East Austin Hotel
The inviting pool and great vibes make it worth a visit but we can’t stop thinking about the globally inspired cuisine
by Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
Cheer up! Just because summer’s nearly over doesn’t mean your sunny mood has to fade like a Barton Springs tan. The East Austin Hotel is here to help with a breezy Palm Springs-meets-Austin vibe that feels like eternal summer. Centered around a retro swimming pool, this new boutique hotel offers not only hip accommodations for visitors, but also a pool scene surrounded by three festive restaurant-bars for locals to enjoy. Although the restaurants share many of the same globally inspired menu items, each has its own distinct personality.
Sixth and Waller is a chic but casual diner serving lunch and dinner, plus all-day breakfast, which is especially popular for morning business meetings and weekend hangover brunches. Bright and airy and overlooking East Sixth Street, it offers a variety of seating areas to suit a variety of moods. There’s a vintage counter with booths and adorable pink barstools, a center lounge for quiet conversations or quiet solo noshing, and a main dining room lined in dramatic floor-length drapes.
Creative breakfast options include a rum-soaked grilled-pineapple salad topped with creamy yogurt and toasted granola, or eggs Benedict served on a tater tot cake and ladled with green-chile queso. There’s also blueberry-cream cheese French toast, or root vegetable hash topped with sunny side up eggs and pastrami.
For lunch or dinner, the West African peanut-and-tomato soup is a sweet and spicy bowl of rich, complex flavors and textures. For a cool and light meal, you can’t beat the addictive umami flavors of the chilled garlic-sesame udon noodles tossed with smoked mushrooms, scallions, cucumbers, radish and piquant chile oil. Heartier appetites might enjoy the hefty pastrami Reuben sandwich served with tasty homemade chips and pickles. Or for pure comfort food, the chicken-fried chicken is a platter of rustic battered chicken thighs accompanied by excellent mashed potatoes and collard greens. There’s a full cocktail bar, plus a lovely wine and beer list that spotlights regional favorites and international selections.
Save room for dessert. There are homemade pies, cake and ice cream, plus novel spins on classics like matcha- and black sesame-flavored Rice Krispie treats. The oversize cookies are outrageously good, and rotating flavors include MoonPie, millionaire’s shortbread and, my personal favorite, the richly flavored Thai tea snickerdoodle with candied peanuts.
While Sixth and Waller offers all-day dining, the other two venues feature mostly cocktails and light fare. Pool Bar, the outdoor bar and lounge adjoining the hotel’s pool, feels like something out of Gilligan’s Island, with seating options beneath a shaded canopy or under the Texas sun —or moon. There are light bites and a few entrée items, but Pool Bar’s focus is frozen cocktails, like the Frozen Sunset, blended with plata tequila, rosé, strawberry and lime. The hotel bills it as the “Best Frozen Strawberry Margarita Ever” — and this may indeed be true. To soak up libations, upscale bar nibbles include delicious tater tots loaded with queso, bacon and green onion, or guacamole studded with pomegranate, toasted pumpkin seeds, green onion and cotija cheese. For something more substantial, there are sandwiches, salads and burgers.
On the top of the four-story hotel perches The Upside, a sultry, candle-lit bar bathed in natural light and swept with balmy breezes. Inside, the sleek U-shaped bar overlooks the bustling street scene below, and the terrace offers al fresco seating on bohemian cushions or more traditional chairs and benches. Open only in the late afternoon and evening, The Upside offers a food menu similar to Pool Bar’s, plus imaginative cocktails, like the dangerously quaffable Champagne paloma, a crispy, citrusy concoction of blanco tequila, sparkling wine and three kinds of grapefruit juice.
Opened in May, the East Austin Hotel is owned and operated by the La Corsha Hospitality Group. Austin architects Rhode Partners and interior designers Robin Kelley and Kathy Steele collaborated to create an atmosphere of cool and calm. The 75 stylish but approachable guest rooms were inspired by midcentury modern designs and vary from luxurious poolside suites to dorm-like cabin rooms. In addition to enjoying the hotel’s three restaurants, non-guests can purchase a one-day pool pass or partake in theme events like weekend pool parties.
Every time I go to the East Side, I’m delighted with new additions like the East Austin Hotel. While it’s still finding its stride, this glam yet funky destination will unquestionably please tourists and locals alike by infusing laid-back Austin with a little Palm Springs sizzle.