People & History

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 José 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.

Since then, she’s expanded Bunkhouse’s unique hotel portfolio to include El Cosmico, the community-lodging concept in Marfa; the iconic Austin Motel, a renovated motor-court hotel, and Hotel Saint Cecilia, a 14-room secluded estate in Austin; Hotel Havana, the historic property on San Antonio’s River Walk; and most recently has added Bunkhouse’s first international hotel, Hotel San Cristóbal Baja in Todos Santos, Mexico, and the first non-Texas property The Phoenix Hotel to their hotel portfolio. Lambert and Bunkhouse also operate Jo’s Coffee, the popular Austin coffee shop, which currently includes three locations, and an east-side event space, Fair Market, also located in Austin. Lambert’s fourth Austin hotel, the Magdalena, is currently in development and is slated to open on South Congress in 2019.