This review goes back to the Austin MegaDO, and to thank her for agreeing to come with me, I booked Megan and me a room at The Driskill Hotel and applied one of my Diamond suite upgrades. I originally thought I had a great deal, but that turned out to be because I booked the wrong date and woke up one morning to an email welcoming me to the hotel. Eventually it was sorted out, and even at the higher rate I think it was still worth the experience. I try to treat Megan whenever possible since she doesn’t travel nearly as often as I do.
Everything about The Driskill oozes old Texas oil money. It’s impossibly ornate, and even at just four floors has a massive presence at 6th and Brazos Streets. What surprised me after arriving is that the surrounding area doesn’t really match the character. I had expected a building that took up a whole city block, but it has only one corner. Across the street is an office tower and parking garage that block what I imagine were once great views of the river. And there are often tourists walking through for a look at the interior and a drink at the bar. It sometimes seems that Austin has preserved The Driskill as an attraction for tourists rather than as an actual hotel.
Still, who wouldn’t want a chance to spend the night in Disneyland’s enchanted castle if given the opportunity? Many investors were staying at the hotel that weekend for the Whole Foods annual meeting, but I was still able to secure the Primrose Suite (one of several bridal suites), which includes a balcony and stained glass windows in the bathroom. The hotel is split into two wings, the original building and a rather generic tower, and I was glad to be in the original building despite having to deal with the slowest elevators in the world. These things might be originals.
Rooms in the original building are all kinds of different sizes and shapes. There are interior rooms with a view of a central air shaft, odd spacing between rooms, and some enormously large or small rooms if we assume this evacuation map is accurate. I thought our room was well sized and comparable to a junior suite at a modern hotel, with ceilings at least 12 feet high (probably higher). I think it is definitely worthwhile to redeem an upgrade to a suite if possible. As an added bonus, the doorsill of our suite was made of marble instead of the plywood used for most rooms. Not to dis plywood; it lends a certain authenticity.
This hotel had all the amenities one would expect of a luxury property: soft robes, custom-labeled bottled water, a minibar with Texas favorites, and even stained glass windows in the bathroom (which is a clever way to disguise the fact it looks out onto an alley).
Hyatt apparently categorizes The Driskill with its Grand Hyatt properties since it provides June Jacobs bath amenities, the standard offering within that brand. However, we had just about every amenities available, including lip balm, some kind of hydrating facial mist, toothbrushes, shaving cream, and deodorant. Some of these are items that any Hyatt will give you upon request (part of the “Hyatt Has It” campaign) but it’s unusual to see it on display when you check-in.
My only disappointment with the room was that two lightbulbs were burned out when I arrived (quickly fixed by a room engineer) and I thought the plastic bathtub/shower door was kind of tacky. A glass door or shower curtain would be much nicer. We never did use the jets in the tub, but they appeared to be clean.
Megan was arriving much later than I, so I stopped off at the gym after checking in. It’s in the new tower and can be reached by going down the mezzanine and walking a circuitous route to the rear stairwell. The tower connects to the original building on every floor, so I recommend an alternative route of first walking down the hallway to the tower and then using that elevator because it’s far less confusing. Take it one stop further, and this elevator also drops you off in the bar.
The gym was empty but clean and well maintained. It’s about twice as large as you see in this photograph. But head back to the interior hallways and — like the rest of the hotel — it manages to surprise you. The locker rooms are surprisingly ornate with an attractive sauna, and there are a couple of massage rooms, too.
I actually preferred taking the long route through the Mezzanine when possible. It was the most impressive event space I’ve seen, even when compared to the The Plaza or Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Gold leaf only gets you so far. The Driskill has charm and an apparently unlimited quantity of marble. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of this floor. There were a few flagship suites located here, including a much larger honeymoon suite that I imagine is ideal if you’re hosting your wedding on-site. While the noise is probably annoying during events, they had doors so tall I wondered if you might need assistance opening them.
We requested our Diamond welcome amenity until Saturday so we could enjoy it out on the balcony, though the Texas pecan cookies took what seemed like forever to arrive. We ordered room service (burgers and some Shiner Bock) at the same time, and the cookies didn’t arrive until after we finished those. Fortunately our patience was well rewarded. The cookies that arrived were not only delicious but also freshly baked and hot from the oven, so I suppose they had a good excuse. We even thanked the front desk manager when we ran into him that afternoon in the elevator, and he was kind enough to have a second bag waiting for us when we checked out on Sunday.
I was less impressed with breakfast at the cafe, and some drinks and appetizers at the bar. The food wasn’t bad at all, but for the rate we were paying the service seemed surprisingly average, like the hotel expected a lot of business from outside customers. The waffle, for example, was quite good, but my coffee mug often sat empty and I got a “look” when I asked to be moved away from a drafty section to another table in the otherwise half-empty cafe. I would prefer a five-star experience in all aspects of our stay. (One tip: put your name on the breakfast waiting list before you go downstairs. You’ll spend 5 minutes in the elevator anyway.)
My ultimate conclusion is that The Driskill was a surprisingly good choice for an historic hotel. I had heard reports that it was in dire need of renovation, and while there are certainly some areas that could still be improved, I think — at the time we stayed — any major issues had been addressed. Maybe the food service is next on the list of issues to be addressed, but facilities come first and so I’m glad to say it is really in good shape for such an old property. If you want lots of power outlets or fast elevators, you probably already know this is not the place for you.
The public spaces are what really steal the show. We saw more than one tour group walk into the hotel during our stay for a look around, and the grand staircase to the mezzanine level was usually open. If you choose to stay somewhere else less expensive, I recommend you still make a pilgrimage to the lobby and the bar upstairs; this will suffice for most tourists. As a relatively small, compact property, the amazing attention to the design of The Driskill is in some ways more impressive than it would be at sprawling landmark hotels elsewhere.