by SLICK TRACY, Hotel Detective and Food Sleuth. Searching for the unusual, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in travel venues.
My first question was, 'What is a Museum Hotel?' A simple answer is that it is a funky hotel that hosts rotating art exhibits of the unusual. The 21c hotel in downtown Cincinnati is one of these. In fact, there is now a small chain, consisting of three locations. The first was opened in downtown Louisville and the most recent is the new location in Bentonville, Arkansas.
The 21c in Cincinnati is somewhat similar to the others. It is located in a historic arts and theater district area, utilizing a restored building. The art displayed comes in a very wide variety, but mostly highly contemporary. Art can be found not only mounted on walls throughout the hotel, but in the elevators, on the floors, hanging from the ceilings, or simply set up in the corner of some open area. The art is generally from local and area artists, and often includes live performances.
Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson were the originators of the 21c Museum Hotel concept. There were already patrons of the arts in Louisville and strong preservationists. They shared a vision to help the revitalization of that downtown area, but further believed that locals would support unique and unusual art displayed and open to the public. They stress that art is not simply a decoration for the hotels, but is the 'heart and soul of the experience.' They believe that a great hotel is more than just overnight lodging, but is a destination for guests, a source of pride for the local arts district, and a reflection of the community.
The 21c in Cincinnati is located next door to the Contemporary Arts Center and across the street from the Aronoff Center for the Arts. The building itself was built as the Hotel Metropole in 1912 and is listed on the National Register of Historic places. The restoration and new design incorporates the original Neo-Classical Revival style, utilizing much of the surviving interior elements. Obvious examples are the narrow winding staircase, arched windows, ornate plasterwork, and a beautiful terrazzo floor.
Typical of the whimsical approach to almost everything, the hotel's welcome booklet in each room gives various instructions in case of severe weather, fire, or other catasrophe. Sharing equal billing under the 21c Safety Instructions is 'In The Event of a Zombie Apocopypse: Lock yourself in the guestroom and defend yourself against the inevitable horde of zombies. Feel free to use any guestroom items and/or equipment to protect yourself. No damage fees are likely to occur.'
As with any grandiose hotel, the 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati boasts a great restaurant. It is named the Metropole Restaurant, paying homage to the buildings original namesake. The Metropole is more than just a place for a quick meal for guests. It has become a major meeting location for lunches and dinners for the area's residents. The Metropole uses a locally sourced menu that revolves around the use of a custom-built, wood-burning fireplace. Much like the 21c hotel itself, the restaurant goes beyond the ordinary, such as the lunch favorite Bison Burger. It is a very large hamburger-styled meal, with all the trimmings, and a plate full of perfectly cooked french fries. Unless you are unusually hungry, it could easily be split between two persons for each to enjoy.
Because of the 21c Museum Hotel's location in the downtown arts district, late evenings are a favorite stop by the theater crowd, stopping by for a drink at the Metropole. The mood of the restaurant changes from the quiet and sophisticated to a more relaxed and rollicking social atmosphere. There is a street-level lounge as well as a rooftop bar that offers a panoramic view of the city.
A review of any 21c Museum Hotel must include the large plastic penguins. They are solid red in Louisville, yellow in Cincinnati, and green in Bentonville. These penguins have become a trademark of the 21c chain and playfully show up in the most unusual places throughout the hotel. They very often are used to hold signs in lieu of the standard easel.
The 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati is a great place to visit, whether for overnight stays, a mini-vacation, a meal at the Motropole Restaurant, or drinks at the bar. Put this one on your 'must-see' list when visiting Cincinnati, Ohio.