21C Museum Hotel is a trip in itself

I had been told before my arrival that 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, was incredible.  I had heard this before and I had been to hotels that were truly incredible.  I pictured the rooms filled with old artwork, a huge soaking tub and automatic drapes that would close out the light in a minute. I was very wrong about the idea of "incredible" as this hotel gave it a totally new meaning.

While spending three days at 21C, I was constantly fascinated by something I hadn't seen before.  Is it a modern hotel with art, or is it a modern art museum with a hotel?  I'm really not sure, but I liked both. The current exhibit (they change about twice a year) featured 76 pieces of art by 35 living artists. The term "pieces of art" is the only way to describe the collection of sculptures, paintings and, well, "art."  Whether you like them or not -- and there were strong opinions -- they are all intriguing.  I happened to like nearly all, finding the nude photos of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a bit disturbing.

This 90 room hotel has one type of art that you don't know where you will find.  The large plastic penguins are a trademark of 21c.  There are over 200 of them and the guests are free to move them around the hotel -- which they do.  You may find one in the elevator, in front of your room, or in the bathroom stall!  When in your room, the look is still modern and includes IPod, flat screen TVs and gourmet coffee makers. Then there is the silver mint julep cup, which is just the beginning of the Kentucky spirits at this local.

Proof on Main
is the restaurant and bar attached to 21C Museum Hotel.  Like its neighbor, its servings are modern. Begin your day with Bison Pastrami Hash and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes. For lunch, try the Beet Risotto or Potato Gnocchi. Grilled Pork chop (with arugula, mission figs, goat cheese and bacon vinaigrette) and Braised Beef Ribs are a good choice for dinner. Whatever my group chose, we enjoyed.

As interesting (and delicious) as the food is, the drinks are just as important at Proof on Main. You also shouldn't be surprised to find mixology classes or bourbon tastings here. There is always a tremendous list of wines and beers from around the world; whiskeys and bourbons from their backyard; and mixed drinks that would satisfy any taste, like Whiskey Smash, Pimms Flip and Mile High Club. Also give a try to the Woodland Cider if it is in season, Old Forester, clove and local apple cider. Yum.

It seems I am far from the only one who found 21C to be in a class of its own. At the end of 2009, the readers of Conde Nast Traveler named it the best hotel in the United States and the sixth best in the world. The 21C Museum Hotel is located in the heart of Louisville within hours of Nashville and Indianapolis, just about an hour from the Bourbon Distilleries of Kentucky, including Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Jim Beam Maker’s Mark. Look for another 21C to be opening soon, deep in the heart of the southwest.

21C Museum Hotel Photos (all taken by Marcia Frost) from top: The front desk; President Obama art tribute in the lobby; a penguin stands in the lower gallery;


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