The Driskill: A Staycation Steeped in History

By: Mauri Elbel
January, 2023

When you stay at The Driskill, you can’t help but imagine all of the famous –– and infamous –– people who have frequented the historic hotel before you. At Austin’s oldest hotel, luxurious suites and opulent ballrooms are bedecked in Texas history and supposedly haunted halls adorned with paintings and murals whisper stories of the past (although, sadly, we didn’t see any ghosts during our stay).

A few months ago, I received an invitation to stay at The Driskill and saved it for a special occasion –– my birthday –– when our kids were already scheduled to be with their grandparents.

The Driskill’s towering 16-foot real Christmas tree is the centerpiece of the hotel’s traditional tree lighting ceremony each year and makes a festive photo op throughout the season. Credit Mauri Elbel

The late-November timing of our visit was perfect. When we checked in, The Driskill’s towering 16-foot, real Christmas tree had just gone up, and an entire team of tree trimmers were fastidiously decorating it with glowing lights and shimmery ornaments as piney aromas and holiday cheer swirled throughout the elegant, iconic lobby. 

But it wasn’t until we entered the doors of our swoon-worthy suite –– the sprawling 650-square-foot Lone Star Suite with a connecting oversized private balcony perched above Brazos Street that could rival the size of most hotel rooms –– that I let out an audible gasp. With separate sleeping and living spaces, a dining table fit for a dinner party, floor-to-ceiling windows, soaring vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, a plush pillowtop bed, a bathroom wrapped in black Brazilian marble, and a timeless old-world ambiance punctuated with Texas touches, the lavish suite made an immediate (and lasting) impression.

The living and dining areas in the expansive Brazos Suite. Credit Mauri Elbel

RELATED: 24 Hours in San Antonio’s Historic Pearl District

After soaking in sunset downtown vistas from our expansive balcony, we headed downstairs for a history tour of the hotel that’s served as the stomping grounds of myriad Texas governors, former presidents, and famous politicians for well over a century. 

The suite features an expansive private balcony overlooking Brazos Street. Credit Driskill Hotel

On the tour, we learned that Colonel Jesse Lincoln Driskill formally opened the landmark hotel in his adopted hometown of Austin on December 20, 1886, built on his vision of rivaling the palaces found in big cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. The cattle baron spared no expense when constructing the elaborate four-story, 60-room Richardson-Romanesque hotel replete with custom furnishings for an absurd and unheard of (at the time) cost of more than $400,000, which is the equivalent of about $92 million today. 

Recognized as a coveted Austin hotel since 1886, The Driskill offers a historic stay in downtown Austin surrounded by the city’s foodie, nightlife and live music scenes. Credit The Driskill

Over the years, additions and renovations have only attributed to The Driskill’s grandness, but throughout all of its phases, it’s remained a hub of political and social activity. A handful of Texas governors, including Governors Sul Ross, William P. Hobby, Miriam (Ma) Ferguson, Dan Moody, John Connally and Ann Richards, have held their inaugural balls at The Driskill. The Driskill also served as the unofficial headquarters of President Lyndon B. Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson during the 1950s and 60s –– it was even the site of their first date years before and the spot where President Johnson received the successful results of his 1948 Senate campaign and his 1964 Presidential election. Decades later, in 2000, President George W. Bush hosted his selection of cabinet members on The Driskill’s Mezzanine. 

The Discover Driskill’s History package includes a lovely afternoon tea for two in 1886 Café & Bakery. Credit Mauri Elbel

If you do plan a staycation at The Driskill, I’d highly recommend the history tour –– the Discover Driskill’s History package includes the tour as well as a stay on the historic side of the hotel and an afternoon tea for two in 1886 Café & Bakery. (Hint: it’s almost Valentine’s Day).

RELATED: Royal Treatment at one of Houston’s Poshest Hotels

Sip a cocktail in The Driskill Bar, a bar fit for a cattle baron with its rustic leather couches, cowhide barstools, cattle branded custom carpet and Texas Longhorn hung on the wall. Photo by Mauri Elbel

Other noteworthy highlights during our brief but memorable stint at the historic hotel? Sipping an Old-Fashioned swirling around a signature copper-stamped ice cube at the legendary Driskill Bar while enjoying the nightly live music from our cowhide barstools. Tucking into The Driskill’s signature 1886 chocolate cake –– an original recipe created by the Heritage Society of Austin which ran the former 1886 Lunchroom and Socializing Parlor. Indulging in a Bloody Mary and Brazos huevos rancheros for brunch the following morning followed by afternoon tea accompanied by raspberry pistachio macaroons and signature 1886 truffles. 

Order the Brazos Huevos Rancheros for brunch with two sunny-side up eggs, local chorizo, tostadas, salsa roja, pinto beans, country potatoes, avocado, pico and cotija cheese. Photo by Mauri Elbel

 

If You Go

Getting there:

The Driskill is located in the heart of downtown Austin at Brazos and Sixth Streets.

Stay:

The Driskill boasts 189 luxurious rooms and suites featuring custom bathrooms, plush beds, custom artwork, soaring ceilings, hand-painted detailing, and timeless Texas touches.

Eat & Drink:

Sip an Old-Fashioned in The Driskill Bar where you can hear live music almost every evening. Enjoy an indulgent brunch in the 1886 Café & Bakery which is stocked with recipes from the hotel’s past including Helen Corbitt’s Cheese Soup and the famed 1886 chocolate cake. For a romantic dinner, reserve a table at The Driskill Grill to tuck into Texas-inspired dishes like classic steak tartare and filet mignon with foie gras, sauteed spinach, pave potato, and truffle sauce –– it’s the spot where President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson had their first date.

Insider tip:

Immerse yourself in the hotel’s history by booking the Discover Driskill’s History package, which comes with two tickets to The Driskill history tour (about 45 minutes long), a stay on the historic side of the hotel, a Café-Style Afternoon Tea for two in 1886 Café & Bakery and a special take home amenity.

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