When I moved to Austin 25 years ago, South Congress was a seedy part of town. It was a place I drove through to get from my South Austin apartment to downtown. As I recall, there was a Nissan dealership, a few stores, a X Rated movie theater and people on the street doing, what appeared to be, things illicit.
Slowly and steadily the area transformed into the hottest tourist area in Austin. Two old motels, which back then could have catered to customers on an hourly basis, have been renovated into attractive and secluded alternatives to the typical corporate downtown hotels. But these places are small with a limited number of rooms.
Last year, the considerably larger South Congress Hotel, opened its doors. The low slung horizontal structure offers an ample 83 rooms but blends nicely into the street — no tall tower to destroy the character of the area. The casual and stylish interior balances modern and clean with textures and industrial. It’s the kind of complex and satisfying interior that’s not found in large chain hotels.
I’ve visited once before, but stopped in again. Both to get out of the relentless Texas heat, but to also enjoy an airy, open space that’s visually interesting. As a photographer who likes architecture and interior design, it’s always gratifying to see these places.
The ceiling seems a lot taller than I would expect looking at the modest exterior, but not ridiculously out of proportion. Things are scaled appropriately and horizontally like a 1950s interior. It has sort of a mid-century modern vibe. In another era, a smartly dressed Don Draper type might have felt comfortable here. But is 2016, we have hipsters with tattoos and t-shirts. This is Austin after all.
Parts of the South Congress Hotel seem like a large house with mismatched knickknacks that gives the impression of a collection, acquired over time. Contrast this to the industrially scaled Hilton, near the convention center. Their lobby is so large and impersonal, it feels like an extension of an airport.
Last month, when I was in Memphis, it took a few photos of the luxurious Peabody Hotel. As beautiful as that interior is, the South Congress Hotel is more my style. Casual instead of fussy. Architectural instead of ornate.
The Lobby Shop offers carefully curated items, little luxuries that don’t scream souvenir. Items that, I’m sure, fit into the lifestyle of the clientele who stays here. While I’m not a soaps and candles kind of guy, of interest were a few photography and design books. I’ll need to go back again, just so that I can browse.
There are bars, restaurants and stores tied to the property, tucked within the hotel and some that line the exterior. A couple of weeks ago, I posted photos of the courtyard. I took these photos during that same visit, with my handy Panasonic ZS50 travel zoom.
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