Ah Kimpton, you’ve become so corporate.  Such a great hotel chain ground down by middle management cost cutting and the boredom of crank turning.  Dang.  We remember the old days, yes we do.  They are never coming back.

Anyway, getting to Texas on United was not so bad even in double masks.  The flight was very sparsely populated, though it is a longish one.  Austin is a great city to visit.  Or is it a town?  Kind of hard to tell.  Here’s the story of our brief stay at Hotel Van Zandt.

The only pair of actual cowboy boots at the hotel when we were there happened to be ours.

First of all, IHG has forgotten everything about what NPS likes.  Just for the record, we like high floors, certain kinds of pillows, and rooms with no plastic showers.  We have also become accustomed to welcome notes from the GM, delicious amenities, sparkling water, and sometimes even a craft cocktail greeting us in the room from a barkeep hired by Jacques.  Not this time.  Even though the Kimpton twitter dwarf (they used to be fairies, but corporations) was given the heads up, not one bit of prep was done.  Kind of astonishing, really.

So NPS paid a pretty penny for an excellent king spa room with a view, and was given a plastic bottle of water at checkin by the Assistant Manager who had obviously not read our secret file in preparation for our arrival.  Hell, there probably isn’t a secret file anymore.

Room 701 is a great room style category.  But the floor?  Not a high one.  The amenities and water?  Nope. And the “lake view” is mostly a dusty construction site surrounded by homeless encampments.  Seriously.  Every city we’ve visited lately has a massive housing problem.  What is wrong with this country?

The bathroom was awesome.  Great tub (which we used a bunch) and a nice glass shower.

Not plastic


Tub with a view (that cuts both ways)


Sink area

The king size bed is surrounded by a bank of windows on two sides.  The view will one day be better.

Given our late arrival sometime just after 8pm, we headed for a drink to Geraldine’s on the fourth floor.  It was a Saturday night and the unmasked Texas crowd was dense.  After ordering an outstandingly made Negroni (what ice!  what ingredients!) we opted for dinner.  Dinner was delicious, service was smart and snappy, and all was well with the world.  There was a band.  They were OK.

Negroni featuring Botanist gin and Antica Formula vermouth…a house favorite


Behind the glass

Sadly the restaurant was not open for breakfast during our stay.  Instead there is a starbucks knockoff cafe on the ground floor with a microwave.  Not the sign of a great hotel, guys.  Frankly, the place feels more like a Marriott than a Kimpton.  No human touch and no magic.

Sunday was devoted to fun without a plan.  Brunch at Fixe was absolutely stellar.  Great Bloody Mary’s and cinnamon roll biscuits.  Fantastic food and friendly Texas service.  We took our time.

Bloody Mary of the highest caliber at Fixe


Hard to describe how delicious this was


The famous deviled eggs


Shrimp and grits with some garlic kale and a poached egg

In a great mood and in weather befitting Spring (60 degrees), we headed to South Congress for some idle shopping.  Our only real destination was Heritage Boot Company.  Though we got no pictures, we did manage to pick up a knife for my kilt and three pairs of handmade boots.  We even had a margarita of sorts with “Mr. Avocado.”  Great people, great boots, and a down home Texas vibe.  (Thanks Kimber.) NPS hears tell that once you buy one pair you are on a slippery slope to ten.  We shall see.

View down Congress toward the state house


Coffee and people watching at Jo’s Cafe

We did manage to singlehandedly support the American economy with our credit cards.  And then it was time for a margarita and some music at Half Step.  The margaritas are on tap.  We were served by Nick Cage himself.

And that band.  Three blind fellows joined by two sighted musicians and a heap of funk.  These were real Austin professionals.

Have a listen for yourself.



About the time we extracted we were late for our dinner reservation at Canje.  Dinner was excellent.  The jerk chicken was hotter than hell.  The drinks were fun.  The vibe was casual.

Seated at the bar (our choice)


An emergency clothespin


Jerk chicken that will blow your mouth off

Really it would be hard to ask for a better Sunday in Austin.

Monday was a work day with a working lunch at Qi.  Get the soup dumplings.

Part of the late afternoon meeting happened at the Proper hotel.  This place is interesting but just a little too artificial after an hour in the lobby.  The music loop may kill you if the extruded ice doesn’t.  Dinner was slated for upstairs at la piscina ceviches and fajitas.  Our hosts are enamored with their fajitas.  They were (as Sammy says) pretty not bad.

The highlight of the evening Monday night was a quick stop by the Roosevelt Room.  What a place.  Cavernous and somehow still intimate.  Superb cocktails served with whimsy and great care.  One of the top bars in the world for sure.  NPS had a paper plane (with a paper plane) and a Liberal.  Yup.  Amer Picon in the house.  We seem to have lost our party all night energy during the pandemic, especially after a full day of working in person.  So we’ll have to go back.  Thanks for the hospitality Justin.

The paper plane with a paper plane


Yet another emergency clothespin


The list is first class


A Liberal in Austin

Well, Austin, we will definitely be back.  We’ll probably buy some more Heritage boots.  We’ll definitely have a few more drinks at the Roosevelt Room.  But we’ll stay at the Driskill.  Three showerheads for the Hotel Van Zandt where you get what you pay for (and nothing more).

Austin, TX. You can’t help but think of live music of course…which can be found in the airport BTW. But there is old school elegance here too from the early days of the “Republic.” Well, elegance if you’re into spittoons.

Checkin is efficient, Texas-friendly, and slides in the upsell without even blinking a lash or ruffling a feather. That’s just what happens when you have a glass shower problem!

The Driskill Lobby screams cattle baron

The Driskill Lobby screams cattle baron

Where I'm Blogging From (apologies to Raymond)

Where I’m Blogging From (apologies to Raymond)

I found myself in a corner suite due to the glass shower issue. Accounting may be mad, but we’ll get it handled. 536 is the “bridal suite.” Must be the hot tub. So Texas cheerleader.

536. Corner balcony.

536. Corner balcony.

Outside looking good.

Outside looking good.

Of course it’s hot out since it’s Texas. But no so very. Only 85 today, which compared to the 105 I know from my High School days is downright cool. Sadly, the view from the balcony has changed somewhat since 1886.

Reality check on the view. About as awesome as downtown Austin gets though. This is not Buenos Aires Toto.

But we’re all about the bathroom on NPS. Marble. 1886. Plus a Texas cheerleader hot tub (cheerleader not included).

This shower no plastic has.

This shower no plastic has.

The powder room has his and her sinks (no hers and hers in TX!)

The powder room has his and her sinks (no hers and hers in TX!)

Three showerheads. Hot damn!

Three showerheads. Hot damn!

And then there is this (literally through glass).

And then there is this (literally through glass).

536 has a ceiling fan.

536 has a ceiling fan.

536 is a nice room, and rumored to be the best one. It could use an ipod player from this decade (nano no worky). But what it really needs is some outlets. Any outlets. The bedside tables have none. The TV dresser has none. There are no outlets. Better hurry up and post this before my mac dies.

When I came back from cocktail hour at the very interesting bar in the Driskill, there was a note, some sparkling water and some fruit waiting for me. Thanks!

Amenity and personal note. Nice touch Driskill.

Amenity and personal note. Nice touch Driskill.

Four very high showerheads for the Driskill (oh so close to five). Just goes to show you how spoiled we are…and addicted to our machines.

A workaday “Italian” dinner can be procured at Carmelos. Skip it. There have to be better places to eat in Austin!

Drinks at the speakeasy Midnight Cowboy were very well made. Old school with a west coast flare. We did get one experimental beverage but neglected to write down the recipe. The interior reminds me of Bourbon and Branch. In a twist, the bartender comes to your table with a trolley to make drinks.

Late night pretzel and some William Larue Weller at Easy Tiger seemed like a good idea at the time. Real bourbon.

Fleming’s Steakhouse is pretty straight down the Bell curve in steakhouse-land. Good meat. Butter heavy sides. But the wine list is pretty lame. It’s as if TX is trapped in the ’80s wine wise.

Half Step is a world class bar with very talented barkeeps. About the only complaint about our visit was that the band was great but WAY too loud. Had to yell to talk. Every old cocktail we ordered was made to perfection (sazarac, corpse reviver #2). Whitney Hobbs materfully triangulated a Paige Ellis as follows:
1.5 bourbon (whiney used dickel 8 yr, I would use something hotter)
.75 suze
.75 barolo chinato
stir down, serve up with a big ice cube (drape drink over cube), express orange peel and slip down the side.