Wednesday, March 16, 2011

This Ain't Your Grandaddy's Louisville - The 21C, Art & The Red Penguins

One of the great things about traveling is discovering  that things you thought you knew about a place turn out to be completely wrong. In 2008, my wife and I were looking for a getaway weekend within easy driving distance of Nashville, where we were living at the time. For some strange reason, Louisville showed up on the radar. Like most people, I always thought of Louisville as the home of the Kentucky Derby and The Louisville Slugger. While horse racing is great and making bats for America's pastime is a worthy pursuit,  imagine my surprise when I stumbled on a website for a new boutique hotel in Louisville, claiming to provide a high design hotel combined with an art gallery.

The 21c Museum Hotel (21c Museum Hotel), which had received rave reviews from various high profile travel critics, made the concept of a "museum hotel" too interesting to pass up. So, after reading as much information as possible on a heretofore unheard of boutique hotel (it opened in late 2006), we booked a room for two nights, packed the car and headed up I-65 for the three hour drive from "Music City" to "River City". 

One common quality of all great hotels is the arrival and check-in process. As we were ushered into the highly evolved and art filled lobby by the nattily dressed valet, I knew this place was different. The concierge staff, all dressed as if playing a part in a 1940's Bogie and Bacall film, quickly checked us in without delay. We were then whisked to our room, via art filled halls and ante rooms, by a modishly well dressed and friendly bellman. And to make the experience even more surreal, limited edition red penguin sculptures by Cracking Art (Cracking Art Group), were everywhere!!

The great Bauhaus architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said "God is the details". The designers of this hotel adhered to that timeless dictum in every facet of the design. Our Deluxe King City View room, in addition to the great artwork in evidence (they only exhibit works by living artists), was one of the most highly evolved hotel sleeping spaces I have ever encountered. The bed, the furniture, the fixtures - every facet of the interior design was conceived as an eclectic, unified artistic space. Given the propensity of interior designers to fall in love with a "look", this hotel asserts its sense of design with the ease of a Michael Buble' ballad. The bed was a "Please don't ever make me get out of this bed" bed and the shower was Bigelicious!!!!! I know a little something about art, but I am an expert when it comes to comfortable beds and great showers.

After settling in and having a small glass of complimentary wine in our room, we headed to the hotel's Proof On Main restaurant. The obsession with detail and quality continued here with an incredible meal in an elegant, art filled space for dining. Like the hotel, the food, prepared with the best local, fresh ingredients, was an inventive blend of Italian and Southern tradition and cutting edge "design".

Great service, a great room and great food should be enough to put a hotel on The Nomad Architect's Allstar List. But the 21c doesn't settle. This visionary boutique hotel turns a great weekend retreat into an art filled experience with The Proof  gallery. With revolving exhibitions, containing a diverse mixture of mediums, combining big names and lesser know cutting edge artists, the work is worthy of any big city gallery. Funded and operated by the International Contemporary Art Foundation, this 9,000 square foot gallery is a great experience on its own, but, combined with 21c and Proof On Main, the total travel experience is what the Nomad Architect is always obsessively searching for.

So what about Louisville? After enjoying the hotel, the gallery and the restaurant, we decided to see what the city of Louisville had to offer. Filled with impressive art galleries and studios, as well as  the Ohio River through a vital, resurgent downtown, I had to take back everything I had ever thought about this vital urban center.

One last thing makes the 21c a unique hotel experience. The Restrooms. That's right. The Restrooms!!  Rather than describe it, you can see it on this very cool video (21c-Best Restroom Video), complete with soundtrack.

So, if you ever attend the Kentucky Derby, or if you just want to have a great weekend away, I highly recommend staying at the 21c, a great little hotel away from the maddening crowd.

Travel Quote of The Day
Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.  - Anatole France

Y'all Come    DLS

PS  Check out this week's Videos from the very cool, very country, very jazzy, very ironic Lyle Lovett.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kind words - So glad to hear you enjoyed your visit!
    Hope to have you back soon. In the meantime, stay in touch via facebook ( and twitter (follow @21cHotels)

    Thanks again,
    -The Red Penguins