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Depending on who you ask, the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt represents either the best thing to happen to Austin in the last ten years … or a scar on the face of the Live Music Capital of the World.
Austin’s Rainey Street District used to be the last quirky, affordable neighborhood in downtown with a rich multicultural heritage. Some of the bars and restaurants in this now-bumping party district are still built into some of those historic houses … but they now do their thing in the shadow of some of the priciest high-rise condos and apartments in the city. Few neighborhoods embody the polarizing notion of “gentrification” like Rainey Street.
Say this for the Van Zandt, though—they do swanky, upscale hospitality like no hotel in Austin outside of the historic, purportedly haunted Driskill, which has the disadvantage of being located on frat-happy “Dirty Sixth Street.”
In 2019 the Van Zandt was rated 4 Diamonds by AAA and was named the #1 Hotel in Texas by Conde Nast.
The Van Zandt finished construction and opened for business on 2015, just a year after IHG acquired Kimpton Hotels. When they bought Kimpton, IHG injected into their portfolio over 13,000 rooms across over 60 US hotels that upped IHG’s cache almost overnight. The Kimpton Hotels are easily the most luxurious and distinctive properties in IHG’s portfolio, running circles around previous star brands Hotel Indigo and InterContinental.
In fact, the Kimpton acquisition shook up the value of IHG credit card membership … for the worse. (See “How to Book It.”)
What it’s Like
The 319 rooms, including 41 suites, are built into one of the new-construction high-rises that have infuriated long-time Austinites, but injected life and commerce into Austin’s somewhat played-out downtown scene. There’s nothing played out about Rainey Street, though, and you see it when you pull up to the chic, imposing brick facade with modernist trim.
Valet parking is $49 per night out the gate, so if you’re punching above your weight thanks to IHG Rewards Club points, consider finding less-expensive parking … or better yet, avail yourselves of the pay-per-minute scooters and mopeds that infest Rainey Street. The Van Zandt also offers complimentary bicycle checkouts to guests. You can make an entire Austin vacation within biking distance of the Van Zandt, including museums, restaurants, nature, and clubbing.
Once inside the two sliding doors and two rotating doors, your first impression is of an ultra-modern lobby, soaring ceilings held up by concrete and blue-brick rectangular columns. Ergonomic chaise chairs offer waiting guests a place to sit, while the open-concept reception eschews any sense of claustrophobia. The “live music” tone was set by a chandelier made from brass horn instruments. To your immediate left, the snazzy coffee shop Cafe 605 beckons appealingly, like Starbucks only a gazillion times better.
Climb the exposed staircase and you will find fine-dining restaurant Geraldines, as well as signs of the Kimpton Hotels’ brand commitment to distinctive artistry. The second floor is a gallery of unique artwork, much of it music themed to echo Austin’s reputation for live music. The dining at Geraldine’s is high-end continental/American cuisine and predictably superb. The hotel hosts a wine social from 5pm-6pm nightly.
Take the elevator to the roof and discover a full-service rooftop Infinity pool with arcing water features. It’s not huge, but it’s beautiful and festive, with spectacular views of the skyline and Lady Bird Lake. The 24-hour fitness center was up-to-date and spacious, but lacked a view.
The room, while not huge, was a gorgeous mix of ultra-modern with classic touches, like a round wooden dinette table perched on a sculpted pediment, set upon dark carpet with an artful VZ pattern. The bedding on the king-sized bed was monochrome and minimalist, which contrasted perfectly with the dark velvet texture of the main accent wall.
Minibar was well stocked, and the list of in-room dining and amenity options was extensive. IHG Rewards Club members get a $30 credit for in-room spa treatments, while IHG Rewards Club Elite members get an additional $10 bar credit.
The star of the room was the bathroom—spacious and impeccably modern, with a slate-tile shower stall and a standalone basin jacuzzi tub, big enough for two, set against a tinted floor-to-ceiling window with skyline views. Other rooms have views of Lady Bird Lake.
When you’re ready to step out, Rainey Street has a lot to offer. There’s Craft Pride, a beer bar with a food trailer in the back run by Via 313, famously voted on of the 50 best pizzerias in the country. There’s Bangers, an open-air microbrew/artisan sausage restaurant. There’s “G’Raj Mahal,” a cheekily-named Indian restaurant built into a corrugated steel building. There’s a food trailer park for comfort/intoxication food. And, of course, sultry nightlife at spots like UnBarLievable, Icenhauer’s, Lucille, and of course Container Bar—a local landmark built from shipping containers.
All in all, it’s easy to see why Conde Nast rated this the best hotel in Texas.
How to Book It
Chase’s co-branded credit cards with IHG have historically offered a free-night certificate every account anniversary. This includes;
- The IHG Rewards Club Plus World MasterCard. This card took the prize for free night benefits, offering an unrestricted free night with only a $49 annual fee. (Or at least, it used to be unrestricted. See below.) The card was closed for new applications when the Rewards Club Premier debuted, but people who got the Rewards Club Plus before it closed for applications have been allowed to keep with the same terms and perks.
- The IHG Rewards Club Premier World Elite MasterCard. The new IHG credit card also offers a free night certificate at your account anniversary, but carries an $89 annual fee. However, it has World Elite MasterCard perks, as well as IHG Platinum Elite status and better spending bonus categories (although not good enough to justify spending on it anywhere except for purchases from IHG properties.
For four blissful years, those free night certificates were unrestricted—meaning you could redeem it at a Kimpton Hotel like the Van Zandt, which starts in the neighborhood of $250 a room. For a $49 or even an $89 annual fee, that’s the definition of a no-brainer.
Unfortunately, IHG put an end to the fun, imposing restrictions on the free night certificates offered by both cards in 2018. Now the certificates are only good for award bookings that price at 40,000 IHG Rewards Club Points or less.
However, you can still book a night at the Van Zandt starting at 60,000 IHG Rewards Club Points. That’s a great deal, considering that the InterContinental Stephen F. Austin starts at 50,000 Rewards Club Points for a hotel room that starts at $200.
You can get 60,000 IHG Rewards Club Points if you are an IHG loyalist, choosing properties like the Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express for your paid nights; or you could apply for the IHG Rewards Club Premier World Elite MasterCard, which currently offers a 140,000-point sign-up bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months. That’s enough for two free nights at the Van Zandt … and with high enough IHG status, you might qualify for suite upgrades.