As I entered the Westin’s downtown Austin outpost for the first time, I couldn’t help but notice the upbeat attitude of the valets outside and the front desk staff. Their sunny dispositions may have had something to do with the fact that it was a gorgeous early-spring day, but it was nonetheless an excellent first impression. At the front desk, I was offered some of the hotel’s signature fruit-infused water, but one staffer said, “It might have a little too much lemon.” My involuntary pucker confirmed that this was, in fact, the case. Still, he gets extra points for honesty.
The open, airy lobby has a bit of a fishbowl feel to it, but in a good way. The floor-to-ceiling windows are only a few feet from the street, so it’s like you’re part of a bustling street scene while simultaneously lounging in climate-controlled comfort. Adding to the Zen vibe, a vertical garden, or “living wall,” provides a calming focal point near the front desk. The chain is incorporating the gardens in many of their hotels in response to research showing that bringing a touch of nature indoors can improve air quality and possibly even lower blood pressure.
Next to the living wall is the VIP dog guest board, which features the names of canine companions currently staying in the hotel. The hotel welcomes dogs up to 70 pounds.
Jamie Moore, the hotel’s senior marketing manager, pointed out the elements of the guitar motif throughout the property. Without her assistance, I’m sure I would’ve overlooked half of them. In fact, I didn’t even notice the huge image of a guitar behind the front desk until I viewed it from a distance. The long ropes dangling from the ceiling in the restaurant’s dining room represent the strings. The cutout shapes in the lobby ceiling and in the living wall were inspired by the cutouts in a Dobro guitar. And frets and strings, well, they’re everywhere -- on the stairs, in the carpet, in the artwork. The tiles around the rooftop pool look like mother-of-pearl pick guards. Though the motif is omnipresent, it’s not overbearing. All in all, the 366-room hotel is beautifully designed with clean lines and tons of natural light.
Even in areas that don’t have natural light, the lighting is very similar to sunlight. When you look in the mirror in the morning, you’ll see a reasonable facsimile of yourself and not some weird, green-tinted monster. The 16 meeting rooms, which can all be configured in a variety of ways, also feature excellent lighting and/or big windows. I’m guessing long meetings would be much more bearable -- and productive -- without the low buzz and flicker of fluorescent lights.
Wellness on the Road
Business travelers in particular will appreciate the many ways the Westin helps them stick to their fitness routine while on the road. The huge, well-equipped gym is open 24 hours. If you need a quick snack, there’s fresh fruit and water in the gym’s mini-fridge. Guests can also borrow running shoes so they don’t have to pack them. The hotel’s running concierge can offer route recommendations and help arrange group runs. In-room menus even feature suggestions for dishes that provide an energy boost or promote restful sleep.
Antone’s at Your Doorstep
With the help of concierge Dave Dart, I got a quick tour of the new Antone’s nightclub, which is right across the street. It’s a large open space with the stage in the rear and a long bar along the left side. The room is smaller than the last location, but there is also a second floor that’s reserved for special events. Co-owner Will Bridges said they briefly considered removing part of the first-floor ceiling to open up the space, but that would’ve eliminated a significant amount of square footage. Instead, they decided to pipe in music from the first floor for special event attendees on the second floor. The club is staying true to its bluesy roots with a full lineup of local and regional blues, funk and R&B acts.
If it’s some other style of music you’re looking for, Dart can point you in the right direction. He’s been involved in the Austin music scene, in various capacities, for decades. He even started his own nonprofit organization, Dart Music International, to bring innovative musicians from around the world to the U.S. As part of his concierge role (and because he loves discovering new artists), he makes an effort to see new bands on a regular basis and stay abreast of the ever-changing Austin music landscape.
Stella San Jac
While I waited for my table at the on-site restaurant, I enjoyed a serving of something I’d never had before: beet chips. They’re fairly similar to potato chips, but they’re a little thicker and have just a hint of sweetness. I also sampled the San Jac Lemonade, made with lemon-infused vodka, mint and fresh lemon juice. Unlike the infused water at the front desk, the refreshing cocktail had just the right amount of tartness.
Soon after I was seated, the waiter suggested the cured meat and cheese appetizer. I immediately said “yes,” completely forgetting about my plan to order the biscuits. Virtually every review of Stella San Jac mentions the biscuits in glowing terms. By the time I realized my mistake, I was already too full. I’ll just have to come back to try the biscuits. The prosciutto and buttery-rich cheese were excellent, though.
For my entree, I ordered the prime strip steak. I probably should’ve ordered one of the “Stella signature” dishes, but what can I say? My tastes are simple, and the steak, served with a tangy housemade sauce and potatoes au gratin, was simply delicious.
My Sweet Suite
The two-room suite would be excellent for someone traveling on business. The outer living/dining area could be used for small meetings or entertaining guests. It even has its own HD TV, along with a couch and dining table. Of course, it might be hard to focus on work with the amazing views in both rooms. The double-paned windows also do a great job of blocking out the noise from the streets below.
My attention, however, was immediately drawn to the Jacuzzi tub. I cranked it up, jumped in, and was happily pummeled by water jets. I found that the long faucet handles made it simple to adjust the hot and cold water with my feet.
After a long, relaxing bath, I settled into the plush bed and watched TV for a while. The Heavenly Bed lived up to its name because the next thing I knew, it was morning.
As I stumbled into the outer room, I realized the curtains were still wide open, and I was, um, not decent. Fortunately, the closest highrises are a few blocks away, so hopefully no one saw me before I scurried back into the bedroom.
Now fully clothed but still groggy, I set out to make some coffee. But, uh, where’s the coffee maker? It’s in a little corner nook and almost concealed by the heavy curtains on the adjacent wall. I’m guessing the unconventional layout of the room was largely dictated by the fact that two walls are made up almost entirely of windows.
After enjoying my coffee, I was tempted to hop back into the Jacuzzi tub. Instead, I stepped into the roomy, all-glass shower. The massive 6-by-6-inch “rain” showerhead produces a showering experience akin to taking a walk in a light summer rain. It also gets you very clean, from head to toe.
Westin Austin Downtown / 310 East 5th Street / (512) 391-2333
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.