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2011ReadersArchitecture & Lodging

Best Affordable Motel
Habitat Suites

photo by Sandy Carson

Ecological awareness and green initiatives in a hotel? Come again? That’s what you’ll want to do again and again at Austin’s greenest home away from home. The folks at Habitat work tirelessly and spare no expense to provide affordable lodging free from the burdens of environmental abuses. Lush, green gardens and cozy rooms come together brilliantly at this one-of-a-kind hotel.

Habitat Suites, 500 E. Highland Mall Blvd., 512/467-6000, www.habitatsuites.com

Best Bathroom
W Hotel

photo by Sandy Carson

Like many trysts that begin in swank hotel lobbies, the experience of using the W’s bathroom ("Darling, call me WC!") is dimly lit, highly stylish, and, in the end, a purely physical act. Who could help but be seduced by the shades of black and gray, the gently throbbing music, and the elegant combination of stainless steel, concrete, and pure white ceramic? Please, don’t forget to wash up when you’re through; like a lipstick kiss on a cocktail napkin, the W emblem on every paper towel will remind you of your brief – but satisfying – affair.

W Hotel, 200 Lavaca, 512/542-3600, www.whotelaustin.com

Best Bed & Breakfast
Kimber Modern

This is not your traditional ducks-and-bunnies B&B. There are no antiques in the salon or calico cats on the porch, and there's no white picket fence. And we love it. This boutique accommodation is about modern architecture, midcentury sensibilities, and indulgent amenities – discreetly tucked a half-block from the heart of SoCo and perfect for a modern staycation.

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

Best Downtown View
Long Center for the Performing Arts

photo by Sandy Carson

Though the surreal, stark-white colonnade that surrounds the spacious City Terrace of the Long Center is a remnant of the auditorium that originally stood there, it has become a favorite framework through which to view the expanse of Downtown. From West Lake Hills to far East Austin, the view of the sparkling new spires as reflected in the waters of Lady Bird Lake is supreme. A fashion-shoot favorite, the City Terrace comes alive when lights and music enhance the dreamy view exponentially.

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

Best Historic Site
State Capitol

Remember the grade-school field trip when you made yourself dizzy twirling around under the Capitol Dome? Guess what? It's still fun to do, and it's free. Go unchaperoned this time, or show up for a free tour that includes some cool exhibits in the basement. While you're there, check out the portrait hanging above the bench in the old supreme court chamber. If that's not a portrait of a vampire, we don't know what is. And don't forget to make use of the lush landscaping on the Capitol grounds. After all, it belongs to you.

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

Best Hotel
Hotel San José

Down-home minimalism with a Texas twang, the Hotel San José is a "Best of Austin" Readers favorite for so many reasons. For some, it's the location in the heart of SoCo that attracts them; for others, it's the staff and the amenities. In fact, the pool at Hotel San José has won its own "Best of" for years on end. Whether surrounded by vintage butterfly chairs or peppered with floating gardenias and candles for special occasions, its temperament and temperature always strike the right balance. It's definitely the "Best of Austin" … and maybe even all of Texas.

Hotel San José, 1316 S. Congress, 512/852-2360, www.sanjosehotel.com

Best Hotel/Motel Pool
Hotel San José

Down-home minimalism with a Texas twang, the Hotel San José is a "Best of Austin" Readers favorite for so many reasons. For some, it's the location in the heart of SoCo that attracts them; for others, it's the staff and the amenities. In fact, the pool at Hotel San José has won its own "Best of" for years on end. Whether surrounded by vintage butterfly chairs or peppered with floating gardenias and candles for special occasions, its temperament and temperature always strike the right balance. It's definitely the "Best of Austin" … and maybe even all of Texas.

Hotel San José, 1316 S. Congress, 512/852-2360, www.sanjosehotel.com

Best Motel
Austin Motel

The – let's just call it what it is – phallic sign in the sky on South Congress is your beacon to the city's best place to kick your shoes off. 2011 marks year 73 for this iconic motel. The decor of its 41 rooms is always changing, each one sporting its own personality with a varied use of colors, murals, and antiques. Sadly, Dottye Dean, the owner of the Austin Motel, passed away in the spring. The successful West Coast opera singer took over the motel in 1993 when her mother died. It had fallen on hard times when Dean revitalized the motel and transformed it into a SoCo destination. Without her, SoCo wouldn't be the mecca it is today.

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

Best New Building (Past Five Years)
TIE: W Hotel; the Austonian

Austin's Downtown skyline is ever-changing, but two new buildings have rightfully caught our readers' attention and imaginations this year. The Austonian, the tallest residential building in Texas, cuts a sleek profile just north of Lady Bird Lake and boasts ground-level dining and drinking establishments that have attracted national attention. The W Hotel has done the same, bearing a strikingly modern sensibility both inside and out that inevitably turns heads. Taken together, these two additions to our urban landscape certainly signal that a new Austin has arrived.

The Austonian, 200 Congress, 512/623-3633, www.theaustonian.com

W Hotel, 200 Lavaca, 512/542-3600, www.whotelaustin.com

Best Public Art
'Play Me, I'm Yours'

photo by John Anderson

For a brief musical spell, if you will, this spring Austin was tuned to the sound of 14 pianos tinkling around Lady Bird Lake and our Downtown skyscrapers. Started in Birmingham, England, in 2008 by artist Luke Jerram, "Play Me, I'm Yours" was an interactive attempt to bridge gaps between people and create a tighter form of community. Jerram realized it often takes a catalyst to make strangers comfortable and believed a piano might break those boundaries. His plan has been a success, as 21 cities have either participated or plan to participate in this simple yet elegant project.

Art Alliance Austin, 816 Congress #1140, 512/609-8587, www.artallianceaustin.org

Best Sign
Austin Motel

The – let's just call it what it is – phallic sign in the sky on South Congress is your beacon to the city's best place to kick your shoes off. 2011 marks year 73 for this iconic motel. The decor of its 41 rooms is always changing, each one sporting its own personality with a varied use of colors, murals, and antiques. Sadly, Dottye Dean, the owner of the Austin Motel, passed away in the spring. The successful West Coast opera singer took over the motel in 1993 when her mother passed away. It had fallen on hard times when Dean revitalized the motel and transformed it into a SoCo destination. Without her, SoCo wouldn't be the mecca it is today.

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

Best Statue
Stevie Ray Vaughan

This bronze work by artist Ralph Helmick gives us the chance to see Stevie again in real life – serenely gazing southward, the Austin skyline at his back, pausing to rest a moment before continuing onward to that big blues club in the sky.

Stevie Ray Vaughan Statue, www.austintexas.gov

Best Trailer Park
Pecan Grove RV Park

photo by Sandy Carson

When we created this category, we figured most of you would weigh in on Austin's many commercial food trailer clusters – and many of you did. But this beloved in-town RV treasure took the prize. The park is home to many longtime monthly renters and offers a limited number of daily-use pads as well. Call way in advance (it's so old-school they don't even have a website). Pecan Grove is literally in a pecan grove – an old Austin respite smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Barton Springs Road's restaurant row. And since neighbor Shady Grove RV Park was mowed down to make way for condos a few years back, it's the last of its kind. Like the sticker on the purdy li'l Airstream that says "Keep Austin Nuts."

Pecan Grove RV Park, 1518 Barton Springs Rd., 512/472-1067

Best Window Display
Blackmail

With its inky ruminations and darkly provocative vignettes, Gail Chovan’s front window has long captivated our collective imagination. This year, with the added vision of artist/designer Aaron Flynn, Blackmail’s displays have assumed the look of surreal, dioramic postcards express-delivered by courier crows from Wonka Land. Equal parts commentary, confession, and couture, Chovan’s installations continue bringing us back to black.

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

2011 Intro
Readers: Arts & Culture
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