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A Cattle Baron's Palace: Austin's Historic Driskill Hotel

By Courtney Clark

The historic Driskill Hotel has been an Austin icon since December 20, 1886, when it was opened by cattle baron Jesse Driskill. Driskill said he intended for the hotel to "rival the palaces in New York, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco." He was successful.

Shyla Gardner, director of sales and marketing, says that Driskill "spared no expense on the four-story, 60-room Richardson-Romanesque structure." Driskill spent more than $400,000 to build his hotel- by today's standards, that is more than $92 million. The hotel was designed by the architect J. N. Preston & Son with elaborately ornamented brick and native limestone façades. Rooms were outfitted with custom furnishings. Later renovations, including the addition of a 12-story annex in 1929, brought the total number of rooms to 189. Today, guests can stay in the Cattle Baron suite, decorated in lavish old-west animal skins; the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential suite, complete with a window the size of an entire wall; and the Renaissance suite, elegantly styled with an elaborate iron bedframe and wooden floors.

The Driskill, Collier explains, also "served as an epicenter of political activity" since it was completed two years prior to the Texas State Capitol building. The hotel hosted inaugural balls for likes of Governor Sul Ross and Governor Miriam Ferguson. It was in the Jim Hogg Parlor that President Lyndon B. Johnson discovered that he won his 1948 Senate campaign and 1964 Presidential election.

In the center of the Texas Hill Country, the "Live Music Capital of the World," the hotel is walking distance from several music clubs, such as La Zona Rosa and the Austin Music Hall. The Driskill also hosts its own live music six nights a week. Musical styles range from classical pianists and jazz to singer/songwriters and rockabilly. Guests can enjoy the music while drinking cocktails or craft beers in the warm and spacious Driskill Bar. When mealtime approaches, check out the Driskill Grill, which has been on the Award of Excellence List in Wine Spectator for the past four years. The hotel also celebrates special events for holidays like Easter and Mother's Day- each one "evoking the grandeur and style of Texas."

With its delicious food, astonishing decor, and intriguing history, the Driskill Hotel is, as Collier rightly says, "an iconic and beloved landmark in the heart of downtown Austin, 129 years after opening."

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