Discover Austin: The Driskill - Episode 68

The Driskill Hotel has a long-standing roll in Austin.  They allowed me to visit so I can share it's rich history with you for this episode of Discover Austin.

If you'd prefer to read about The Driskill, the transcript can be found below the video.

Greetings! I’m Craig Smyser with 1835 Realty.  There are a number of exceptional hotels in Austin, but none as storied as this one.  We’re going to check in to the Driskill Hotel for this episode of Discover Austin.

Located at the corner of 6th Street and Brazos, The Driskill Hotel was built by cattle baron Colonel Jesse Driskill and opened in December of 1886.  It rivaled the finest hotels in the country and was a showpiece for Austin which had a population of under 14,000 at the time.  The first years were rough.  In fact, Colonel Driskill had to sell the hotel less than two years after opening (or maybe he lost it in a poker game – the history is a bit vague).  By 1895, there had been five owners and one major renovation.  By the early 1900s, though, things turned around and the rest is history – a very deep and rich history that is woven into the fabric of not just Austin, but the state of Texas, as well. 

Beyond the Driskill’s rich history is the beautiful architecture. It was built in the Romanesque Revival style and is noted for its columns and arches.  Though the hotel started with 60 rooms, it has grown to 189 rooms with each beautifully and authentically decorated.  The premium rooms are the two presidential suites.  The LBJ Suite pays tribute to both LBJ and Lady Bird.  The bedroom and bath emphasize her love for Texas bluebonnets while the living room embodies the president’s love for Texas.  The lobby is instantly recognizable because of the columns.  There is a vault near the reception desk back from when there was a bank in the hotel.  This inverted dome was added in 1990 as this area was originally an open atrium until air conditioning was installed in 1950.  At the top of the stairs is a portrait of Colonel Driskill which was painted in 1890.  If you look close enough, you can see patches needed as a result of gunfight in the lobby in 1908. The Driskill ballroom is an opulent space with a gorgeous ceiling.  It served as a meeting location for politicians and lobbyists while the Texas Capitol Building was under construction.   The Maximilian Room has a set of eight mirrors once owned by the 19th century monarch Maximilian of Mexico.  He had these specially commissioned and each is topped by the likeness of his wife, Empress Carlota.  The Citadel Club was once the home of a private men’s club, but it closed after Texas laws were changed.

The Driskill Hotel is also notable for its connection to esteemed political guests. Lyndon B. Johnson brought Lady Bird Johnson to the restaurant at the Driskill for their first date back in 1934. The Driskill was LBJ’s favorite place to stay in Austin.  In fact, he watched the election results for both his 1964 presidential victory and 1948 Senate victory in the Jim Hogg Parlor.  Inauguration balls for Texas governors are too numerous to count.

Of course, there can’t be a conversation about the Driskill without mentioning that some say it is haunted.  Of the many stories told, I’m partial to Colonel Driskill wandering the hotel to enjoy his namesake creation making his presence known by the scent of his cigar smoke.  I also like the tale of Mrs. Bridges, who worked at the front desk in the early 1900s.  She has been seen walking from the vault out into the middle of the lobby wearing a Victorian-style dress and she seems to make a fuss over a flower arrangement. 

The Driskill is a popular wedding and event spot with almost a dozen venues, each more stately than the next.  A long-standing tradition is afternoon tea.  Held five or six times a month, the experience includes three courses of pastries along with tea and sparkling wine.  The Driskill also has a craft beer series, nightly live music, Sunday Blues, and have special events for holidays like Texas Independence Day, Christmas, and Mother’s Day.  Of course, The Driskill Grill and the Driskill Bar are both highly rated and you can just feel Texas history being inside of them.    There’s also the 1886 Café and Bakery, a Victorian-style café serving up Texas comfort foods and an impressive array of scratch-made pastries.

So whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway, a fantastic dining experience, or simply just some live music in downtown Austin, the historic Driskill Hotel is a great place to visit. I’m Craig Smyser with 1835 Realty.  Thanks for joining me for this episode of Discover Austin.

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