Part hotel, part art museum; the hotel's collection of 21st-century art is outstanding
Farm-to-table restaurant Proof on Main offers over 75 KY Bourbons
Housed in a historic former tobacco warehouse
What To Know
The first hotel in the 21c collection, the property opened in 2006
Art-forward design may not appeal to travelers looking for traditional Southern charm
It’s a quirky, small hotel
Parking on site
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Contemporary art hotel in a former tobacco warehouse, with a 24/7 gallery and award-winning restaurant
There are lots of reasons people open hotels: to make money, to have fun, to satisfy their egos. Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, the owners of the 90-room 21c Museum Hotel, had a different motive: to introduce the world to their vast contemporary art collection and their beloved city of Louisville at the same time. North America’s only museum dedicated solely to art in the 21st century, 21c has 9,000 square feet of gallery space that is free and open to the public 24/7. Art is so essential at 21c that the museum hosts rotating concerts, screenings and even Yoga with Art classes.
Bed and Bath
In keeping with the hotel’s art bent, the rooms are highly design-oriented. High ceilings and large windows are standard, while many rooms feature exposed brick, a reminder of the building’s past life as a tobacco warehouse. Guestrooms offer luxury bedding, but it's the bizarrely endearing items such as pewter mint julep cups and the hotel’s omnipresent Red Penguin sculptures that remind you that this is a true boutique hotel, with personalized service and modern Southern hospitality.
You don’t have to leave 21c to sample some of the best bourbon in Kentucky: The hotel's restaurant, Proof on Main, has a bourbon list long enough to be called the Bourbon Library. Even the low end, an Old Rip Van Winkle 10-year-old, is excellent, while the 23-year-old Van Winkle Family Reserve will knock your socks off. Don’t miss the specialties on the cured meat menu, which features ultra-authentic local specialties like Kentucky country ham and pork jowl terrine alongside standards including Tuscan salami.
In the Area
Eight distilleries make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and all are open for tours. From famed Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam to lesser-known Tom Moore and Heaven Hill, these distilleries make 95 percent of Kentucky’s bourbon, and all are close to the city; you might want to spring for a car and driver for the day. Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a worthwhile tour. See the factory floor, then browse the fascinating collection of baseball memorabilia. For the city’s best nightlife, drive — or cab it — to Bardstown Road. There you’ll find quirky bars, cafés and music venues that have nurtured many of the great Louisville bands through the years.