For Austin residents, the Hotel Saint Cecilia has plenty of cachet: you can’t just waltz in for a cocktail at the bar anytime or even stroll the grounds. Both are accessible only to hotel guests and the lucky few who carry a coveted Saint Cecilia membership card. My Mr Smith and I love this Austin boutique hotel as a special place to mark milestones. This one commemorates our waning days as a family of two. At seven months pregnant, I am excited for lingering bubble baths, rather than boozy nights around the fire pit.
Though Hotel Saint Cecilia is only two blocks off bustling South Congress, where its edgier little sis Hotel San José sits, its lush grounds feel secluded from the city. A chic vest-clad attendant greets us as we pull off a residential street into the discreet parking lot, whisking away our bags and leading us to the front office. Cecilia is the patron saint of music and poetry, so artsy nods to her pop up throughout the property in subtle, yet colourful ways. The lobby is fittingly lined with an extensive library of vinyl. Outside, a neon side that reads ‘SOUL’ illuminates the sun-drenched lap pool.
As we head to our room, past massive oak trees, we gaze at the beautiful buildings, including a white-washed 1800s Victorian house holding five suites, modern grey-stucco pool bungalows and the main building, with a dark Parisian parlour-style bar at its centre. The rocking complex feels like a private community where Mick Jagger and Hunter S. Thompson would hang out. We haven’t even arrived at our room and we’re already smitten with Cecilia.
We duck through a private gate to the poolside bungalow that will be ours for the next two nights. It’s a study in contradictions: luxurious but understated, modern but vintage. It’s a special place, but it lacks my one critical criterion: a soaking tub. The staff immediately move us upstairs to a bungalow with a bath and a special bonus: a clear view of the city’s downtown skyline, which we plan to enjoy from both the inside breakfast nook and the covered front porch.
Every detail is perfect in this room. Oversize French doors separate the front sitting room from the bedroom, where the focal point is HSC’s famous, sleep-seducing handmade Hastens beds. I test it out, sink right in and feel tempted to spend the rest of the day engulfed in the high-threadcount splendour of the mattress. But bedtime will come. On my way to the tub, I peek into the mini bar. It’s stocked with a hipster’s little black book of independent producers, including Mast Brothers Chocolate from Brooklyn, Hampton Popcorn and Good Cheese Co. Olive Oil Crackers. If I weren’t expecting baby Smith, I would’ve mixed a cocktail using mini-bottles of Austin-based Tito’s Vodka.
Alas, the only elixirs I will use are the enticing blends beside my tub. I ogle Dr Singha’s mustard rub and citrus body oil, then light incense by Nag Champa for the ultimate relaxation. Oiled and finally ready, I climb into the black mosaic tub for what is more than just a bath: it is an experience. As the sun sets, the low lighting of the room and the ultra plush bedding remind us that leaving Cecilia, even for a quick dinner, isn’t easy.
Rather than try one of the restaurants on the nearby South Congress stretch (portmanteau: SoCo), for dinner, we opt for a longer stroll to the new French-Vietnamese fusion eatery, Elizabeth Street Café. After slurping flavorful pho with oolong tea on neighbouring South First , we pause for a nightcap in the hotel lounge. Part sexy cocktailerie, part genteel garden terrace, we praise a stray peacock and an unsurprisingly perfect playlist for setting the scene. Then it’s back to our bungalow, where we open the windows onto the balcony and test out the turntable.
After a slow-dance to Al Green’s Greatest Hits on vinyl, we curl up in the silky sheets and check off our breakfast orders on the letterpress menu that we pin to the door with a leather, HSC-monogrammed magnet. Finally, we nestle into the padded bliss of the Hastens.
Cecilia’s breakfast menu tends toward short-and-sweet, rather than a Texas-size all-you-can-muster menu, but like everything else at the hotel, the attention to detail is impeccable. When the appointed breakfast hour rolls around, an unobtrusive server appears and sets up our meal – a ham and Gruyère crepe, along with granola and yogurt – on the porch paired with our newspaper of choice.
After we’ve digested, we hop on the hotel’s complimentary cruiser bikes for a shopping tour of SoCo, making stops in favourite vintage haunts, including Feathers, New Bohemia, Prototype, along with men’s shops STAG and Service Menswear. Then we retreat to our beloved Cecilia with visions of sipping Pellegrino poolside with a copy of Glen E Friedman’s The Idealist borrowed from the hotel’s extensive library of art, music and poetry books. We pick up dessert from the sinful donut trailer Gourdough’s to sweeten the afternoon. We soak it up, even as daylight dims and the SOUL sign shines brighter.
We may not have not partied at this super-stylish boutique hideaway like the many musicians who check into Cecilia on visits to Austin or for performances at South by Southwest. But we feel just as hip when we pull of its gates. Hotel Saint Cecilia is just the kind of place where indie-spirited travellers with an appreciation for great design and fine detail can rev up or relax however they please – whether that be with epic late-night rock star revelry or simply a hot bath and an intoxicating view.