In scenes that look uncannily similar to the pandemic, the 1997 Hotel San José saw Austinites upon Austinites look Liz Lambert in the eye through a plexiglass screen and ask for a room for the night.
Lambert's newest documentary, "Through the Plexi-Glass: the Last Days of the San José," serves as a moving reprisal of her original, "Last Days of the San José." The documentary debuted at SXSW and tells the untold story of the San José, gentrification and how it led to her eventually leaving Bunkhouse Group, the hospitality company she created.
In the beginning, the film shows a peek back in time to South Congress in the late 1990s.
A lawyer who had just returned home to Austin from Manhattan, Lambert loved spending time on South Congress. She frequented the Continental Club, a longtime Austin staple, which lived across from the Hotel San José. While it looked decrepit, Lambert would soon discover that the hotel was "teeming with life."
The hotel had just been listed in China when Lambert approached asking to buy it. They said yes, and after buying the hotel, the previous owners left town and were never to be seen again.
Lambert didn't buy a traditional hotel. The Hotel San José was low-income housing, and she continued to run it, as-is, for more than three years while she raised capital to renovate.
Over the course of those three years, Lambert saw unimaginable things in that "red-light district," met a hotel full of characters and befriended many of them.
Lambert finally got a loan to renovate the hotel a few years later and closed. Ever since, South Congress has not been the same. At the end of the film, Lambert took responsibility for the spark that started gentrification on South Congress.
"That's the thing about change: You're losing something to create something new," Lambert said in the film.
Lambert said she sold the majority of Bunkhouse to Standard Hotels in 2017. She was fired from Bunkhouse Group because she and the company disagreed on "how to best grow the company."
"Why does every business in America see growth as the path to winning? I fought against it for, I guess, a couple of years," Lambert said. "I really hoped the specialness of what we had grown at Bunkhouse and at the San José would prevail."
In the film, overlaid with beautiful b-roll of the hotels she helped create, Lambert said it isn't lost on her that the gentrification sparked by the hotel's renovation was brought to bear on her.
"You're kidding yourself to think things aren't changing," Lambert said. "No matter what happens to the San José, it's always where I came from. Things aren't forever. Nothing gold can stay, right?"
If you were there to witness South Congress in the '90s, this will bring you back to old Austin. If you weren't, the film will show you a side of Austin that is gone forever.
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Terry Black’s Barbecue is journeying outside of the smoked meats sphere and into the hospitality sector, announcing plans to open “Friday Mountain,” a resort-style vineyard near Driftwood.
According to a report from the Austin Business Journal, Friday Mountain will be located on 64 acres at 150 Concord Circle, featuring a boutique hotel with 22 rooms, a 14-acre vineyard and a 20,000-square-foot underground wine facility, a spa, event space, all-day café and high-end restaurant. Construction is poised to start in the next month.
The courtyard outside of the event space will echo Hill Country architecture. (Rogers-O'Brien Construction)
Co-owner Mark Black said he expects construction to last about 10 months, hoping for opening early next year, and would hire around 140 employees: 60 full-time and 80 part-time.
The new project has long been in the works for the restaurateurs—including Mark’s twin brother Mike and sister Christina—who come from the same lineage as those behind Lockhart’s Black’s BBQ but separated the business due to a falling out within the family.
Friday Mountain was originally planned to be a wedding venue but issues arising about noise, traffic and environmental concerns led the Dripping Springs City Council to ask for updated plans.
A rendering of the entrance to the planned underground wine cave. (Rogers-O'Brien Construction)
In the new plans, which have since been submitted, Black said he heard the neighborhood's concerns and is focusing on working with the right contractors to avoid issues. Black said he knows not everyone will be on board with the venue but that it will provide a little something for everyone.
To bring the concept to life, Black is partnering with engineers at Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc., architects at Lawrence Group, and Rogers-O’Brien Construction Co. Ltd. as the general contractor.
As for the vineyard, Black has partnered with Salt Lick Cellars to have wine aged and ready to drink wine upon opening and will hand off wine making operations to enthusiast Phil Price.
According to a Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation filing, the project will cost an estimated $20 million to be completed in January 2023.
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The Texas French Bread Bakery, located on 2900 Rio Grande Street, has been completely destroyed after a fire erupted on Monday night.
The Austin Fire Department responded to the fire just before 11 p.m., where they arrived to see flames coming from the roof of the bakery. Firefighters fought the fire for about an hour before the roof collapsed.
While no one was injured in the fire, firefighters say the historic building was completely totaled.
Texas French Bread just went up in flames pic.twitter.com/agXqKN3c00
— Jordan (@AimIessFriend) January 25, 2022
AFD determined that the fire was accidental and caused by mechanical failure. AFD said the damages amounted to $1.6 million total: $1.1 million in structural damage and $500,000 in damage to the contents of the bakery.
This year, Texas French Bread will celebrate 40 years of business. Before the bakery occupied the building, it was the Rome Inn, a music venue that hosted 1970s artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan.