In the hotel world, luxury is one of those words that many evoke but few can define. What is luxury, really? Is it being away from it all or being close to the action? Is it being fussed over or being left alone? Is it a rooftop pool or a basement speakeasy? There are as many definitions of the word as there are hotels claiming to embody it. And complicating the matter further is the new jumbo shrimp of the lodging business, the “luxury hostel,” where dormitory asceticism commingles with high-concept hedonism. It’s an offbeat marriage that is perhaps best represented in the United States by Austin’s supremely stylish yet unapologetically communal Native Hostel.
Set within a limestone building from the 1890s, a former hotel for railway workers, Native is a dorm-style hostel, a live-music venue, a bar and restaurant, a coffeehouse, an art museum, and a coworking space where a bed (there are 65 in 12 rooms, including a 6-bed suite for women only) runs a modest $49 to $59 a night. The biggest space, living-room-like Romper Room, sleeps 10, “parties 30,” and goes for a still-reasonable $800 a night.
Most of Native’s guests are between 20 and 35 years old, and there’s no denying the hipster force is strong within these old walls. “We’ve worked hard to create a culture and curate fun, free events like pub crawls and DJ nights that make staying here an Austin experience,” says Native’s assistant manager of operations, Zoey Provino. “It’s important that guests see the city we know and enjoy the locals who’re engaged here.”
Rooms feature bathrooms with artfully tiled showers and high-end toiletries, individual lockers big enough for carry-on suitcases, and bunk-style beds with privacy curtains, electrical outlets, and reading lamps. Rates include continental breakfast with homemade buttermilk biscuits from the very happening Native Bar & Kitchen. And connecting it all is an eclectic, meandering common area, overstuffed with overstuffed couches and cozily blanketed by free Wi-Fi.
But can this sort of communal lodging—even communal lodging as cool as Native—catch on in other parts of the United States, where privacy and elbow room remain fiercely defended virtues? The answer may be a surprising yes.
"The hostel is a growing trend, especially with younger travelers,” says Todd Dunlap, managing director, Americas, at Booking.com. “With several hostels now offering added services and amenities, they’re becoming increasingly attractive."
As with hostels of this ilk in Europe—places like Soul Kitchen in Saint Petersburg and Bunk in Istanbul—Native fits neatly into Austin’s uninhibited millennial groove (the hostel’s catchphrase is “Curating a Culture of Fuck Yes”). And millennials are on the move. A recent survey revealed what many already suspected: 24- to 35-year-olds travel more than any other group, an average of 35 days each year. They’re highly digital, they pack light, and they are decidedly less inclined to splurge for fancy traditional lodging. This is all good news for Native.
“I wanted an experience you can’t deny,” says Antonio Madrid, a Native business partner. “We want to make people feel like they’re a baller on a budget.”