If you’ve ever attended a sports event with, say… 80,000 people or so, perhaps Dallas AT&T Stadium, or maybe with 8,000 fewer of your friends at NRG Stadium in Houston, then you know that logistics; parking, lodging, and dining can be a pretty daunting challenge. Trying it in a stadium that holds nearly thirty percent more people in a much smaller town could be an experience for only the very determined.
Clocking in at just shy of 103,000 seats, Kyle Field on the campus of Texas A&M University is actually the fifth largest sports stadium in the world and the fourth largest if you don’t count the national arena in North Korea.
If you’ve met many Texas Aggies in your time, then you’d know that on important game days, Aggie determination will fill that stadium to capacity.
One feature that could possibly rival the feeling of watching your team win is having most of those aforementioned logistical challenges disappear.
Since late 2018, directly across the street from the massive stadium is the state-of-the-art Doug Pitcock ‘49 Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center. With 250 guest rooms, eleven beautiful suites, and two jaw-dropping penthouses, the convenience and comfort of the hotel can make a game day not only enjoyable but virtually effortless. Adding to the convenience, a 1,400-car parking garage complete with electronic sensors to highlight availability is a serious plus.
I had the privilege of staying at this property recently and found that though new, it has a deep connection to the school’s traditions and past.
As you walk into the hotel, the vast ceilings in the extended entry hall create an impression of quiet luxury. Gray tones and extensive wood used throughout the hotel are interrupted only discretely by A&M logos. The rooms themselves continue the gray and wood design but feature hints of maroon in accents and sometimes furniture. Most striking, however, are the large vintage photos mounted above the beds in the guestrooms.
The beautiful black and white images range from panoramic views of some of the earliest campus buildings to many moments captured in the original 1905 stadium. There are great shots of The Fightin’ Texas Aggie band in the famous “Block T” formation, nostalgic memories from a formal dance, and several timeless shots of yell leaders and cheering crowds.
Although there was a charity event in the hotel ballroom that Saturday night, I was able to book a suite on the seventh floor. The unit was generously sized and very comfortable. The showpiece in the dining room was a long, rustic wood table, with seating for six. Its backdrop, a spectacular wall of windows facing the Stadium’s impressive north façade. The sleek living room featured a leather sofa, classic chairs, and an equally impressive, long vista of west College Station and beyond.
I could certainly see having friends to a nice in-room dinner before walking across the street to enjoy a great game. The bedroom, which could be closed off completely, shared the same westward views as the living room. It was generally quiet except for the occasional trains familiar to anyone having lived in College Station. Prominently above the bed was a six-foot photo of a 1930’s Ring Dance. (An Aggie tradition going back to 1936.)
Completing the suite, the bathroom though modest in size, had a few interesting touches. Beekman 1802 toiletries are a nice upscale touch, but I have to admit… I’ve been in a lot of hotels in my last few decades and can safely say that the water volume from the shower had to be some of the best I’ve ever experienced. It felt a bit decadent and is undoubtedly a rarity these days. Lastly, not missing an opportunity to carry a theme, the chrome shower controls are monogrammed with a big “Gig ‘em!” and turning the handle completes the signature thumbs up.
The suites at the hotel can vary by size, layout, and the number of bedrooms; but, the penthouses (one east and one west) are on a genuinely Texas-sized scale.
At almost 1,900 square feet, the East Penthouse on the hotel’s eighth floor is eclectic and luxurious. It features two living rooms and an extended outdoor patio with expansive views of central campus and Kyle Field – honestly, no venue could be surrounded by more of
One unique feature of the master suite is a soaking tub with the same phenomenal views of the campus.
The West Penthouse is slightly smaller than the East unit but features an office with A&M memorabilia and two separate patios, one facing the Stadium and the other facing west.
Fireplaces in each of the penthouses also make for incredible evenings on cooler nights.
Thanks to Sales/Marketing Director Tory Enriquez, I was able to tour a few other room options. I found the standard rooms to be generous in size and equally attractive, with at least half sharing the impressive stadium view.
In addition to lodging, the facility, estimated to have cost $134 million, offers thirty-three thousand square feet of ballrooms, business conference rooms, a large data-connected executive board room, and several individual video conference rooms.
The hotel’s proximity to the stadium is certainly a huge plus, but as Director Tory explained, its relatively central location on campus makes it ideal for hosting functions like academic symposiums. The venue is also used extensively for corporate recruitment.
The main ballroom with a capacity of 800 regularly plays host to college social functions but is also utilized for upscale charity events and weddings. For dining, there are three venues; The Junction Market & Cafe, a quick snack and coffee bar, Block T Bar & Grill, which is very popular on game days, and the larger Brazos – Proper Texas Kitchen restaurant for most other meals.
Though a good amount of change has happened since first opening, BENCHMARK®, a global hospitality company, the hotel operator, initially worked with Dallas Chef and Cookbook Author Stephan Pyles on the hotel’s food and beverage concepts. The menus in each restaurant were designed to “enhance the Aggie experience” with fresh, locally sourced Texas fare.
Director of Outlets Dalton Farel feels that even though the Pyles recipes may have evolved, the philosophy of local, Texas-sourced products is still firmly part of the hotel’s DNA.
At various times throughout the day, I found the offerings at The Junction Market & Cafe to be really good. Fresh, well-made wraps, desserts, and cold drinks were always just a quick elevator ride away.
Dinner on my first evening was at the Block T Bar & Grill on the second and third floors of the hotel. The bar itself is high-energy and opens to the hugely popular terraces facing the stadium (just beyond is the impressive swimming pool area).
Dinner started with one of the bar’s specialty cocktails, the Pond Hopper, made with cucumber, basil, lime, and Hendricks Gin, perfect for a hot day. I ordered the pulled pork sandwich with fried onions and coleslaw. The sandwich was excellent, as the lean pork kept the sandwich from being too greasy. Plenty of moisture and flavor came from the smoky BBQ sauce.
The banana pudding served in a mason jar was certainly a step above expectations with a light mixture of banana cream, whipped cream, and mild caramel.
Though not a game night, the bar still had a good-sized crowd; several groups of (legal age) students and students with parents shared the bar with groups of men in classic Corps of Cadets uniforms.
As I was in Aggieland, I opted for the “Aggie Scramble.” A large bowl with scrambled eggs, sausage, peppers, and onions was served with fresh biscuits and good coffee.
Though it rained a good part of my stay, it’s important to note that the George H. W. Bush Library is less than two miles from the hotel and will certainly be on the agenda for a future trip.
In between rain showers, I took a few short walks around the campus, though given its considerable size (biggest in Texas), some very long walks could be taken and not leave the campus at all. Connections to the hotel abound. From the vintage pictures, it would be difficult to mistake the dome of The Academic Building or not recognize the broad profile of the Century Tree done in cut-out fashion just outside of the hotel’s ballroom.
I filled the rest of the time with reading and simply enjoying the incredible views from my rooms.
The dinner menu allows for casual dining and fine dining alike. Burgers and pulled-pork sandwiches are available alongside pork tenderloin, rib-eye steaks, and salmon.
We each opted for one of the latter.
I started with one of the holdovers from the Chef Pyles collaboration – the tortilla soup. It had a perfect amount of flavor and heat and wowed with generous chunks of smoked chicken, avocado, and cotija cheese – not an item to miss.
My bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin was spot-on, served with Boursin mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Director Dalton found us a 2013 Pelle Legna from a winery in Tyler, Texas (another Aggie connection). The wine was an unusual blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Syrah, with the rest being Merlot, Zin, and even a touch of Sangiovese. It paired well with both steak and pork.
I finished my last night happily with a cheese plate and a glass of Bergstrom Pinot in my room with Kyle Field just outside the window.
One feature that probably doesn’t get sung as much as the rest is the young staff at the hotel. Again, the hotel benefits from a large pool of students to hire throughout the year because of its location. Many are new to jobs, and most, new to the hospitality industry. Both Directors mentioned that the hotel does indeed focus on training. From the front desk to the restaurant experience, the service was very noticeably efficient and friendly.
My favorite story shared by Tory was about the surprising caliber of the student staff. Inevitably, with graduation, many on the team leave for careers… in one recent and memorable case, a team member designed a deep-sea submersible that generated its own power as their student project, This ultimately led them to be hired by the largest independent automation and controls onsite-field-service provider in the country. And here, I believe, with so many similar stories lies the Texas A&M Hotel’s connection to the future.
By Richard Arebalo
OTL Features Editor