A New Nest in Austin

Hotel Magdalena opens—with a buzzing new restaurant—as America’s first modern treehouse-like property of its kind

Photo: Nick Simonite

Hotel Magdalena. The city’s beloved Barton Springs and Lake Austin inspired the design of the central swimming pool overlooking downtown.

Nearly thirty years ago in 1991, Austin earned its reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World. Today, that slogan takes center stage at the newly opened Hotel Magdalena, located on Music Lane just one block from the main drag of South Congress Avenue. “The story of the hotel is the story of Austin—of live music, the outdoors, and relishing hot summers in our beloved rivers and creeks,” says Tenaya Hills, the Vice President of Design and Development at the Bunkhouse Group, which operates the venue. The 89-room property stands as the continent’s first mass timber boutique hotel—a modern-cool treehouse with engineered, prefabricated wood columns and beams connected by cross-laminated timber decking. Texas’s Lake Flato Architects worked with the British Columbia-based timber construction company StructureCraft on the design of four distinct buildings and exposed, elevated walkways.

photo: Nick Simonite
The lobby’s striking desk of unstained white oak tambor.

The site itself also has legacy. In the 1970s and 1980s, Willie Nelson owned fourteen acres here along South Congress Avenue, anchored by what was then the Terrace Motor Hotel and the neighboring Austin Opry House. Over the years, icons such as Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, and Lyle Lovett visited, and the local photographer Scott Newton captured their performances. Today, his images hang throughout the hotel. “Hotel Magdalena curated a fine slice of what I shot, back then when the music was fresh and new,” Newton says.

photo: Nick Simonite
The guestrooms feature original photographs of icons Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, and Willie Nelson, all taken locally by the photographer Scott Newton between 1971 and 1985.

A lush courtyard garden blooms aside the property’s new restaurant, Summer House on Music Lane. Its name pays tribute to a classic ritzy dining establishment in the Terrace Motor Hotel, where Willie Nelson’s older sister, Bobbie, played lounge piano in the sixties. Chef Jeffrey Hundelt, previously the culinary director at Austin spots Launderette and Fresa’s, runs the live-fire grill and open kitchen, serving standout grilled prawns, tuna crudo, and chicken with chimichurri, sweet potato, and cashew habanero aioli. Outside, the welcoming patio calls for a nightcap—try the crowd-pleasing, peppercorn honey-sweetened Freetail Old Fashioned, a nod to the free-tailed bats that swoop through Austin at dusk.

>See more photos of the Magdalena Hotel