This fall, after three years of designing and building, the highly anticipated South Congress Hotel — and its adjacent Café No Sé — opened. New Waterloo, the hospitality group behind Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Hotel Ella, is responsible for the meticulous attention to detail apparent in the design of the 83-room boutique hotel. Here are seven other things to know before you go.
New Waterloo has an in-house design department called Waterloo Workshop, and it also collaborated with Michael Hsu Office of Architecture, Studio MAI out of California for much of the interior design; FÖDA for graphic design and branding; and Ten Eyck for landscape architecture. “We wanted to build a building,” says Jesse Herman, a partner at New Waterloo, “that used a lot of traditional materials but did it in a way that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to pinpoint exactly what the inspiration was or, 15 years from now, say, ‘That building was built in 2015.’ It’s also something we thought would fit in well with Austin and have a strong sense of place — makes you feel like you are here.”
Customization is key
“There’s a modern re-visitation of a Brazilian style of Tropicália but also, from a furniture design standpoint, lots of woods and leathers and organic materials like that,” says Herman, who lived in Brazil when he was young and returns often to visit. The designers’ West Coast influence can also be seen in the interior and over 3,000 pieces of custom furniture. Inside, the lobby and lounge are decked in calm earth tones with pops of cool blue and fiery rust. Potted tropical plants and succulents add a green feel to the space while floor-to-ceiling bookshelves display handmade pottery and rows of books on Frank Lloyd Wright, the Bauhaus movement and Japanese cuisine.
The rooftop pool offers a unique view of South Congress from above and the city skyline and Capitol to the north. “For years, South Congress was here but you were never able to be above it and just watch what’s going on below,” points out Herman. “As of now, the pool is only open to hotel guests, but I think that what we’ll do in the future is have a membership program that includes a number of different amenities beyond just this.” All the suites feature their own spacious, pool-facing balconies with plenty of comfortable lounge chairs and sunbeds.
The hotel’s technology package is next level. Every room has its own dedicated, secure network, which makes for an Internet speed of 500 MB a second. In addition to regular cable, the hotel also offers Apple TV, Chromecast and the streaming capabilities of over 40 movies curated by Alamo Drafthouse’s distribution company, Drafthouse Films.
Stellar morning dining
You won’t find any standard hotel continental breakfasts at Café No Sé. With 2015 James Beard Foundation Award semi-finalist (and Top Chef: Just Desserts alum) Amanda Rockman as pastry chef, expect delicious specimens like housemade ham and cheese croissants and delicate kouign-amann. The rest of the breakfast menu is just as well conceived, with options like a fruit plate with razor-thin pineapple slices, sprigs of basil and a drizzle of agave nectar, or crispy, sunny-side-up eggs served with romesco sauce, arugula, grilled bread and speck from La Quercia.
Equally delicious at lunch and dinner
Executive chef Michael Paley puts a fresh, California-inspired twist on his classic Italian foundation throughout the day. In a city rife with barbecue and steak, the home-grown menu at Café No Sé is a welcome change. “What I really want the food here to be is very seasonal and clean,” Paley says. “No heavy sauces. Even if we’re doing a braise or a pasta, we’ll do a very light approach — not a lot of butter, fat or gluten.” The chef, who came from 21c Museum Hotels, a similar boutique hospitality group based in Louisville, offers plenty of vegetable-focused options and uses local products whenever possible in satisfying dishes like ricotta gnudi with grilled corn, charred sugar snap peas and basil, and chicken schnitzel with parmesan crust, bitter green salad and lemon.
The foodie future is bright
Though phase one of the hotel just launched, there is much more to come. Central Standard, an East Coast-influenced restaurant focused on dinner that will also have Paley and Rockman calling the culinary shots, will open later this fall. Paul Qui’s 13-seat, omakase-style restaurant Otoko will be next to open, followed by Mañana, a juice bar featuring housemade pastries, with a main entrance on Monroe Street. You may have already seen the Stephen F. Frostin’ ice cream truck cruising around town. The sweet wheels, which serve Rockman’s housemade paletas and ice cream pops, will be parked on the patio during warmer months and available for events.