It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you look in The Driskill Hotel.
On every floor and in every corner of the hotel, exquisitely designed trees, wreaths and decorations fill the hotel with festive cheer, just in time for this colder weather. Today marks the first day of the Driskill's annual 12 Days of Driskill programming, which includes carolers, themed dinners, holiday movies and more. (Technically, it's more than 12 days, but who's counting when there's so much great stuff to do?)
"It's also the hotel's 125th Anniversary, so we wanted to make sure everything was as special as possible," says Kyra Coots, the PR & Marketing Director of the team that has been planning this celebration since August. "It's a lot of work, but it's all so worth it to see the decorated lobby full of people from the community truly enjoying it all."
Interior designer Marcie Elliott-Smith of Intuition Interiors is the mastermind behind the Driskill's holiday decorating. After astounding everyone with her holiday designs last year, the Driskill team invited her back to continue extending her creative flourish. With four large trees located throughout the hotel, a new display in the 1886 Cafe & Bakery and lighted garland lining the majority of stairwells, Elliot-Smith has been a tremendously busy lady.
"It's just amazing what she comes up with when she's given free creative reign," Coots states, pointing out the suede barbed wire accents Elliott-Smith slyly included in decorations surrounding a longhorn in the Driskill bar. The detailing is evident as well in the handmade mirrors decorating the elegant tree in the Maximillian Room and the miniature dollhouses of the hotel's mezzanine tree.
The decorations provide the perfect backdrop for the series of holiday events planned for the month, kicking off with the Anniversary Party at 6pm Thursday night.
On the first day of Driskill, Coots' team have arranged for 10,000 lbs. of authentic snow to fall outside the hotel, transforming the Driskill's main entrance on Brazos Street into a winter wonderland. Guests will come in from the cold to enjoy music from the gospel choir of Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church as well as young Austin bluegrass player Ruby Jane. After the ceremonial lighting of the breathtaking two-story Christmas tree, everyone can enjoy cake and champagne in honor of the hotel's 125th birthday and live music from local favorites like Dale Watson, Betty Soo and Erin Ivey.
On the sixth day of Driskill, the Alamo Drafthouse is taking over the hotel bar for the first-ever Driskill-Drafthouse partnership. During the free screening of the holiday classic, A Christmas Story, patrons can enjoy affordable dinners and drinks from the bar while they watch if Ralphie shoots his eye out. True to Drafthouse form, there will also be a "Momma's Little Piggie" mashed potato eating contest and an Ovaltine chugging contest.
On the eighth day of Driskill, Executive Chef Jonathan Gelman of The Driskill Grill invites you to enjoy a menu inspired by A Christmas Carol. "A Traditional Dickens Dinner" will feature a traditional Christmas goose and wine pairings selected by Scott Ota. Readings of Dickens' work and harpist Kristen Smith will complete the entertainment for the themed evening. Reservations are necessary for those interested in attending.
On the tenth and seventeeth days of Driskill, the kids will all want to join in the fun of the annual Breakfast with Santa. The jolly bearded fellow will add more jelly to that belly in the Driskill Ballroom before sitting for pictures and stories with the lucky children. Holiday crafts, cookie decorating and a puppet show will complement the perfect day of childhood wonder. Parents are welcome to enjoy coffee and mimosas in the meanwhile.
On the eleventh day of Driskill, it's time for the four-legged holiday revelers to enjoy the annual Pawliday Party on the second floor of the Driskill. This fundraiser for Austin Pets Alive! features an unbelievably adorable dog fashion show, where your pooch will get to walk down the green carpet. Nolan Cruz, host of the Mutts & Masters radio talk show will be the emcee for the afternoon, and Santa Claws will be in attendance to take photos.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, let the Driskill Grill do the cooking. The night before the big day, Chef Gelman has prepared a gourmet five-course prix fixe menu that you will want to make reservations for now. Christmas morning, the hotel's mezzanine will be lined with tables, ready for Christmas brunch. Chef Gelman and Pastry Chef Tony Sansalone will prepare appetizers, salads, entrees, desserts and a state of the art carving station.
Finally, the famous Victorian Holiday Teas will resume again this year in the grand lobby outside 1886 Cafe & Bakery. Thursday through Sundays between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., guests can enjoy a four-course tea service including European teas, sandwiches, pastries and petit fours. Entertainment is provided each night as well, either carolers from Austin-area schools or harpist Kristen Smith.
If you're in the downtown area, do yourself a favor and stop by the hotel for a quick walkthrough. Take in the sights and sounds and flavors of the holiday, as there will generally be treats from the bakery available for everyone. "We want to include the community as much as possible," adds Coots. "We'd love to see the lobby full every night throughout the season, and we look forward to making this the best holiday season yet."
And a partridge in a pear tree, y'all.