Jeffrey’s, first opened in 1975, is still one of Austin’s favorite fine dining spots
On any given Saturday night, as the sun settles in the hills beyond Austin, Texas, a parade of sleek cars pulls up to the corner of West Lynn and West 12th. Their destination is Jeffrey’s, which, for nearly 50 years, has been one of the city’s finest restaurants. Founded in 1975, the restaurant hosted the Austin elite—from Lady Bird Johnson to Laura Bush—for decades before it was sold in 2011 to Larry McGuire and Tom Moorman, a pair of enterprising young chefs. They brought in Emily Little and Paul Clayton of Clayton & Little Architects (now Clayton Korte) for the renovation.
A table at Jeffrey’s remains one of the city’s most coveted, in part because the creative team chose to amplify, not erase, what was already there. For Clayton, it was more about emotion—the warm and friendly feeling that the original owners, Ron and Peggy Weiss, gave the place—than any specific finish or flourish. The architects embraced the history of the three storefronts that comprise the site, disjointed floor plates and all, to create an ambiance that would resonate with the “tight-knit community”: low lights, rich materials, a warm welcome, and top-notch service. Clayton still keeps in touch with the Weisses, and his office recently hosted an exhibition of Peggy’s artwork.
Low lights and rich materials in the new incarnation of Jeffrey’s maintain the welcoming atmosphere it has been known for since the 1970s
The restaurant was the first of a number of Austin institutions started in the 1970s that McGuire Moorman Hospitality (MMH, changed to MML Hospitality in 2021) was able to acquire, as the generation who shaped the city’s food scene began to retire. “Larry’s genius,” says Clayton, “is knowing that goodwill exists, then turning the volume up on it.” Their portfolio now includes 19 bars and restaurants, two hotels (one in Austin, one in New Orleans), and luxury fashion shops, with more to come.
Jeffrey’s offers a glimpse into the city’s past but, to judge by the restaurant and retail boom happening around it, it was also a harbinger for the new super-cool area that’s coming into being just west of Downtown. In the historic neighborhood of Clarksville, a network of homegrown talent has gone all-in on a different type of redevelopment. They are blending preservation and innovation to create an updated, upscale vision for old Austin—one that feels entirely fitting.
Up a steep limestone hill about a mile and a half from the Texas State Capitol, Clarksville has some of the oldest roots in the city—it was founded by Charles Clark, a former enslaved man, in 1871. Clark bought a couple of acres of land and built a house on what is now West 10th Street and sold plots to other freedmen. The neighborhood’s origins are celebrated today at the Hezikiah Haskell House on Waterston Avenue. Clarksville would not last long as an early hub for the city’s Black population. In 1928 the segregationist city authorities enacted a plan to move its African American residents to less valuable land on the East Side. During the later 20th century, Clarksville became a haven for academics from the nearby University of Texas at Austin, and even musicians passing through, such as Texan rock legend Janis Joplin. Today, Clarksville is a quiet, oak-lined neighborhood—one of the city’s few walkable ones—of stately 19th-century homes and Craftsman bungalows, but it’s undergoing yet another transformation.
Clarksville is known for charming oak-lined streets and Craftsman bungalows
The neighborhood’s northern gateway is Kingsbury Commons, the first phase to be implemented in the transformation of Pease District Park, one of the city’s oldest green spaces. Helmed by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, the $15 million project opened in 2021, and sympathetically incorporated existing features of the space, including mature vegetation and Civilian Conservation Corps-era concrete picnic tables. The result is seven acres of native plants, local Texas limestone blocks, and the type of weathering steel used by cattle ranchers, the practical beauty of which only gets better in the harsh climate.
The park’s most whimsical (and surely its most Instagrammed) feature is a spherical
tree-house made from a nest of woven rebar by Mell Lawrence Architects. It’s echoed in the vine-covered mesh screens of other structures by Clayton Korte, which the architects designed like elegantly detailed agricultural outbuildings to merge into the surrounding landscape. “I joke that fig ivy is one of the most important architectural materials,” says Clayton.
In some ways, Kingsbury Commons looks like it could have always been there as it is today, and it’s easy to imagine it gracefully aging into Austin’s next century. The park’s quiet beauty begs visitors to pause and look closer in a textured experience that can be hard to find in the new centers popping up around town. “The challenge is doing work that’s durable,” says Clayton, musing on what it means to build for the long-term in a town where a tsunami of tech investment has transformed the skyline of a place once beloved for its small-town feel. “There’s so much design work out there that is meant to be ‘of today’. But you drive down the street, and it’s just littered with everybody’s best idea on a particular day. Sometimes people just don’t know how to be sympathetic to what’s already there.”
The rooftop pool area at the Austin Proper Hotel
To experience Clarksville like a local, visitors would do well to start at MML’s Austin Proper Hotel on 2nd Street, which opened in 2020 with interiors by AD100 Hall of Fame designer Kelly Wearstler. Rich with patchworks of carpet and wood, the textural space evokes the city’s hippy heritage. From a perch by the rooftop pool, take in the views of Lady Bird Lake, the kayak-dotted section of the Colorado River that snakes through the center of the city. Then take a stroll west, past Austin Central Library—by Lake Flato Architects—and the renovated Seaholm Power Plant with its iconic art moderne lettering. This industrial rehabilitation project, which began in 2013, anchors one of the city’s pioneering redevelopment successes (and some of the most expensive real estate west of the Mississippi). From there, it’s on to North Lamar Boulevard and up to the luxury boutique ByGeorge, the city’s go-to for high fashion since 1979, where shoppers can pick up pieces by leading designers, from Dries Van Noten and Jil Sander to The Row. “Its beginnings suited Austin at that moment and, over time, as the city evolved, so did ByGeorge,” says Molly Nutter, ByGeorge’s president. MML owns anothe ByGeorge in South Congress and a third store in New Orleans.
Ceramics on display beneath the white oak staircase that interior designer Kelly Wearstler created for the Austin Proper Hotel’s lobby
In 2021 McGuire and Moorman offered a partnership to Liz Lambert, the famed hotelier from West Texas, which prompted the name change from MMH to MML Hospitality. Lambert is credited with putting Austin on the culture trip map when she opened Hotel San José in 2000. Together they are reimagining more Austin stalwarts, with a growing nexus in Clarksville.
A spot for chilled sancerre and coastal charm. /div>
At the corner of West 6th and Blanco Street, the striped yellow and white awning of Clark’s Oyster Bar beckons with its coastal charm and bottles of chilled sancerre. Across the street are newcomers Rosie’s Wine Bar and Howard’s Bar and Club, MML’s latest offerings. Tucked behind Clark’s and Austin’s own activewear brand, Outdoor Voices, sits Pecan Square Café, another newly launched MML takeover of a beloved institution, reimagined as a rustic eatery in the style of the Bay Area’s farm-to-table pioneers.
Wine and small plates at Rosie’s Wine Bar
“We are drawn to buildings and spaces with interesting history, and in Austin we have definitely looked to preserve places that we grew up with,” says McGuire. “With that comes restrictions and defined parameters, but we find those energizing in terms of creativity, design, and storytelling.” If it feels like MML is recreating the neighborhood in its own multifaceted image, there may be some truth to that. After all, the city’s first name in hospitality continues to expand its extensive portfolio in ever-broader directions.
The dressing room at Elle’s Boutique
“There is an intersection of industry here—food, music, retail—and it goes back to a community that feels so authentic,” says Elle Florescu, proprietor of Elle’s Boutique, “an elevated, modern take on a sex shop” housed in a charcoal-colored bungalow on Blanco. Florescu is McGuire’s partner (the two were introduced by Lambert). She approaches retail as a form of hospitality, curating private sensory experiences where shoppers explore lingerie and luxe sexual self-care goods, such as Coco de Mer’s Orgasm Balm, in a once-residential space inspired by Pierre Yovanovitch and Luca Guadagnino interiors—a touch of louche 1970s Milan in the middle of America.
On any given day, Florescu finds herself popping between meetings with friends at the various MML-affiliated businesses that have established themselves in this hyper-focused micro-neighborhood. “It almost feels like New York City to me, in a way that only exists in New York,” says Florescu, citing Jane Jacobs’s urbanist bible The Death and Life of Great American Cities. “These organic systems can really only crop up if they’ve been constructed in a way that is authentic. To me, this neighborhood embodies that sentiment.”
Snails in Comparison was the opening exhibition at Lora Reynolds Gallery at its new home on West 6th
The growing buzz is drawing even more excitement to Clarksville. In March the gallerist Lora Reynolds moved her 18-year-old business from a Downtown location to West 6th, trading a storefront at the base of a modern tower for a former grocery store with an original Mission Revival frontage dating to 1925. Reynolds christened the new space with an exhibition of colorful blown-glass and marble snails by The Haas Brothers, Nikolai and Simon, twin artists who grew up a few blocks away.
“We have tried to build institutions that will last and will age well as Austin grows and matures,” says McGuire about his brand of native Texan hospitality. “In that way, I hope we will preserve the feeling of Austin, which is basically laidback places that also strive for excellence. That’s the Austin I grew up with.”
Photos: Courtesy of Casey Dunn; Courtesy of MML Hospitality; Instagram @charmingaustintexas; Courtesy of The Ingalls; Courtesy of ByGeorge; Courtesy of Clay Grier; Courtesy of Elle’s Boutique; Courtesy of Lora Reynolds Gallery