In the last decade Liz Lambert* has undertaken the ambitious project of building Bunkhouse, a Texas hotel empire, and bringing the poured-concrete-and-succulents austere/luxurious aesthetics of, say, Los Angeles and Donald Judd, to the western part of Texas. Or at least the Bunkhouse empire has succeeded at making it look this way to T Magazine.
Specifically, the group now includes accommodations in Austin (Hotel San Jose and Hotel St. Cecilia), San Antonio (Hotel Havana), and Marfa (El Cosmico). New hotels are in the works for Austin and for Baja California Sur.
Lambert’s hotels are central to new waves of visits and immigration to these cities - at least they host scouting missions that sustain them. I mean this anecdotally - it was true for me - and without judgment, because I really have no idea how and why and where from the tons of people are flowing into Texas. Now.**
Just before I moved to London I spent enough time in Austin to make a few very lovely friends and several road trips, and to get a masters degree in a discipline that straddles digital collections, library science, and archival studies. My life has never felt stranger or more fleeting than when I was there.
And so in Austin, that sunny, baked, musical place, I was eminently weird, both about the trajectory of my life and about settling in to experience it. So in retrospect it’s unsurprising to me that I either stayed home, nose-to-laptop, furiously studying, or I went out. To Whole Foods... or to a hotel.
This tendency can partly be explained as visits to see visitors (everyone goes to Austin on vacation, for conferences, on road trips across the US) - of whom I guess I knew more than local people, especially during my first year in town. But I also sought hotels out because I like them. And they encouraged my belief I was not a resident, rather a stranger passing through.
When I needed to feel like I was in a big city again, I went downtown to the W. Everything there was as it is, I think, in any W Hotel: velveteen, lacquered, and a little bit cheesy; busy and rich; familiar.
But more often I wanted to believe I was in Austin, a part of Austin, and that I knew more than nothing about what it was like. So I made my way to South Congress and went to the San Jose for a cold drink on the well-shaded terrace. Or I sat out front at the curb, baking in the heat and sipping melty iced coffees.
That was where, in a spartan room with a low platform bed, I had stayed with my sister and her dog (hooray, Bunkhouse hotels welcome dogs!) before I moved to Austin. Imagine a little Ace Hotel, without the bunches of restaurants and oodles of staff attached. Of course I took the stationery and pencils*** with me, and finally used them up while I lived just across the river.
The San Jose embodied what I thought Austin was going to be like - chicly minimal, sort of affordable, overflowing with Topo Chico and rosé and cool-ly friendly people from all over the place, almost all of whom were clad in denim and cowboy boots. And so that's how it was for me, some of the time.
All I mean is, you should probably go.
**The current influx is not an especially new trend, I know from experience, as by now I’ve moved to Texas three times. But there are a lot of new people and a lot of new office buildings sprouting up, especially visible in small downtowns and low-lying skylines like Texan ones really still are.
***I don't know that I ever realized it, but they lend out typewriters too...