Founder and CCO, Bunkhouse
Liz Lambert is not your typical hotelier, and it’s not only because her background includes prosecuting street crime in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. What makes her perspective unique to the industry is how she learned the business. She bought the Hotel San José over fifteen years ago with little more than guts and a vision. Unable financially to begin renovations, she ran the hotel herself for three years while forming a business plan and working to secure financing.
Compared to today, the hotel and its South Congress neighborhood have little in common. The area was not Austin’s epicenter known for dining and boutique shopping. It was at best run-down, at worst dangerous. The hotel was largely occupied by long-term tenants, most down on their luck, and Liz saw and dealt with it all. Documenting her experiences with a video camera, she eventually turned her footage into a gritty and moving documentary, The Last Days of the San José.
While waiting for financing, Liz had time to plan and dream — to think about all of the elements that make a hotel great. Not just design and amenities, but also the type of service and atmosphere appropriate for today’s sophisticated travelers. The result of her efforts exceeded even her own expectations — a hotel both unique to Austin and uniquely Austin. Praised in feature articles in national magazines and coffee table books, the renovated San José became a not-quite-overnight success.
Inspired by the pillars of design, music and community-driven experiences, Liz formed her own hospitality company, Bunkhouse, in 2006, which is now well known for its celebrated portfolio of four of the hippest hotels in Texas and multiple locations of Austin’s beloved coffee shop, Jo’s.
After the San José, Liz saw an opportunity for a neighborhood coffee joint and built the original Jo’s Coffee adjacent to the hotel. Next came the Thunderbird, a sleek, stylish hotel in West Texas (she later sold her stake in the property) followed by a second Jo’s location in downtown Austin. In late 2008, Liz and her team opened the Hotel Saint Cecilia, an opulent 14 room property named after the patron saint of music and poetry and situated on a sprawling 1880 Victorian estate around the corner from the Hotel San José. In 2009, the Bunkhouse team extended their portfolio into San Antonio with the purchase of the Havana Riverwalk Inn, reopened in April 2010 as Hotel Havana after a signature Lambert renovation and followed with the opening of lounge and restaurant Ocho at Hotel Havana in 2011. Also in 2009, Liz’s longtime dream project, El Cosmico – a 21-acre modern-day campground/vintage trailer hotel in Marfa, TX – opened its doors to the public. In 2010, Jo’s Coffee expanded onto the St Edward’s University campus with two locations.
In June 2015, Standard International, the creative development and operating company behind The Standard Hotels, acquired 51% of Bunkhouse. The new partnership, in which both companies and their hotel portfolios continue to maintain their own distinct brand identities, has given Bunkhouse access to more resources and a larger platform to expand their hotels into markets that resonate with brand. Bunkhouse currently has two projects in development, Hotel San Cristobal in Todos Santos, Mexico, slated for a spring 2016 opening, and Lambert’s third Austin hotel, which is set to open in South Congress in 2017.