Editor’s note: David Highfill passed away on March 25, 2019. May he rest in peace.
My relationship with The Driskill began twelve years ago when I surprised my mother-in-law with afternoon tea. Imagine our surprise to find we were the only reservation. This hotel’s high level of service was apparent when I noticed a harpist with waist long blond hair sitting beside a table set for two. It would have been easily justifiable for the hotel to cancel this indulgence, but they didn’t.
For the next two hours this lovely women played, solely for us. It was surreal hearing the gentle melody flow through the foyer as we nibbled through three tiers of delicacies and sipped steaming cups of tea. It was an unforgettable moment.
Years since, I’ve experienced the indulgence of waking up beneath plush piles of soft linens under the roof at 6th and Brazos, enjoyed Mother’s Day brunch with my girls under crystal chandeliers and spent countless hours with a coffee cup and croissant at the hotel’s bakery, 1886. And when I gave birth to my third daughter, Emma Pearl, our first stop wasn’t home. It was 1886 to pick up a four layer buttercream cake topped with lavender roses my husband had pre-ordered for my 30th birthday. I only associate good memories with The Driskill Hotel, including the day I met David Highfill.
For all the celebrities found within The Driskill, you’ve most likely missed the one perched like a raven at the bar five days a week. His black attire is not to be outdone by strands of dark hair with a sprinkling of silver tossed in for good measure. Behind wispy bangs that brush ebony rimmed spectacles is a man synonymous with the hotel, David Highfill.
An embossed letter “D” rests on the chest of his vest. It isn’t for his name, but for the hotel where he’s tended bar for 33 years. Like the rumored ghosts that roam this prized Austin institution, he’s often found in the shadows, better to serve and observe.
Like most interesting people, David has many interests. He’s an avid surfer. This month he heads to Nicaragua, where he’ll catch a few waves while indulging in another pastime, music.
A retired drummer known as “Dave the Rave,” he’s played with Austin legend Stevie Ray Vaughn and opened for blues singer Toni Price. His past also includes regular gigs at iconic institutions like the Saxon Pub and Continental Club. David has clinked glasses and rubbed elbows with countless musicians and a cast of creatives: Tommy Lee Jones, Jerry Garcia, Larry Hagman, James Michener and William Shatner. Not unlike the hotel he works for and the celebrities he has served, this bartender has stories.
The Driskill Bar
Who could blame David for claiming The Driskill Bar as his trusted companion for over three decades? The dim lighting complements copper tin ceilings that cast a soft glow over cowhide chairs, rich wood paneling and cream-colored faux snake skin walls (at least I think they’re fake?).
Cowboy scenes unfold in beautifully framed artwork, civil war pistols rest under lampshades, and dramatic sculptures of cowboys meeting their fate leave me thankful for 21st century comforts. A piano with “Yellow Rose of Texas” etched into its glass top eternally waits for fingers to dance across its keys – which happens most nights.
Like David, the area is cloaked in mystery, leaving you intrigued. The subtlety of this hotel’s elegance is so obvious, you may miss it upon first glance. For example, fresh yellow roses grace tabletops at all times. The atmosphere gives the sense of a private residence. In my imagination, it’s the unofficial living room of the city I love, and it’s always a gracious host.
David Highfill and The Driskill are reliable, dedicated and consistent. Both offer guests something truly unforgettable, the opportunity to be immersed in local history and somehow feel relevant in the process.
@theAustinot wants to know:
Have you had the opportunity to meet David Highfill at The Driskill bar?