Ever since 2000, when Austin Community College reference librarian Red Wassenich coined the phrase “Keep Austin Weird,” our city has been striving to maintain its eclectic and off-beat reputation. At the same time, Austin is growing into a metropolitan area filled with Starbucks on every corner while local coffee shops like Flipnotics and Flightpath Coffee House compete for loyal and local customers.
Condos seem to be popping up literally overnight, while cranes have once again become a semi-permanent part of the landscape. But "Keep It Weird" continues to be a motto most Austinites proudly declare — whether in the form of a bumper sticker on a car, or a logo on a t-shirt — and visitors to Austin appear to be in the mood to keep it off-beat as well! For evidence of out-of-towners bringing their own dose of weird to our city, check out some of the following concierge requests from hotel guests, plus a few words from the people who made those off-beat dreams a reality:
The wedding party was assembled, the guests were seated and ready, but there was one minor/major problem — the pianist had not arrived. So concierge Tommy Dean, who is used to performing a myriad of tasks for hotel guests, did what needed to be done in order to save the day: He sat down at the piano and started playing…
"I didn’t have time to think, I ran in and sat at the piano and I just kind of wrote the music as I went along," he says.
Dean has been with the Four Seasons Hotel since 1987 and is accustomed to fixing guest emergencies. Making magic is what Tommy Dean does best. “We all treat one another as well as our guests and our vendors — the way they would want them to treat us,” Dean says, “and I can say from 25 years with the company that this is the primary reason we are so eager to shine.”
As owners of this boutique hotel just off South Congress, Kimber Cavendish and Vicki Faust serve as de facto concierges. “During Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, we drove guests to a bunch of events in our GEM [a 4-seater, battery-operated electric car]," Cavendish recalls. "It was a trip driving people around.” Also, manager Carrie Daughn was once tasked with overseeing an entire wedding when the hired coordinator failed to show — and, a testament to Daughn's expertise, the ceremony went off without a hitch.
An institution in itself, the Driskill recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. To be in business for that many years, they have to be doing something right, and so it goes without saying that their concierges aim to please. Throughout the years the concierge team has had some rather eclectic tasks, with requests from guests that include:
- Helping a guest hunt down a very particular 1950s watch, a special model from a specified brand and year
- Having only t30 minutes to find and purchase a garter belt for a bride
- Helping a bride-to-be get out of her dress when her zipper became stuck following a photo shoot
- Arranging a couple’s massage with a husband, then fielding a call from a wife requesting the “ugliest, largest, oldest massage therapist” for her husband
- Recommending the best place to buy a colonic
"Whatever, whenever" is the response callers are greeted with when they call the concierge at the W. Located in the heart of the Second Street district, the hotel celebrated its first anniversary in December and is quickly becoming a spot for visitors and locals who want to explore the downtown scene. The concierge staff (aka "W Insiders") are always willing to go the extra mile when responding to a guest request.
Caleb Campaigne is a W Insider and has been with the hotel since it opened in 2010. Campaigne has responded to a number of quirky requests. For example: “There was a wonderful eccentric woman that I told about Round Top [about a 90-minute drive outside of Austin, halfway to Houston]. She was here with a group of women and she was the only one that wanted to go.” So of course, Campaigne did what might be expected. “Next thing I knew, I was driving her to Round Top and was her personal tour guide, taking her to different friends' tents and trailers. She bought shoes, folk art, antiques and hob-nobbed with all the Marburger Farm dealers.”
Current ACGSA president Marcia Lepore is also the current concierge at Barton Creek Resort & Spa. The organization, which meets on a monthly basis, caters to hotel concierges and front desk guest services personnel and has 40 hotel members. Each meeting features an educational component and provides ample networking opportunities for representatives in the concierge industry.
Sure, a concierge can give you tips on scoring tickets to local events, or perhaps finding the best guacamole tacos in town — but many concierges in Austin are eager and willing to Keep Austin’s reputation Weird(er) by fulfilling a quirky request with a can-do attitude (and just a little bit of moxie)!