Liz Lambert left her job as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office in 1994 and returned to her native Texas to work in the Attorney General’s office in Austin. She used to hang out at the Continental Club on South Congress Avenue with her friend (club owner) Steve Wertheimer and fantasize about the rundown old 1930’s hotel across the street. In those days, South Congress was a bad part of town and the hotel was a haven of drugs, crime and cyclical poverty. In a stroke of luck or destiny, Liz approached the owners on a whim to find out they had just put the property up for sale. She bought the hotel thinking she’d renovate it one room at a time, but reality set in and she ended up running the hotel in its existing state as a low rent residential hotel for several years while she worked on funding to renovate. In the course of chronicling her experiences with the residents of the hotel on video camera, she ended up making a documentary called Last Days of the San Jose that casts an interesting light on human relationships in gentrification and urban renewal.
Once funding came through, Liz worked with celebrated San Antonio architecture firm Lake/Flato on the transformation of the motor court property into its current incarnation as a great example of Texas minimalist style and Liz’s unique design voice. From bed platforms made of reclaimed native hardwood to custom saddle leather chairs by artist Jamey Garza, from granite pathways to the impeccably curated landscape designed by artist Mark Word – the San Jose’s design reflects a voice that is proudly local and uniquely Texan.
Along the way, Liz’s love for music gave birth to the South By San Jose festival, which grew from three bands on the asphalt of the old motel in 1998 to a 5 day festival in the parking lot with attendance in the thousands and headliners like Built To Spill, Billy Joe Shaver, Alejandro Escovedo, The Black Angels and countless other local and touring bands concurrent with the SXSW festival in Austin. The Hotel San Jose and Jo’s Coffee are host to a variety or regular and special events throughout the year.
In 2006 Liz created Bunkhouse, a company to oversee her growing portfolio of hotels and Jo’s Coffee locations. In 2008 she opened Hotel Saint Cecilia around the corner from the San Jose and in 2009 she opened El Cosmico – an 18 acre vintage trailer, tepee and tent hotel and event space in far West Marfa, Texas. 2009 also marked the opening of Hotel Havana, a 27 room historic property on the north end of the River Walk in San Antonio, as a Bunkhouse hotel. Jo’s Coffee expanded from its original location in the parking lot of the San Jose to open a second location – a full restaurant in the Second St. district in downtown Austin – in 2006, and later expanded to open 2 Jo’s locations at St. Edwards University. Bunkhouse continues to explore new opportunities to create hotels and coffee shops that offer community and a genuine sense of place.