Weekend Getaways: Bryan-College Station
The balcony of military-inspired Cavalry Court
For as long as I can remember, I ve openly mocked College Station. As a liberal Austinite and University of Texas graduate, I m irked by virtually everything about the town its ultraconservative vibe; its small size and lack of things to do; and, of course, its residents: the fanatic, Longhorn-hating Aggies, who live for their ridiculous Texas A M University traditions. (Midnight Yell practice? Really?)
So when I began receiving a flurry of emails last fall detailing a trio of cool boutique hotels that would soon debut in the Bryan College Station area, I was skeptical. Was it possible for the homeland of all things Aggie to actually become a spot worth visiting? I decided to do some reconnaissance.
After driving 100 miles east from Austin, whizzing past goats, donkeys, and horses in pastoral fields, I arrive in Bryan and put on a hard hat to tour The Stella Hotel. The property was still under construction, but my guide, general manager Peggy Trott, set the scene with buzzy phrases usually reserved for urban settings, like seasonal farm-to-fork fare, a speakeasy-style bar, and free bike and paddleboard rentals. Though this property would be right at home in any big city, the very thing the Stella is named after its spectacular star-watching could only be achieved in this type of rural location.
Post-tour, I drive through College Station to check out the globally inspired fare of Christopher s World Grille, recently named one of The Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America by Travel + Leisure. Christopher s influences range from Italy to Asia to Mexico, and I am blown away by my order, the Zihuatanejo snapper, which comes with fresh lump crab and creamy chardonnay sauce and a rainbow of sides like spinach, yams, and roasted tomato.
Stuffed but impressed, I venture to 40-year-old Messina Hof Winery Resort to do a tasting of five of its dozens of varieties. At the wine-tasting counter, I chat with a woman named London, who lives in Austin but is visiting her grandfather s nearby farm for the weekend. She explains that she loves both the capital city and College Station, despite and because of their differences.
I return to town to check into Cavalry Court, a new military-inspired hotel that opened last November. Featuring a retro motor-court vibe, the chic property has fire pits, an outdoor pool, poolside cabanas that look like military tents, and a hip on-site bar called The Canteen. The area around the hotel is dusty and under construction but will soon be home to a mixed-use development called Century Square, featuring apartments, shops, restaurants, and yet another trendy boutique hotel, The George.
A couple of texts with pictures of Cavalry Court are enough to convince my boyfriend to leave Austin and traverse Aggieland with me. Ready to take a break from the town s flashier offerings, we set out to explore some of its staples, landing at Harvey Washbangers, an admittedly brilliant local concept that is half-greasy spoon, half-laundromat. (It even has a light board in the restaurant-bar to let you know when your laundry is ready.) We chow down on fried green tomatoes and pork-aholic cheese fries and then head to Dixie Chicken, a famed campus bar in Northgate. As we walk around the bar sipping beer from plastic cups, we see hordes of college students socializing and playing dominoes at wooden picnic tables.
When we finally spot the Chicken s famous live rattlesnake, the creature is far from scary, sitting perfectly still and possibly not awake in a glass-shielded area. I remark that I have much more in common with the bar s sleepy serpent than the rowdy coeds, so we return to the Canteen to enjoy its slightly older, more sophisticated crowd. (Rumor has it that Aggie football coach Kevin Sumlin hangs out there too.)
The next morning, taking London s advice, we hit up Hullabaloo Diner, a circa-1940s eatery that was relocated from New York, for omelets, home fries, and pancakes served on tin trays. The final stop on our itinerary is a visit to the massive George Bush Presidential Library and Museum. I enter the museum with some reluctance but quickly find myself intrigued, spending hours learning about the 41st president his military service, his Ivy League baseball career, his time in office, his whimsical skydiving adventures.
By the time we leave, my newfound respect for the former president reflects my updated opinion of College Station: While I m never going to be a huge fan, at least now I get the appeal. In truth, I d happily come back to town to sip wine at Messina Hof, hang poolside at Cavalry Court, and stargaze at the Stella. Just know that I ll be making fun of Midnight Yell the whole time.
(1 hour, 50 minute drive)
Opened in April, The Stella Hotel in Bryan features farm-to-table dining, a craft cocktail bar, and spectacular star watching. Rooms start at $135 per night. In College Station, new military-inspired Cavalry Court has a motor-court-style layout and a hip bar called The Canteen. Rooms start at $129 per night.
Savor the globally influenced fare of Christopher s World Grille, or for something a little more casual, snack on bar food while you do your laundry at Harvey Washbangers. With omelets, pancakes, and breakfast burritos, Hullabaloo Diner is a great choice for brunch.
Do a wine tasting or two at the most-awarded winery in Texas, Messina Hof Winery Resort. No visit to College Station would be complete without a trip to the famous Dixie Chicken. Order a beer at the bar and ask the regulars to teach you how to play a dominoes game called 42.
Don t Miss
Traveling during the full moon? Family-owned farm Ronin hosts a monthly outdoor Full Moon Dinner (pictured above) with a nine-course tasting menu and a tour of the farm. (Reservations required.)