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					Four Hotels With Spice, Allure and the Liz Lambert Touch

If you’re looking for Liz Lambert, the West Tex as-born hotelier, she might be in San Antonio, perfecting
hand-chipped-ice margaritas in her new restaurant at the historic Hotel Havana. She may be meeting
guests at the Saint Cecilia, her quietly luxurious property in Austin, where bungalows have Swedish
Hastens mattresses and guests sip throwback cocktails at a private bar shaded by live oaks. Or, if the
South by Southwest festival is in full swing, you’re likely to find her in Austin chatting with musicians
outside the Hotel San José, converted from a seedy by-the-hour mot el to a Zen-like retreat — the first
property in her hotel empire.

Expanded coverage of Texas is produced by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit news organization. To join
the conversation about this article, go to texastribune.org.
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Allison V. Smith for The Texas Tribune
Hotel Havana in San Ant onio.
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Allison V. Smith for The Texas Tribune
Hotel San José in Austin.
O.K., the word “empire” is a bit of a stretch when talking about someone who owns only four hotels. Then
again, barely a week after South by Southwest, residents and visitors are coming off somet hing of a Liz
Lambert-induced high. In recent years, the San José (1316 South Congress Avenue, 512-444-7322,
doubles from $95), has been one of the festival’s epicenters. A parking lot between the hot el and Jo’s,
Ms. Lambert’s effortlessly hip coffee stand, is converted into a concert venue. The space is outlined with
pop-up design shops and count ers selling spicy micheladas, and attendees adhere to an unofficial dress
code of chunky glasses, fedoras and combat — or cowboy — boots.

The San José is distinctly Austin and distinctly Lambert, a balance of brand and place that hoteliers
dream of achieving. The same can be said about the 14-room Saint Cecilia (112 Academy Drive,
512-852-2400, studios from $295, suites from $420), blocks — though worlds — away. Though critics
initially had sticker shock, they embraced the hotel’s opening as an indicator that South Austin w as
growing up. If vinyl-lined walls, La Compagnie de Provence amenities and Geneva turntables signaled
more maturity, so be it.

In markets beyond Austin, Ms. Lambert has taken her grounded design instincts with her, but she has
looked to local communities for inspiration. In Marfa, that means teaming up wit h artists and students to
help build El Cosmico (802 South Highland A venue, 432 -729-1950, doubles from $85 a night), an organic
work in progress, much like its wild West Texas surroundings. The 18 -acre property is beautifully littered
with accommodation options ranging from vintage trailers to a 22-foot teepee and a handful of yurts.
Dutchtubs, heated by fireplaces, can be rented by the hour.

At the Havana (1015 Navarro Street, 210 -222-2008, doubles from $150), a historic 27-room property on
the San Antonio River Walk, Ms. Lambert tapped the celebrated homet own architecture firm Lake Flato to
help with the renovation, and slipped Mexican and Cuban det ails into room interiors. La Virgen candles
grace the entry way, and minibars hold bags of Chiclets, while nostalgic Cuban touc hes include plantation
shutters and wrought-iron bed frames.

She is currently working on the hotel’s restaurant, Ocho, housed in a glass -enclosed space that looks like
an elegant bird cage. As is often the case for Ms. Lambert, the restaurant’s inception was inspired by a
single object — this time a 1905 porcelain sign that spells out “Ocho” in industrial-style bulbs, which she
found at the biannual flea market in Round Top.

The space will also house a 14-foot -long hand-carved wooden bar from Mexico, and, “for theater,” as Ms.
Lambert says with her infectious laugh, bartenders will hand-crack ice for Ocho’s signature margaritas.
(The logistics around hand-cracking ice — from the timing to the possibility that women in silk tops could
be spray ed with shards — has Ms. Lambert’s team in a slight funk, but she’s confident that a solution will
arise in the next few weeks.)

Ms. Lambert’s hotels are all in Tex as, though friends and fans are eager to know where she will head
next. Word has it she’s scouting properties in Houston and on both coasts. “I would love to see her
interpretation of L.A. grit,” said Nina Garduno, a friend and the creator of the ret ail outlet/artist commune
Free City Supers hop in Hollywood.

Carlos Couturier, co-owner of the hospitality group Grupo Habita based in Mexico, said he could see her
next vent ure in New York or on a beach in Mexico. “Her design is so smart, so Texan and so global at the
same time,” Mr. Couturier said. “S he has a great sense of well -being and attracts the perfect crowd.”

Arguably, “the perfect crowd” is something hot eliers can’t control. They can set price points and pick out
locations, but no one knows who will ultimately knock on the door.

And yet this is perhaps Ms. Lambert’s greatest strength. That’s why you’ll typically find her among her
fans, as was the case on a recent Friday. She stood alongside scores of people at her “always and
forever free” South by San José concert, listening to her girlfriend, the musician Amy Cook, sing “As Long
as I Have You.”

				
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