The Austin Chronicle

Holiday In Town

Bed, Breakfast, and a Whole Lot More

By Wayne Alan Brenner, May 26, 2000, Features

Hotel San Jose

1316 S. Congress, 78704

Ah, the sound of one guest sighing.

Suppose Edward Hopper, that frequent chronicler of what elegance natural light and structured space can achieve, was reincarnated as a Buddhist monk. And suppose that this monk was commissioned to paint his idea of the perfect monastery. Now imagine a group of investors checking out the image and having a reaction like this: "Hey, cool, now let's build the thing. Only ... let's make it a hotel!"

Well, the "group" of investors is actually one woman: Liz Lambert, former lawyer and live-music-friendly local. And the structural bit of heaven we're imagining is the modern version of the restored Hotel San Jose at 1316 South Congress, right across the street from the Continental Club.

The buildings are design firm Lake/Flato's magnificent, olive-green reconsideration of the 1936 originals, and they manage to create a feel that's both retro and thoroughly up-to-the-minute. All the interior floors are polished, untinted concrete, sparsely interrupted by sisal rugs. The walls are white and bare save for vintage Austin music posters, tastefully framed. The furnishings are the sort of beautiful objects you might glimpse in Architectural Digest -- a lot of fine wood, a lot of sturdy iron -- and are arranged to a point just short of where minimalism becomes a lack. There's always just enough of everything: just enough long-leaf pine planks supporting the bed's relaxo-cumulus of a mattress, just enough size to the paper-shaded light fixtures hanging from the high ceilings, just enough chrome gleaming among the bathroom's clinically white tiles, just enough color and curve to the chairs on the expansive balconies and patios. There is no clutter here; there is only beauty.

What there's more than enough of is space. There are 40 rooms available, and they range in size from standard to suite to grand suite, and these can be reserved in blocs (the Garden Suite, the Continental Suite), thereby accommodating entire teams of traveling tech workers or hip indie-film-jockeys. But the interior of any of these rooms, regardless of its relative size, could be taken as an answer to the question, "How much space and natural light are necessary for optimal comfort? Okay, how about a few extra square feet, just to be sure?" And the same holds true for the exterior, for the grounds of the hotel, except that there, a boutique-sized swimming pool and a generous orchestration of familiar and exotic botanicals were added to the equation.

God, they say, is in the details. This gorgeous place has so many of those heavenly details, that we dare to strip away grammar's more complex structure and simply enumerate a few: the bottles of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap in the bathrooms; the crisp white Egyptian cotton towels and bedclothes; the way the lounge and courtyard are swelled in the evenings by folks who come to partake of the sharp ambience and well-stocked beer bar; the friendliness of the staff; the DSL hookups to the Net in every room; even the heavy chains that guide rainwater from the corners of each roof's green gutters into stone-filled terra cotta pots below.

But what words or images would suffice, after all? You've got to book a room and experience this earthly paradise for yourself.


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