This week found me in Louisville on a last-minute assignment for my very favorite magazine. How is it that I grew up just three-and-a-half hours south of the vibrant Kentucky city and am only now visiting three days shy of my 30th birthday? Blasphemy. Moving back to the South a year ago has introduced me to so many cool destinations not far from home.
I promise to share a full-on city summary when the magazine issue comes out this summer, but for now, I’d love to tell you about Louisville’s most stylish lodging experience: 21c Museum Hotel.
I’m not sure where I’ve been—clearly not reading Conde Nast Traveler, I suppose—as this hotel opened in 2006 and is on the Gold List, plus CNT’s rankings of 10 tops hotels in the world for three years running. And I only heard about it as my good friend who works at Jack Daniels went there for work last week.
I checked rates, and it was far higher than I could justify trying to expense to the magazine (in the high $200 range), but my friend was able to get me a killer corporate rate, and so I checked into 21c for the evening.
First off, I couldn’t get over how nice everyone was. Sometimes on assignment, the hotel staff knows you’re coming and so you wonder if they’re only be accommodating because they know you’re a journalist.
This was not the case at 21c, as I’m not writing about the hotel for my magazine assignment (though now I’d love to write about them elsewhere), nor did they know what I do for a living. They were just friendly and adorable, from the valet guys to the check-in staff to the bartender, a refreshing change from my experience at the Grand Bohemian Asheville earlier in the week.
The hotel says right on its website that it’s all about “redefining the art of modern Southern hospitality,” which is more or less my motto in life (“be kind to everyone) and that’s why we got along like a house on fire.
I arrived in my room on the fourth floor to find it very minimal. At first, this surprised me. But then I appreciated the fact that the hotel didn’t feel it needed to be overly flashy in order to impress.
I loved all the small details, like a mint julep kit in the room, these fantastic bath products (with cilantro, rum, peppermint and other odd scents) and a rubber ducky in the tub (taking me back to my childhood obsession with Ernie!).
Everywhere you look in the hotel—even up in the elevator—there’s a subtle art installation.
The museum takes up most of the ground floor, and if you aren’t staying there, you can still stop by and poke around, checking out the artwork and the tiny shop.
Narcissists—or bloggers (same thing, right?)—will love all the mirrors everywhere.
There’s even a one-way mirror in the women’s bathroom so you can spy on all of those on the outside!
But my favorite part by far was the hologram of yourself reflected on the wall in the lobby elevator banks. So trippy, so awesome.
21c Hotels just opened a new property in Bentonville—I know…what? why there?—and while Arkansas has never ranked high on my to-travel list, I would totally plan a weekend there just to see the new digs.
Thanks for being awesome, 21c! Your status is well deserved. Keep on rocking, and give your staff a huge pat on the back (and hey, how about a raise!) for their hard work.
All shots taken with my new GoPro HD Hero 2 (I upgraded! finally!), which has proven awesome for shooting hotel interiors and scouting for magazine editors without others knowing what I’m doing!
Ok, was the funeral coffins pic you posted on Facebook an exhibit from the hotel? It piqued my morbid curiosity.
That was from the craziest antiques mall, Joe Ley, in NuLu on East Market Street. They had a whole coffin section!
Love all the different styles of art around the hotel- that freedom piece is super cool and I love the bright (was it pink) penguin!
Yes! Pinkish red penguins everywhere! That must be their mascot or something.
This place looks phenomenal! I want to come to Louisville just to stay there! I have fond memories of this city when I was a kid. I lived in KY a couple of times, it is gorgeous! If I went I would want to check out Top Chef contestant Edward Lee’s resto 610 Magnolia!
I totally missed that restaurant! Too much delicious food to cram into a quick 36 hours.
I stayed at 21c for a friend’s wedding a few years ago, and the penguins provided so much entertainment all weekend long – most times we would come and go, someone had moved the penguins on our floor to random places, usually right against someone else’s door so they’d get surprised. More likely drunken shenanigans than the work of the hotel staff, but something fun when normally higher-end hotels can be so stuffy.
aaand that was actually in reply to the comment above. 🙂
Hysterical! I should have taken better mental note–I wonder if the same happened while I was there.
Great! I’m booking the hotel for our next NW Arkansas trip. We LOVE Bentonville/Fayetteville area. So many great restaurants and you absolutely MUST Check out Crystal Bridges (an amazing museum recently opened by Alice Walton of the Sam Walton family)!
You’ll have to let me know how it is! I can’t see finding myself in Bentonville “just because” but I’ve been known to travel much further just to check out a cool hotel 😉
Those are awesome shots (although I have to admit, I thought Inception-style, rounded-wall architecture was half of the appeal at first glance…). And I always love hearing that the people were as cool as the place!
Ha, thanks, Auburn. I didn’t take all my camera gear, just my tiny GoPro, hence why they’re all fish-eye (normally, I would only use a couple wide-angles shots in a post but I was too lazy to haul all my gear with me!).
And did you know that they opened a 21c here in Cincinnati last year too???? Hint, hint 😉 I believe it just opened at the end of 2012 and I haven’t had a chance to get downtown to check out the museum yet, but it’s on my list. Looks like you had a fabulous stay at a great property and I’m ready to meet you in Louisville next time around!
I do, and I think we should check it out together!
OMG coolest hotel ever? I think so! LOVE the red penguins.
You’d totally dig it. So many photo opps (though not the best lighting as it’s kind of dark, hence why I used GoPro only and not my iPhone!).
Looks like a pretty phenomenol place! Must have loved to see it in person some day! Wish you a belated birthday too!
Actually, you wished me an on-time birthday as I turned 30 on Feb. 23 😉 Thanks!
What a cool hotel – and those fish eye photos are awesome! Love the little touches like the rubber ducky and the mint julep kit. If I ever got around to actually writing down some sort of bucket list then one of the items on it would absolutely be drinking a mint julep in the south!
Checked out that same art space when I was in Louisville. I really REALLY loved their exhibits. Not to mention my penguin obsession…
Love it! Also, I totally need a red penguin guy in my life and also mint julep kits in the rooms is a fabulous idea of a southern hotel. Love it.
Duly noted. When you come to visit, I will hire a penguin and have a mint julep kit waiting by your bed.
What a cool hotel – and those fish eye photos are tremendous, Love the slight touches like the neoprene ducky and the mint julep tackle
I took the duck home with me! I hope that’s what it was meant for… 😉
This place looks awesome! I am hoping to get to Louisville sooner or later to see a friend, and I may just have to look into spending a night here.
More like multiple nights! This city is awesome.
I love Kentucky! I’m a horse gal so it only makes sense, but OMG it’s a beautiful place 🙂
I have friends that are headed down your way, have already sent them your site to get great tips like this one. Gorgeous hotel!
Forget about louisville..I visited miami and the miami beach resort and spa is the best..UNEXPLAINABLE..AMAZING!
The rooms and hallway do seem a bit sparse compared to the lobby, but WOW that lobby! And friendliness goes a long way 🙂
I know! I thought the same–I was wondering where all the flair is. But I think it’s minimalist art, and the touches are subtle and woven into the whole decor pretty seamlessly.
I love that you didn’t drag all of your gear. Sometimes we just need a break. The effect was trippy!
One of my photog friends was all, “go easy on the wide angle!” I was like, “but dude, that’s all I had with me! What’s a girl to do?”
Loved your photo collections and the collections of that hotel too.
Stylish for sure!
I’ve always wanted to go to Kentucky simply to try out the food (obviously the chicken:) but now it looks like theres loads more to see and do. Great post.