BY CHARLES CURKIN
For sizzled college kids, SoCo is an abbreviation for the sugary liqueur Southern Comfort. In Austin, it’s short for South Congress, a hip, evolving neighborhood near the Texas capital city’s center. For a district that was once known for its seedy, pay-by-the-hour motels, the new South Congress Hotel is a symbol of how far it’s come in an era when the annual SXSW festival turned Austin into a destination for movie moguls and the young pirates of Silicon Valley. At 83 rooms, 12 of which are suites, the hotel is a paradigm of actual Southern comfort. This, according to the hotel’s designer, Milo Garcia, was the goal. “We had a very specific trajectory,” says Garcia, a principal of the Los Angeles based Studio MAI. “One that aimed to achieve a humble, approachable feeling that is characteristic of Austin.” For him, that means an aesthetic that’s rugged elegant, and minimal.
An earthiness pervades the interiors, from the walls to the custom furniture and linens, with the liberal deployment of stitched leathers, reclaimed woods, denims, and unfinished metals. The rooftop pool bar is lined with wood-framed loungers and basketball hoop-shaped canopies; the sunset views of the Colorado River are benefiting the Technicolor Western. Despite the buzz around chef Paul Qui’s highly anticipated 12-seat omakase restaurant, Otoko, a make-yourself-at-home vibe runs throughout. The meat forward café, No Sé, is casual; the rooms come with access to free flicks from local Drafthouse Films; and the street-level vintage motorcycle shop is pure Texas. southcongresshotel.com