roof tiles). The Long Center currently boasts two official performance spaces, one large traditional proscenium and a smaller black box that lends itself to experimental and innovative performances. With a season that matches the grandeur of the new space, this distinctive and much-needed performance venue has been quickly embraced by Austinites.

Long Center for the Performing Arts
701 W. Riverside
512/474-5664
www.thelongcenter.org

Best Public Art

It began on Nov. 20, 2006, with 35 10-foot-tall fiberglass Gibson guitars, as well as 30 standard-sized showcase guitars. For the next year, the 10-foot giants would garnish Austin's popular streets, parks, restaurants, and landmarks. On Oct. 17, 2007, all of the celebrity-sponsored or -decorated guitars went up for bid, pumping $589,000 into the music, arts, and soul of our city: The Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the Austin Museum of Art, American YouthWorks, and the Austin Children's Museum all benefited from the GuitarTown public art project.

Austin GuitarTown
Penn Field, 3601 S. Congress Ste. G-400
www.austinguitartown.com

Todd V. Wolfson

Best Sign

Long before the stretch of South Congress between Riverside and Oltorf was reincarnated as the revitalized and très funky SoCo we know and love today, there was the Austin Motel. Predating pretty much every other surviving business in the area – Earnest and Jennie Eck Stewart opened for business in 1938 – this most prized of all South by Southwest accommodations remains a year-round bastion of South Austin chic and retro cool. (Added bonus: You can hit the Continental Club's roof with a Lone Star if your windup's good enough!)

Austin Motel
1220 S. Congress
512/441-1157
www.austinmotel.com

Best Window Display

Like some mad, glorious, shock-couture hybridization between Edith Head and Peter Lorre, Blackmail's window displays are twice as noir as Alan Ladd on a Veronica Lake bender and three times as much fun as The Postman Always Rings Twice. Blame the inherent "come hither and fork over the greenbacks" mise-en-scène for your diminished bankroll, you sap, but don't forget rule No. 1 of femmes fatales and fatal fall guys everywhere: Dead men don't wear plaid!

Blackmail
1202 S. Congress
512/804-5881
www.blackmailboutique.com

Todd V. Wolfson

 
2009 Intro
Readers: Arts & Culture

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