While this winning combination is often associated with the Bluegrass state, Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville, is quietly earning another impressive reputation: art mecca. Yes, really. While Louisville has long been home to a world-class ballet, the country’s twelfth oldest opera, and a renowned theatre scene, the opening of the 21c Museum Hotel in 2006 further established the city’s role as an arts leader.
While boutique hotels with their sleek furnishings have become a dime a dozen in large US cities, 21c owners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson have created something truly special with their unique brand of southern hospitality and deep passion for the arts. Fueled by an urgent desire to curb suburban sprawl and armed with the belief that art could drive commerce, Brown and Wilson devised 21c Museum Hotel as a cultural epicenter. The Kentucky natives sought not only to help revitalize the city’s center by making it a more vibrant place to live, work, and play but also to develop a new type of hotel where guests could spend a night or weekend with art.
Nestled in the heart of downtown Louisville, the 90-room hotel was designed by renowned architect and Yale professor Deborah Berke. Ingeniously carved out of five historic tobacco and bourbon warehouses, 21c Museum Hotel and its restaurant Proof on Main inhabit art-filled spaces that preserve much of the original brickwork and inviting Main Street facade. Despite its strong sense of history, the feeling is decidedly modern. Guest rooms feature all the upscale necessities - luxurious Egyptian cotton sheets, fully loaded iPods, and 42” flat screen televisions – with lots of inviting amenities like Malin + Goetz bath products and silver mint julep cups.
Though it’s tempting to hole up in the comforts of your suite, 21c is really an experience that requires a little old fashioned exploration. With over 9,000 square feet of exhibition space, including a dedicated video lounge, solo and group exhibitions, and permanent commissioned installations, the stunning collection of cutting-edge art invades every nook and cranny of the building, begging to be explored. Major works by acclaimed international artists, such as Kara Walker and Bill Viola, mingle with works by local artists and unique pieces collected during Brown and Wilson’s art collecting trips around the world. Whether it’s the ever-present, migrating red penguins, the irresistible interactive video piece Text Rain, or the ever-popular voyeuristic men’s restroom, you’ll undoubtedly find a piece that inspires and provokes a little thought.
Exploring downtown’s Museum Row or the bustling galleries, antique and architectural salvage shops in the city’s East Main corridor is simple when you enlist of the services of 21c’s signature Pip Mobile. The limousine-turned-art car is sure to turn heads and is great for a day spent enjoying one of 21c’s signature packages. Whether you chose to play Southern Gentleman, exploring the distilleries that dot the rolling countryside, or escape for a Ménage-a-Spa Retreat, the getaways are designed with pampering in mind and are sure to delight the senses.
Once all that exploration has helped work up an appetite and a thirst, step over to local favorite Proof on Main. At Proof on Main, Chef Michael Paley showcases the agricultural bounty of the region, the result of close relationships with the region’s artisanal producers and a commitment to utilizing sustainable ingredients. His cooking is rooted in Italian tradition, laced with modern influences, and seasoned with America’s Southern kitchen’s heritage. Signature items include bison - raised locally on Woodland Farm, another one of 21c owners Brown and Wilson projects – and a bounty of seasonal vegetables and herbs grown in 21c’s own rooftop garden. Celebrity gardener Jon Carloftis designed the plots that Proof’s staff maintain and harvest. Truly a locavore’s delight, Proof can lay claim to coining the phrase “roof to table.” A culinary destination unto itself, Proof was hailed as one of Esquire magazine’s “Best New Restaurants” and was named “one of America’s 50 most amazing wine experiences” by Food and Wine magazine. End your night with a visit to Proof’s bar. The nightlife hotspot offers over fifty of the regions finest bourbons, including Proof’s own limited edition Woodford Reserve ‘Special Select’ and Van Winkle ‘Hand Select’ Special Reserve.
Ready to plan a trip? There's no better time to visit Louisville than the first weekend in May. Since 1875, the annual Run for the Roses has thrilled spectators as "the most exciting two minutes in sports." As the first jewel in the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, Louisvillians take their racing very seriously and the city celebrates with a nearly month long Kentucky Derby Festival. Steeped in traditions, from the ladies in their finest hats to the crushed-ice mint juleps, 21c is quickly becoming a quintessential but contemporary part of the real Derby experience.
For more information or to make reservations, please visit www.21cmuseumhotel.com or call toll free 1-877-217-6400.