Three Gothic Tales from Austin, Texas
Photo via hotelchatter.com
The Hotel San Jose
“I’ve stayed in this hotel at least 15 times. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
Clancy had shown me the video tour of our suite at the San Jose Hotel. It looked like The Hermosa in Scottsdale (except at The Hermosa, each guest has her own adobe casita). It looked like the Altis Belem in Lisbon (except the oceanfront Altis Belem is fancier and I prefer the San Jose’s APC.-style simplicity). It looked like Philip Stark’s hotel in Hong Kong, except the suites there are bigger, cleaner, and more stylish, with individual touches, like a beaded rocking chair from Africa, and the Stark boutique hotel has free breakfast, free snacks downstairs all day, and cocktails and cake in the afternoon.
When we checked in the staff was strangely surly. They acted like clerks used to act at cool record stores in the 90s.
“That’s the only problem with this place,” Clancy apologized. “They’ve always acted like that. But otherwise it’s great.”
We were in the largest suite but they couldn’t check us in for several hours. “Check-in,” they said, “is at three.” Apparently there is a great demand in Austin, Texas for $700-a-night suites. All four had been booked the previous night, according to the clerk in a newsboy hat, and none had been cleaned. He offered to hold our bags.
Things went from inauspicious to bad. It may come as a surprise, but when I get angry I go crazy. We were finally checked into our room at around five. That night, Clancy and I had the worst fight we’ve ever had. I broke the bottle of “Rainwater” that was provided free of charge. I shouted.
Two bearded, hipster security guards arrived. These two young men in black were in over their heads. Not knowing how to handle noise complaints (one said there had been four, and one said there had been six), they seemed to have come to our door thinking, “What would the officers on Cops do?” One had a Maglite. I sensed they were frustrated they couldn’t arrest me. I felt like they wanted to award Clancy, who gets quiet and—in his own words—exaggeratedly polite when he is angry, a Man of the Year Award.
The next morning a hotel manager called the room. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Clancy said that was fine, but that she would have to credit us for the second night’s stay. She said, “No, I won’t be able to do that.” He was firm. They met in the courtyard, next to a tiny black-slate wading pool and the little boutique where the Hotel San Jose sells Toms shoes and $25 neon-green flip-flops.
“I’ve had complaints. You’re going to have to leave,” she said.
Clancy said, “That’s the business you’re in. I’m sure we’re not the first couple to have a fight in this hotel. Are you married?”
She shook her head.
“Well, one day you will be, and then you’ll understand that married couples fight, and you can’t decide when and where you’re going to have a fight with your spouse.”
He returned to the room. “We’re staying.”
Things went from bad to worse. The entire staff had been gossiping about us. That was understandable, but the strange thing was that they wanted us to know it. No one would look us in the eye, except to express contempt.
“This is fun,” Clancy said. “I feel like the unpopular kid in high school again.”
The next morning we sat at Joe’s, the pleasant coffee shop owned by the hotel, located on the other side of the parking lot. We debated about whether or not we should write this review.
What can I say? It’s a boutique hotel, like any other. We behaved badly. But there’s a reason The Four Seasons, The Rosewood, The Mandarin, and my little places such as the ones mentioned at the opening send their future managers to The Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. While there, future managers work for a year, starting in housekeeping, or as busboys. It is because for a hotel to be good—let alone great—only one thing is required: courtesy.
Photo via uchiaustin.com
Oof. Talk about night and day. The staff at Uchi spoil you rotten. First, let me list the dishes we ate:
1. Kusshi Oyster: dime-sized British Columbia oysters with a sliver of kimchee, finger lime, and celery heart
2. Biendo: a light tempura shrimp spring roll with nuoc mam and grapes
3. Madai Nigiri: Japanese sea bream, meyer lemon zest, olive oil, shiso
4. Hama Chili: baby yellowtail, ponzu, thai chili, orange supreme
5. Maguro and Goat Cheese Sashimi: big-eye tuna, pumpkin-seed oil, fuji apple
6. Sake Toro Nigiri: Atlantic salmon belly, ginger, ikura
7. Suzuki Chimichurri: loup de mer, Thai chimichurri, cherry tomato, mint
8. Zero Sen: yellowtail, avocado, shallot, cilantro, tobiko, yuzu
9. Machi Cure: smoked yellowtail, yucca crisp, marcona almond, Asian pear, garlic brittle
10. Bacon Steakie: pork belly, watermelon radish, citrus, Thai basil
11. Tannin Bune: sea urchin, ikura, quail egg
12. Kamo Kohlrabi: duck breast, kohlrabi, apple, caraway
13. Wagyu Satsuma Imo: Wagyu beef, Japanese sweet potato, fennel, tamari
14. Foie Gras Nigiri: foie gras, candied quinoa, fish caramel, shiso
15. Lemon Gelato: served on a bed of ground pistachios and white balsamic vinegar
16. Jizake Crème Caramel: brown butter sorbet, ginger consommé
Our main waiter, Cameron Cronin, chose our dishes for us. He was soft-spoken, confident, very well-informed and well-trained, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy making us happy. Sometimes he had to suppress his smile. At least three other servers brought us our food. They all had interesting things to say about their particular dish. When Cameron brought the Foie Gras Nigiri, he said, “This is my favorite dish.” Then he laughed and said, “I think I’ve already told you that a few times. I’m bringing you all of my favorite dishes.” The manager came by and thanked us for dining with them, and recommended a delicacy not available on the menu (#11, which was delivered on the house). We said, “Who would have guessed you could get fish like this in Austin, Texas,” and she said, “I know, right. I’ve been working here two years and I’m still amazed.”
Photo by Sara Fillmore
We’d read that the best tattoo artist in Austin—a city where it is difficult to find un-tattooed humans—was Chris. We made an appointment, came in the front door and asked for him. He said, “What kind of tattoo are you looking for?” We described the simple tattoo that we wanted. A half-naked man lay in front of him, stomach down, his back almost entirely covered by a Japanese tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon. Chris seemed insulted by the tattoo we had in mind. He said, “I don’t do that kind of thing,” and referred us to Bob in the back.
Bob looks and acts like Santa Claus. He is afraid of ants, who have attacked him en masse, and with—he believes—premeditation, on two occasions. Also, Bob once left a baby possum’s head behind the tattoo parlor, to be cleaned by carpenter ants. The ants, Bob explained, covered the head in leaves to hide it, and then ate everything but the teeth.
“I couldn’t believe they ate my possum skull. I was like, ‘Well, they outsmarted me again.’”
Bob has white crow’s feet tattooed in the corners of both of his eyes. We didn’t dare ask him why he had done this.
Our friend was getting her first tattoo, and she was nervous. Bob made her laugh while she suffered under the needle. He said, “My son was coming over and asked me for a favor. ‘Dad, this is a theater group and they all think I’m gay. Will you play along?’ Boy, did he act the queen that night. Finally, I said, ‘You know, it’s OK if you’re gay, son.’ He said, ‘Dad, a penis is a fun thing to play with, but I can’t imagine cuddling with a man. Yuck.’” We were quiet. Bob read our minds, and he said, “I don’t mind if he is gay.” After about an hour in Bob’s chair, our friend was delighted with the work he had done. She had the benefit of endorphins, which made Bob’s stories palatable. We were not so lucky. We stumbled out into the daylight, and looked for a place to get ice cream. Do consider Bob if you need a tattoo, but bring your iPod and a good set of headphones, and don’t mention ants.
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