FAREWELL AUSTIN & BIENVENIDOS HAVANA
Woke up yesterday and had a serious case of The Monday Blues. The dark overcast Austin morning did not help either so getting vertical was the most difficult task. I had mapped by morning out and knew where I wanted to grab coffee and breakfast so it was time to kiss South Congress Hotel farewell.
So I read about the cutest coffee cart in downtown Austin called Lucky Lab Coffee Company. They adore animals and a certain percentage of funds from their coffee and pastries support lab rescues in town. With it being national pet day I thought perfect!! You know me and my love for national anything days!!! But we could not locate it. Huge bummer. We then went to the ever so charming Josephine House that I had discovered on the gram of a Brooklyn Photographer I follow Nicole Franzen. Her feed is so gorgeous so I highly recommend a follow here. She will add so much beauty to your day !
And Gasp, Josephine House is closed for a private party sadly. So Strike 2 for Sam. At this point a non-caffeinated Lin is getting tres grumpy. A hungry flustered Sam is feeling defeated and emotional. I remember seeing lots of great things come out of Elizabeth Street Cafe in my insta feed so U-turn...and we are now making progress. I can see that someone has already photographed and published there just minutes before so no private party or weird hours. We are in the clear!!
Elizabeth Street Cafe is a charming outpost offering French breakfast bites & creative Vietnamese plates. They serve Stumptown Coffee, exotic teas, and they have national newspapers. I am instantly in love with everything ESC has to offer!
I have a hard time deciding between the breakfast Banh Mi , The Singapore Noodles, Or The Crispy Vermicelli Cakes. And I also need a chocolate croissant because the waitress says they are the best in the world! And come on, I have to know for certain. Lin and I share the croissant and go with The Crispy Vermicelli Cakes with a delish ginger pork sausage, fresh farm over medium eggs ( i love my eggs runny..Lin is a well-done egg kinda man so compromise has to be made here) & an herb and radish salad. The mint is just delightful with the dish and adding some Sriracha just made it mind blowing!! The French press was delightful and I give it 5 stars!
It is now time to smooch Austin farewell and continue our journey. On the way out I see this and yes Willie you have my vote !!
I am giddy with anticipation to finally stay at Austinite Liz Lambert's San Antonio property so the hour drive seems like 10. You can read more about why she is always my #wcw in this post here. I do not know much about San Antonio other then Sea World, The River Walk, and Fiesta Texas...I had a lot of family here when I was younger so our family reunions were hosted here. And now I just know their basketball team is always throwing my basketball team out of The Playoffs so when San Antonio is mentioned, I just remember various forms of heart ache . BUT OMG Hotel Havana and Ocho....I am so ready to meet you !
San Antonio’s Havana Hotel is not one of those uppity, gilded five-star accommodations with kiss-ass service that prompts a tip for every finger lifted; it’s not a new state-of-the-art construction boasting the latest in LEED certification; and it’s not a place brimming with over-the-top amenities enticing you to never leave the property. This lack of pretension is precisely it’s allure.
Now don’t get me wrong; a stay at the Hotel Havana affords plenty of perks, the most enticing of which are the comfy, stay-in-bed-all-day beds and a virtual artistic museum of Cuban antiques around every corner. (And let’s not forget the retro mini-frig (the pastel pink SMEG may just have to come with me ) in each room stocked with an array of local and international food and drink items,( the mexican gum and De La Rosa's remind me of my child hood) not to mention a Havana t-shirt, a stuffed monkey and a Cuban Straw hat which I greedily snatched up in the lobby . Pretty sure I do not want to see that bill but Hey when in Havana ! We are also welcomed with some ice cold Texas beer and the wall mounted beer opener is very handy !
The charm of this hotel is in its layers of history. Originally built in 1914 as a hotel residence by a local grocer, the hotel has changed hands numerous times over the past century, at times receiving a breath of new life into the grand Mediterranean Revival building as a secluded destination along the far reaches of San Antonio’s Riverwalk banks. Perhaps that new life has never been so vibrant, intriguing and magnetic as today.
Managed by her hotel company Bunkhouse Management, the Hotel Havana is a boon for the city of San Antonio. It attracts a new sort of urban-chic traveler rather than the usual corporate conference-goer or textbook tourist out for the watered down show-circuit of the Alamo, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Wax Museum, Seaworld and overpriced Tex-Mex on the Riverwalk—a sad cliché this beautiful cultural town has come to resemble.
If you’ve ever stayed at any of the other Bunkhouse properties, you’ll recognize a similar style in the baby sister of Austin’s hip Hotel San Jose and Hotel Saint Cecillia and Marfa’s El Cosmico as delightfully similar in its effort to stay true to an eccentric-yet-tasteful Lambert-esque sensibility. Yet Havana is decidedly unique in its look and feel. You’ll find vintage antiques and furniture blended with a few additions of brightly colored contemporary pieces outfitting the 27 rooms and suites, but these details are modest, if not Spartan, in each bed and living area.
In an odd way, the décor is a sort of luxury-meets-poverty theme with plush beds and linens packaged in ornate antique bed frames offset by rickety old dressers or chests, one rusted nail away from losing a piece of trim. Beautiful white-tiled bathtubs with new and shiny European-style handheld shower and faucet fixtures dominate the sizable bathrooms, contrasted with a single dangling light bulb and a simple, old vanity mirror stained and cracked from years of wear and tear. It’s as if these little touches are intended to guide you to the bare white-washed walls, in an effort to focus your thoughts on the hotel’s Cuban inspiration, a place riddled with political volatility but bold in cultural soul.
Amidst these rather disparate themes, somehow it all melds together beautifully in an inviting, unobtrusive refuge dynamic with character. This is Lambert’s forte. She has a penchant for historic properties in need of a little TLC and an impeccable eye for detail that transforms old, forgotten knick-knacks and furniture into sparkly new accessories with modern flare. She’s drawn international recognition for her pioneering style and spirit with the contemporary-chic Hotel San Jose, the vintage rock-n-roll Hotel St. Cecila, and the quirky El Cosmico, which made camping cool for even the staunchest of outdoor adventure-phobes.
And while the hotel is a desirable destination in and of itself, its adjoining bar and restaurant, Ocho Lounge, sets its own pace with magnetic appeal as well. Ocho boasts two separate spaces: a dark and alluring candle-lit basement bar beneath the hotel with velvet-covered furniture and walls washed in deep gray paint, as well as a bright and airy atrium-style bar along the river side of the hotel with glass-paned walls framed in bright blue hues. The long and narrow locale is a vintage décor masterpiece in itself, but even better are the food and drink menus designed by Austin’s own Larry McGuire and Lou Lambert. Latin tortas, Cuban sandwiches, pork pozole and chorizo con queso pepper the menu. (Huitlacoche quesadillas and the bright and citrusy shrimp and crab campachena are must-haves.) And do not forget the churros !
Signature cocktails offer a twist on old classics. The Hemingway Daiquiri, a smooth blend of rum, lime, grapefruit and a bit of coconut served ‘up’ in a martini glass puts to shame the modern version of sweet and syrupy frozen concoctions served in hurricane glasses with umbrellas. The Havana margarita is a must and I seriously had the best Paloma I have ever had in my life. Tulsa cannot seem to make a good Paloma for me. And they’re all best enjoyed to the background tunes of visiting musicians including regular visitor, Alejandro Escovedo.
Ocho may offer a festive nightlife, but it also makes for a welcome place to begin your day. Though you can certainly select from an in-room menu of Latin-inspired breakfast items, I am going to stroll down to Ocho, take a seat at one of the quaint little tables and savor a bowl of steel cut oatmeal with piloncillo and berries along with a basket of griddled flour tortillas with blackberry butter and local honey with a rich cup of Cuban coffee. I will report on that later ! I can hardly wait !
Having lingered at the Havana Hotel all day I have to say that Liz Lambert’s decision to turn her attention to San Antonio was a blessing. This is a town for Texas to watch. It’s slowly undergoing an urban renaissance with the addition of the Culinary Institute of America and multi-phase projects at the old Pearl Brewery hosting San Antonio’s premier farmer’s market as well as chef-driven restaurant concepts from the likes of nationally-acclaimed (and San Antonio native) Andrew Weissman and a whole host of local retail boutiques such as a Latin-inspired kitchen store from celebrated cookbook author, Melissa Guerra. The King William District and near the South Presa area, local art is king and new restaurant concepts such as the local-food driven Monterrey are beginning to turn heads.
This combined with boutique spots such as the Havana Hotel are prompting many outsiders—including myself—to dig deeper into what else the sprawling Alamo City may have to offer. But will I become a Spurs Fan....yeah right !!!! Not a chance.
PS: Highly recommend strolling around! So many beautiful buildings and highly recommend the round trip ticket on the river boat ! You can see everything you need to do then make your plan !
We adore you Ocho and Hotel Havana ! We cannot wait to visit again !
Get Hotel Havana ready here !