Hailed as one of the country’s first true boutique hotels, Hotel San José started its life as a 1930s tourist court and became a 1950s roadside motel before falling into disrepair in a bad part of town. In the mid-1990s, Liz Lambert bought it and transformed it into a minimalist, mid-century–inspired hot spot, the first of her distinctive Bunkhouse hotels, and the South Congress neighborhood changed with it. Although it’s now a must-visit for out-of-town hipsters (and its bar a hangout for trendy locals), the hotel stays true to its roots; a majority of the furniture was made by local artisans from reclaimed wood and Texas leather, the three most affordable rooms have a shared bath, and Lambert’s experience renovating the hotel and contributing to the neighborhood’s gentrification prompted her to make the documentary The Last Days of the San Jose.
Nowadays, SoCo is Austin’s hottest neighborhood, and Hotel San José is in the heart of the action, hosting local and touring bands in its courtyard and parking lot, and offering some of the city’s best coffee at Jo’s, its affiliated café. Plan to spend at least one evening making new friends over Shiner Bocks at the long tables in the courtyard lounge.