If you were in search of one of the top-rated hotels in the United States, you probably wouldn’t think to look for it in Ohio. Nevertheless, 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati was recently named the second best hotel in the country by readers of Conde Nast Traveler. (Last year it was ranked #1.) So, what makes this hotel so special that it beat out much-hyped properties in bigger destination cities like Los Angeles and New York?
The small and rapidly growing 21c Museum Hotels group currently has three locations in operation — the other two are in Louisville, KY and Bentonville, AR — and several more on the way. (21c Durham will be opening May 2015, followed by properties in Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and Nashville.) The key to 21c’s appeal is that besides functioning as a collection of chic boutique lodging, each hotel is part modern art museum. The chain’s founders are contemporary art collectors, and they fill their hotels with pieces from their personal collection as well as some that are on loan. The hotel owners curate the art themselves, which is then integrated throughout the buildings. Best of all, the art is free to view: Anyone, guest or otherwise, can walk into the hotel’s public areas and view the art 24 hours a day.
21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati is housed in an historic building in the downtown area. The Metropole, as it used to be known, was first built in 1912 when it was an all-male hotel complete with Turkish bath. The building’s second half was completed in 1924 when it was converted into apartments, then low-income housing. Original details from the structure’s former life have been retained, such as a grand curved staircase and terrazzo tiled floor. It sits alongside, and contrasts with, a site-specific permanent floor installation by Brian Knep called Healing Tiles, which uses custom software algorithms to transform glowing patterns as passersby walk across it.
Art extends into the 156 stylishly designed rooms. Most immediately striking is the surprise guest you find as you open your door: a larger-than-life yellow penguin. The penguins, leftovers from an exhibit by Cracking Art Group at the Louisville hotel, have now become a brand signature. A flock of these flightless bird sculptures now lives in every 21c hotel, with a different color for each destination. Besides the penguins, all rooms feature original artworks, designer desks and chairs, free WiFi, Nespresso machines, and Malin + Goetz toiletries. Watch out for the cheeky tilework in the marble bathrooms.
The chef-driven restaurant, Metropole, sits on the ground floor and makes extensive use of its wood-fired oven. The menu has options to please all tastes, from burnt carrot salad and seared octopus to pork shank and strip steaks. Seasonal shrubs and housemade mixers are featured in signature cocktails. During summer months, you can enjoy your cocktail on the rooftop terrace. The top-floor spa features three treatment rooms including a couple’s retreat with ensuite whirlpool tub, with massage rates starting at $105 for 50 minutes. And if you want to take a (handbag-sized) penguin home, you can purchase one for $35 at the gift shop.
Rates & Packages
Midweek November rates start at $299 a night, dropping to $258 in mid-December. The hotel offers a number of themed one- and two-night packages, such as the Call in “Sick” Spa Package, which includes $100 credit at The Spa at 21c, a $20 voucher for drinks at Metropole, and a $30 credit for the 21c Museum Shop. You’ll save a few bucks if you were going to visit all three anyway.