Review: Driskill Hotel in Downtown Austin (Now a Hyatt)

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In a previous life, I lived in Austin for many years, and during that time I had the chance to go inside the historic Driskill Hotel, but I had never actually stayed there… until now. A few weeks ago I posted that Hyatt had purchased the Driskill, which was great not only because it presumably meant they would be putting some money into it, but also because that means you can now earn and use valuable Hyatt points at the hotel (plus take advantage of elite status benefits). When my travel plans took me to Austin this past weekend, I was thrilled that availability for the Driskill opened up since it had previously shown as sold-out for the night we were there.

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Location and History:

The Driskill is located in the heart of downtown Austin at the corner of Sixth and Brazos. For those who are into action and live music on Sixth Street, it is literally right outside the door. For those who are into the more upscale nature of Fourth Street, or the Capital, visiting the Austin Children’s Museum, etc., those are all just a few blocks away as well. This is a fantastic location for those who are visiting Austin for either work or play.

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In addition to having a killer location, it also comes with an interesting past. The Driskill was opened in 1886 and has been deemed a historic site since 1969. Not only is it historic, but it has a reputation for being “haunted”. At check-in they even gave us a list of their “ghost stories” upon request. Sadly, (or perhaps fortunately) we did not have any ghostly encounters on our stay, but it did add to the excitement of the evening.

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Check-in and Lobby:

I booked the hotel a couple of days before our stay and tried to use a Diamond confirmed upgrade, but was told that due to the hotel still being converted to Hyatt’s system they couldn’t confirm the upgrade until check-in. At check-in we were told we had been upgraded to a Cityscape Room, but that no suites were available for our stay. I will have to give Hyatt a call as it seems that our suite upgrade was not returned, but while this room was totally adequate, it was in no way a suite.

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Otherwise the woman helping us at check-in was very helpful and friendly and even gave us the ghost stories mentioned above. We were given the choice of 1,000 bonus points or the Diamond food amenity that she described as some sort of “sweet bites”. We went for points this time. She also pointed out that the waters in the room were part of the mini-bar and were not complimentary, which was actually helpful info since I don’t think they were marked that way (though complimentary water would be nice).

The lobby itself is absolutely grand. I know no other word to describe it. Especially in a Texas hotel, it is very unusual to see something as storied and impressive as this lobby.

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The Room:

It seems that our room was built in the “tower” that was constructed as an addition in the 1920’s. This room and hotel in general just ooze personality. There is original artwork and distinctive touches at every turn.

This is a far cry from the sterile and familiar Hyatt Place type hotel room that we have all stayed in. I think this is a really good thing, but it may be outside the comfort level of some who just want their hotel room to be “background noise”.

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The bed itself was quite comfortable, but the pillows were so thick that my neck still hurts days later. The sheets were polyester but almost felt like silk, and I really liked them. The bedspread, however, scared me a bit. I like nice white bedspreads that can’t really hide dirt and mysterious stains. This bedspread was a yellow-tanish-mustardy type color and it just felt like something that might have been on a great aunt’s guest bed for a few decades. It just did not work for me, and my OCD tendencies really had to fight to not be freaked out. The website displays photos of nice white bedding, and I hope that is the plan to upgrade all of the rooms to that look in the near future.

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The view from the room onto downtown Austin was nice. I think that being on the 10th floor really helps to upgrade the view a bit. The window did have a bit of a crack in it that I hope gets taken care of during the upgrades. In fact, the room as a whole was showing some age. That isn’t surprising given the age of the hotel, and the fact that Hyatt is planning a pretty massive renovation, but expect some scratches, dings, and cracks. Housekeeping had also left a cleaning spray bottle of some sort behind, though I don’t think the renovation will help with that. They did pick it up without prompting when they came for turn-down service.

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20130407-195622.jpgSpeaking of things in the room, the internet was bad.  Really bad.  I don’t know if that is a widespread issue or not, but it was so slow it was virtually non-functional from our room the night we were there.

The Bathroom:

The bathroom was done in a black and white art-deco style with a shower/tub combo and a separate vanity area. Just like the room itself, the bathroom has really good “bones” and was totally functional, but the toilet seat was a little squishy and it could use a few aesthetic modern updates.

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The Driskill Bar:

I don’t normally devote a special section of a review to the hotel bar, but this one deserves it. It is pretty dark, has low ceilings, and is done in a very traditional Texan decor with leather and cow hides. There was live music going on during the Friday evening we were there, and it felt like several card games should have also been going on. It just had a very “old Texas” vibe that I liked. Mixed drinks were in the $8 – $10 range, but the atmosphere made up for the slightly high drink price.

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By the time we got back from dinner Friday around 10:30PM the bar area was totally packed and seemed to be a very happening place to hang out. I preferred the more mellow happy hour time frame, but it is worth a visit if you want a good mixed drink with some atmosphere to boot.

1886 Cafe and Bakery:

The on-site cafe and bakery has a very good reputation, and is where Hyatt Diamond members (or others on breakfast packages) get to take advantage of complimentary breakfast. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and make amazing cakes in their in-house bakery. At check-in we were each given a $40 gift certificate for breakfast in the 1886 Cafe to cover the Diamond breakfast. It was not an option to have the breakfast via room service, but $80 between the two of us for breakfast downstairs was more than adequate.

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We went a little crazy ordering partly because we were starving (and a little hungover) and partly because it all looked so good that we wanted to sample a little of everything. Our main courses were migas and huevos rancheros. The menu also has Austin themed entrees such as “Hippie Hollow”, “Lady Bird Lake” and appropriately enough, “The Hangover”.

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In addition to our entrees, we had a side of the best bacon ever, some yogurt, fruit, and some pastries to go. Oh, and a lot of coffee. We really ordered a lot and it only came to $50 of the $80 provided, including tax. Tip was expressly not included in the breakfast certificates, so we took care of that on our own.

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I will go out on a limb and say that this is now one of the very top Hyatt Diamond breakfast benefits out there. Sure some other Hyatt hotels have very fancy and indulgent breakfasts that are covered by having Diamond status, some even via room service, but the quality of food and service at this restaurant are fantastic. It isn’t overly fancy or features food you can’t pronounce, it is just very Austin and very good. As a big bonus for those who aren’t Diamonds, it is actually quite affordable as well…as long as you don’t order one of almost everything on the menu like we did.

Pet and Child Friendly:

This hotel has a program called “Driskill Deputy” where children are given an official sheriff’s certificate signed by Colonel Jesse Driskill (the hotel’s founder and namesake) and a Driskill Hotel coloring book with crayons. They are also treated to cookies and milk from 1886 Café & Bakery.

Pets are also welcome for non-refundable fee of $75 per pet (two max per room and 35 lb weight limit).  They get their own bed, bowls, chew toys, treats, a pet friendly map of Austin, and more.  There is a ton of pet specific info here.

You Can Do it Too:

Rates at this property aren’t cheap. Expect to pay at least $250 on most days right now if you want to stay using cash. Availability is also not great as this can be a very popular hotel that hosts many events. So, if you want to stay here I really recommend planning ahead and being flexible, if possible. My experience using a suite upgrade here was not good, but hopefully that will get better in time. If you want to stay here on points it is a Category 5 Hyatt that costs 18,000 points per night. Given the going rates that easily approach $300 including taxes, that is a solid redemption value. As always, you can transfer Hyatt points in 1:1 from the Chase Ultimate Rewards program if you are running short on Hyatt Gold Passport points. You can also use the two free nights via the Hyatt Chase Visa. I normally like to use those at Category 6 Hyatts, but if your travel plans aren’t going to take you to one of those hotels this could be a good place to use them instead.

Overall Impressions:

I liked it, but there is room for improvement. I’m so very glad for Austin (and the points community) that Hyatt bought this hotel as it needs some TLC, and I think Hyatt can provide that while maintaining its history. If you stay there you will most likely experience great service, but will probably also see some wear and tear. As long as you go in with appropriate expectations, I think that the service, the history, and the location make up for an older bedspread and some scuffs. However, at $250+ or 18K points per night I’m sure not everyone will agree with me.

I would not hesitate to stay there again, but I am also looking forward to the day that this old beauty has a little work done.

Have you stayed at the Driskill? What was your experience like? See any ghosts? 😉

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Comments

  1. Allow the hotels can go above and beyond the standard Diamond Breakfast Offering, the terms and conditions of the program are such that the gratuity is to be included in the breakfast!

    From the Gold Passport Website…
    “Daily complimentary full breakfast inclusive of one entrée (or standard breakfast buffet), juice and coffee (tax, gratuity and service charges included) will be provided to the member and each registered guest in the room, maximum four (4) people when staying at Hyatt Place properties, Hyatt House properties, or Hyatt Residence Club resorts.”

    • Darren, I know, but it seemed like a small price to pay for what we got. I think they are still working on the GP details. 😉

  2. Oddly enough, it was the pre-Hyatt Driskill that got me in to the the points game. My SO was given some free nights from a friend and after two nights of great service (and two mornings of fantastic breakfast) we officially developed the itch to stay at similar places across the US. Excited to see our “gateway hotel” brought up to its full potential!

  3. Elegant hotel. Quite a catch with such an affordable price with all these amenities. A little improvement won’t hurt but you still had a grand time

  4. I just checked in as a Hyatt Diamond and I was upgraded to their top-floor Senate suite – awesome view. I think it’s the exact same room as the one you have pictured with the white bedspread (same window view), but it is in fact, still the mustard yellow bedspread. At check-in, however, I do agree that there could be some improvement. I’m still inquiring if I get my breakfast vouchers, and the option of food amenity vs. points was all but an afterthought after pointing me to the elevators!

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