Austin’s Native Hostel Is an Electrifying Fusion of Foreign and Familiar Faces

By Re

Something about Austin is nostalgic, despite it being my first time in the Southwest. It’s a city, and it’s your childhood backyard. Perhaps it’s the searing summer heat redolent of sweet creamed corn and barbecued brisket. Or the congenial conversation that makes company of strangers.

I’d spent an hour with a small boutique owner who left me with a pair of vintage cut-offs and a list of restaurants to try. My server at a restaurant I did try, Blue Dahlia Bistro, hand-wrote me a list of live music bars to explore. The bartenders at the bars I did explore along Rainey Street, in particular, covered my beers and sliders; they’d say, “Welcome to Austin.” There was a palpable sort of southern hospitality I’d only ever read about.

Occupying a lone bar stool, I chatted up regulars and told them where I was staying—a hostel that just opened up in May. In all my travel experience thus far, residents are seldom familiar with their city’s hostels; they’ve no reason to be, especially in America where hostels are few and far between. But each of them knew Native well, and they were keenly curious about my stay.

They told me it’s an artful community space and bar they already patronize. I told them it’s a place where I and other ramblers rejoice. One of them pulled up Snapchat to show me a friend’s story; she was at Native the night prior for the hostel’s collaboration with Daybreaker, an early morning dance movement traversing the globe. The relationship makes sense, since both businesses exist to bring humans together to revive the senses.

Austin’s Native is an affordable collision of local music, art and hyper-American gastronomy; it’s an authentic experience more than it is a bunch of beds to book. Positioned in the epicenter of taco trucks, breweries, bike shops and tattoo parlors, just two blocks from Austin’s illustrious 6th Street, Native boasts boutique hotel services without forgoing the social appeal of a solo traveler’s oasis. 

“There are plenty of boutique hotels in this town… But in terms of enriching culture, it’s already been done,” says Margaret Burke, manager. “The two main pillars that this place stands on are, one, the idea of the local and the traveler meeting… In general, you can have a really interesting experience with other travelers but you’re kind of like the blind leading the blind. Our concept here is that I’m sitting eating taco and doing some work before I go into the office, you’re a traveler sitting next to me writing emails or planning your next stop, and we get to talking. You get to actually have that native experience… The other is that Austin is getting increasingly unaffordable and we’re trying to make travel more affordable for creatives, specifically.”

Finding a hotel room in the area for under $200 is no easy feat; Native caters to the crowd who doesn’t want to spend the bulk of their budget on a bed, but rather on “seeing live music, buying everyone drinks, enjoying Austin”—all of which you can do in the hostel’s bar if you never wanted to leave… and you may not.

When I took my first step inside the 70-year-old former lock shop on a hot Friday morning, my breath was taken away. Every inch of Native is adorned, from the ornate rugs beneath posh upholsteries where people convened over coffee, to the bespoke steelwork, custom-made light fixtures and walls of hand-crafted Tramp art. In a word, it’s aesthetic. And a lot of it—items like locally made lamps and book clocks—is even for consignment.

Native houses 12 rooms overall: six- and four-bed dorms, loft suites and one private upstairs space that sleeps 10 to 20 people dubbed the Romper Room. I had the opportunity to spread out in a king loft, and I can attest to the high-level comfort. I slept soundly, even as the hostel’s bar roared on.

Each room is equipped with a private shower, a separate private bathroom and lockable luggage space. The Romper Room also serves as an all-purpose event space for everything from writing workshops to yoga retreats.

A community kitchen is available with labels for refrigerated food, with breakfast served every morning from 7 am to 11 am, but Native also hosts a regular brunch and dinner series with up-and-coming local chefs.

The bar and restaurant, Native Bar +Kitchen, is open from 7 am to 2 am every day and helmed by Virginia Pharr of Hard Luck Lounge’s Pan Food Truck. She also ran the dive bar’s previous food truck Lady Luck along with Baton Creole’s Lynzy Moran.

And the menu is intoxicating, full of beet-pickled deviled eggs, brisket French dip and a to-die-for pimento grilled cheese on sourdough bread. It’s so Texas.

The bar boasts a gamut of locally inspired craft cocktails, spanning a grapefruit Negroni to a Foam Mule, as well as a beer and wine list.

The entire concept—by executive team Michael Dickson (co-owner of Icon Design + Build, and owner of restaurants like Eberly and Winflo Osteria), Antonio Madrid (co-owner Icon Design + Build) and Will Steakley (co-owner of The Mohawk, a local music venue)—was borne out of the will to bring visitors and locals together in a space that cultivates a culture of “Fuck yes!”

True to form, Native hosts DJs sometimes accompanied by saxophone performances or dancers every weekend, an Austin artist market every Wednesday evening and live music on Wednesday nights. The hostel is even working on a “play for stay” program, in which musicians could perform in exchange for accommodation.

“Because there are so many different opinions as to what Native is, we have this art piece, and this hip hop piece, and this bar piece, and they’re not competing; they’re just varied,” Burke explains. “Anyone can find their moment in Native. It’s just, who are you and what do you want out of this?”

If you want a quiet cup of coffee, come on Tuesday mornings, she says. If you want a car show, come on the last Saturday of every month. If you want a DJ, come weekends at midnight.

“It’s all here, and it’s all true to Native.”

For me, checking out of Native early Sunday morning felt a lot like leaving Austin, because it’s one conglomeration of all there is to the pulsating city. Of every list I was given in every boutique, restaurant and bar, some of the most native of my experiences were at Native indeed.

All Photo Credits: Native Hostel