Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt
What To Know
- Head to Geraldine's for one of Austin's most raved-about brunches
- Join Kimpton Karma—the brand's free rewards program—for a $10 Raid the Bar credit and complimentary WiFi throughout your stay
- Pet-friendly rooms are available
- Parking On Site
How to Get There
Austin's seen a veritable explosion of new hotels over the past decade, including plenty of boutique properties -- this after having basically only one player in town, the Hotel San Jose (and its Saint Cecilia sister property), with the market essentially to itself for nearly 15 years. Since 2008, however, Austin's hotel boom has brought every major player in the field into its arena, ranging from "boutique-style corporate" (e.g. its first W Hotel) to a slew of indie offerings. To put it another way, the Hotel Van Zandt has a ton of competition -- and over the years I've stayed at nearly all of them -- but nonetheless lands at the top of the pack, in my view: it's the best all-around hotel in Austin.
My most recent stay there only further reminded me how superior the Van Zandt is to its competition in nearly every tangible way -- which, I have to admit, came as a surprise: the Kimpton chain, long viewed as one of the best all-around, fully merged its Karma rewards program into that of its parent company, IHG, just over a year ago. Plenty of Kimpton fans, myself included, worried that this integration would result in a deterioration of the service quality for which Kimpton is renowned. I'm happy to report that no such problems have occurred at the Van Zandt -- in notably stark contrast to IHG's other downtown Austin four-star property, the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin, where I also stayed recently. The only chain of size in the U.S. that tops it is the Four Seasons -- though I should certainly hope so, considering Four Seasons hotels are typically the most expensive in any given market. (Rooms at the Four Seasons Austin are usually more than twice the price of the Van Zandt's.)
Kimpton is famous for its bold interior looks -- all of which vary depending on the property and the city in which it's located -- and the Van Zandt is no exception; if anything, Kimpton went much bigger and bolder than usual in crafting the Van Zandt's look. To be fair, this isn't a hotel for fans of traditional interiors: its look is unabashedly modern, embracing a mix of industrial and high-end '60s-era vintage design (along with some surprisingly strong new design elements, including the likes of Roll & Hill light fixtures). Its massive lobby and ground-floor public areas, replete with numerous visitor-friendly seating areas for groups both large and small, brings New York's Ace Hotel to mind (and that's entirely a compliment) -- most notably in its extensive use of black, a color (or, more accurately, a non-color) that's extremely difficult to get right, but also its seeming vastness.
Upon arrival for my most recent stay, I was warmly greeted despite having booked a last-minute "staycation" via Hotwire at a substantial discount (during Austin's low season). As a former professional hotel critic (and, more recently, a mere unusually frequent traveler), I've seen firsthand how surprisingly frequently certain properties treat guests who've booked their stays on the likes of Hotwire and Hotel Tonight as de facto second-class citizens; that's decidedly not the case here. A new forward-thinking innovation added since my last stay was the ability to reach the hotel's concierge via text: this is one of those "why hasn't anyone else thought of it?" ideas that's both savvy and effective. (They also texted me several times during my stay to inquire how it was going and whether I needed assistance with anything, a very welcome gesture.)
The Van Zandt's rooms vary somewhat in size, but all of them incorporate design cues such as bronzed fixtures -- which have since become de rigueur in both hotel and contemporary home design -- and ridiculously comfortable beds replete with top-of-the-line pillows and luxury linens. Its larger ones feature Duravit-style standalone bathtubs, many of which offer jaw-dropping views of downtown Austin and Lady Bird Lake. (Speaking of which, I'd strongly recommend getting a lakeview room if possible. Here, too, the Van Zandt is unparalleled in contrast to nearly every other downtown Austin hotel.)
I'm also not generally a fan of four-star hotels that don't have some sort of coffeemaker in their guest rooms, but the Van Zandt -- similar to other Kimpton properties -- does one better: it offers a complimentary coffee bar setup in its lobby. And in terms of going the extra mile, it has ample copies of The New York Times available for complimentary guest use as well -- including the Sunday Times, which costs $7 a pop outside the NYC area. This is precisely the type of much-appreciated-but-not-a-necessity amenity that's been largely eliminated by the corporate bean counters at major chains, and the fact that Kimpton continues to offer it -- despite being acquired nearly five years ago by one of the largest hotel holding companies in North America -- speaks volumes about its service caliber all-around.
As a native Austinite, I can't help but appreciate the "local touches" incorporated into the Van Zandt -- starting with its namesake Townes Van Zandt, one of Austin's most legendary musical icons. Its lobby cafe also features breakfast tacos from Tacodeli, a local mini-chain that makes some of the best in town; the hotel doesn't substantially mark up their prices, either. (Just FYI, the cafe is where to go if you prefer espresso or lattes over the lobby's free drip coffee.) Similarly, during Kimpton's traditional "wine hour" each afternoon, the Van Zandt offers Austin's "unofficial official drink" -- frozen margaritas -- in addition.
Finally, its location is one of the best in town: smack-dab in the middle of Austin's Rainey St area, which features one of its most lively nightlife scenes. It's also within easy walking distance of the convention center, and at least easy scooter distance from Sixth Street and the rest of downtown Austin. As is now typical in most larger American cities, inexpensive dockless scooters from the likes of Bird and Lime are ubiquitous and nearly always available nearby for a $1/hour rental fee -- and if you prefer two-wheeled transportation of the non-motorized variety, the Van Zandt also has complimentary bicycles available for rides along Austin's nearby hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird (née Town) Lake, one of the city's best natural features.
To be fair, the Van Zandt isn't totally perfect, though none of its flaws are even vaguely consequential enough to dissuade one from staying there, in my view. The hotel's east-facing side offers a view of ... well, mainly a high-traffic freeway. It features live bands downstairs many nights, which is great if you're a fan but less so if you're a light sleeper with a room on a lower floor. (The bands' bass reverberates upwards.) Weekend brunches at Geraldine's, the hotel's primary restaurant, are great, but they're also increasingly popular, so even as a hotel guest you may have to wait for a table if you don't have a reservation. (OTOH you can always grab a bite at its informal lobby cafe instead.) While its windows are insulated enough to muffle most of the surrounding area's noise, that's sometimes not the case when a band happens to be playing outdoors at an immediately adjacent bar on Rainey. Also, its insulation between rooms isn't terrible but also not perfect: during my most recent stay I could audibly here an "amorous" couple in the room next door. (Though they were admittedly exceptionally loud...) NB: Noise problems at many of the Van Zandt's downtown competitors -- most notably the Driskill, The Line, the Stephen F. and Westin -- are worse by a considerable margin.
Like nearly all of downtown's hotels, its parking charges are a steep $40 or so per night. (Unless you're driving into Austin, I'd recommend getting around via Lyft or Uber instead.) The surrounding Rainey St. area's popularity also has its negatives, in particular the aforementioned noise issues as well as trying to merely get there via car on weekends (and event periods such as SXSW are pretty much a hot mess in that regard). Finally, its elevated pool deck is shared with an adjacent condo tower, and while it features a lively bar and excellent downtown & lake views, its chaises are limited in number (if only because the pool deck's inherent size constraints) and fill up quickly on warm-weather days, especially springtime weekends. (Also, its liveliness includes a fair amount of noise, which can be readily heard in rooms on lower floors directly facing the pool deck.) And again, this is not a place for fans of traditional design; if you prefer brightly lit "cheerful" looks and primary color palettes, you'd probably be happier at the new Fairmont two blocks north.
But still: even given its flaws -- most of which can be avoided by requesting a room on a high floor -- the Van Zandt remains in a league of its own. It's not my favorite Austin hotel -- the Saint Cecilia wins my vote there, but it's considerably smaller and pricier, and thus lacks many of the features seen in larger properties -- but it's nonetheless the best on an all-around basis, in my opinion.
Arrived late morning so room wasn't ready (check in 4 PM) - front desk took my mobile to text me when room was ready (2PM!). Not sure why but got upgraded to corner suite on upper floor. Maybe because it was my wife's birthday? Anyway, we were pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of champagne with 2 flutes and 2 birthday cupcakes in our room. Nice touch. Nicely furnished rooms with bluetooth speaker for your phone. Ample closet and drawer space. Bonus yoga mat and umbrella in closet. Front desk would text daily to check up to see how stay was coming along. Took advantage of the following hotel amenities: 1) in room massage with $30 credit for IHG members, 2) morning coffee/tea service in lobby, 3) social hour (5-6PM) wine/daily cocktail/beer 4) 24 hr fitness center, 5) tasty dinner at their restaurant Geraldine's with free musical performance at 10:30. Didn't get a chance to use the free bicycle or their pool as the weather was suboptimal (highs in the 40s and wintery mix) but we'll be sure to use them next visit when it's warmer - because why would we want to stay anywhere else next time we're in Austin?!
Decent room size. Neat & clean rooms & bathrooms.
Amenities are not well explained during the check-in.
For the price - they should include free coffee & breakfast.
The study table did not have a chair, though there were 2 heavy chairs in the room, would expect a revolving movable chair by the study table,
High price for an average experience , rooms are poor quality , the shower does not have a door so you will get everything wet , only one toilet paper for 3 people , no sleepers , insulation is poor so you can hear everything and finally I have to wait for 1 hour for breakfast because you need a reservation ( nobody told me that at front desk when I check in )
Great reception, beautiful lobby, happy hour drinks, clean, comfortable rooms, quiet hallways, awesome location.
The coffee shop connected to the lobby makes AWESOME breakfast tacos.
My only complaint was the price of parking. Will definitely stay here next time I'm in town.