Inside Look: The Austin Motel

An offbeat Texas original gets a stylish refresh—and stays wonderfully weird

Photo: Nick Simonite

When news broke last year that the Dean family, who’ve owned and operated the Austin Motel since 1993, were selling, locals were nervous. Would developers Greenfield Partners keep the funky spirit of the South Congress motor court? Yes, thankfully. The group tapped the talented Texas hotelier Liz Lambert—who has five additional properties in her portfolio, including two, Hotel San José and Hotel Saint Cecilia, within walking distance—to update and renovate the circa-1938 motor court. They also pledged to preserve the motel’s bulbous red-and-white neon sign—a popular photo-op for tourists and locals. “We tried to keep the casual feel and the playful spirit that have made the hotel special without being kitschy or theme-y,” Lambert says of the redesign. “Everything flowed from the sign and from the time periods [in the hotel’s history] that were meaningful to me—1930s for molding and detail, 1950s for color schemes, and 1980s for pop art. To be honest, we didn’t change all that much.”

Photo: Nick Simonite

A guest room.

Click here to see photos of the newly renovated Austin Motel.

Before the revamp, each of the motel’s forty-one rooms was done up in a different style. Lambert streamlined the look with white linens and walls and red vinyl-tufted beds, inspired by the motel’s iconic signage. In an homage to that eclectic design past, however, she lined one wall in each guestroom in a different funky wallpaper and added vintage art and silkscreen music posters. “We found this beautiful paper by Voutsa that pays perfect tribute to the legacy of the crazy walls that were beloved by everyone who’s ever stayed there,” Lambert says.

The property’s classic kidney-shaped pool remains, but new red-and-white midcentury-inspired lounge chairs and cheerful retro umbrellas cluster around the edge. When you need a break from the heat, cool off at the just-opened patio bar, Fine Foods, and sip on sangria or punch, such as the Ann Richards’ Revenge, made with rum, apricot syrup, and pineapple and lime juices. At Jo’s Burger Box, adjacent to the motel, order an all-American burger with fries or onion rings. (There’s a veggie burger option, too. This is Austin.) Forgot your pool float? Pop into Bodega, the lobby-meets-general store, and pick up an inner tube or fill a cooler with drinks and snacks to take back to your room.

Photo: Nick Simonite

The pool at the Austin Motel.

Or just relax and consider extending your stay. With rates as low as $125, an extra night at the Austin Motel won’t break the bank.

>Click here to see photos of the newly renovated Austin Motel.