Hotel Spotlight

Spend the Night at the Hotel-Museum on Kentucky's Bourbon Trail

by California Chaney
The All photos courtesy of 21C Museum Hotels.

21C Museum Hotel
Louisville, Kentucky
Modern, $$

Towering over Louisville's Museum Row on 7th and Main Street, a double-sized replica of Michelangelo's David sculpture welcomes you to 21C Museum Hotel. The pioneering hotel was among the first contemporary initiatives designed to to be a fluid property: equal parts contemporary art museum, boutique hotel, and acclaimed restaurant.

The project was conceived in 2006 by philanthropists and art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson when they saw the vacant historical buildings in Louisville's downtown arts and theater district and were inspired to create a new kind of entree into the art world — one that was more immersive than a single museum ticket could ever be. The result was 21C Museum Hotel, a 91-room boutique hotel with 9,000 square feet of exhibition gallery space and Proof on Main, a farm-to-table restaurant with ingredients sourced from local farmers. With its success, the brand launched a decade's worth of new hotel openings around the American midwest and south, built on a noteworthy reputation for seamlessly integrating contemporary art with good food and welcoming design. No two stays at the hotel are the same, as the artwork and vision of the hotel is constantly evolving, mirroring the lively art scene of its surrounding neighborhood of artists.

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Hotel exterior.
Guest room at 21C Museum Hotel.
The hotel's replica of Michelangelo's David sculpture.

At a Glance

The Vibe: Sophisticated yet playful.

Standout Detail: The museum never closes, so you can visit the galleries after hours in your pajamas. Talk about art nouveau. 

This Place Is Perfect For: Art lovers and those who keep a finger on the pulse of what's new.

Rooms: With high ceilings, large windows, and original 19th-century brick walls, the hotel's 91spacious rooms are simple, clean, and residential — an appropriate contrast to the lively museum downstairs. If you'd prefer to stay immersed in the art, "Asleep in the Cyclone" is the installation-meets-guest room on the first floor created by artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, where a 3D geometric kaleidoscope pattern of colorful glass illuminates the ceiling, the bed is a low platform, and the records are the artists' favorites. A spacious one-bedroom rooftop apartment opens onto to an expansive outdoor terrace and garden with views of downtown and the river. A full-service kitchen centers the open-concept living and dining area, perfect for a larger group or entertaining. You'll find Nespresso coffee machines in every room, along with Malin + Goetz bath products.

On Site: 9,000 square feet of exhibition space showcase a rotating contemporary art collection — painting, sculpture, installation, photography, performance art, and video. The museum is open 24 hours, seven days a week, and is free to the public. There's also a 24-hour fitness center and large meeting and event spaces for private dinners and intimate parties.

Food + Drink: The rotating exhibitions and installations carry over to the in-house restaurant Proof on Main, run by Kentucky native chef Jonathan Searle, whose menu features modern takes on Southern comfort foods like cast-iron skillet cornbread, bison burger, and dark chocolate pecan pie. This being Kentucky, you can work your way through new discoveries on their award-winning bourbon menu.

The dining room at Proof on Main.
A day at the museum.
Tours of the exhibitions.

What to Do Nearby

Make your way to the other stops on Louisville's Museum RowMuhammad Ali Museum, Louisville Slugger Museum, Frazier Museum, Kentucky Science Museum. If you’re looking to hop on the Kentucky Bourbon trail, the hotel is the perfect starting point. Michter’s Distillery, Evan Williams, and Jim Beam are within walking distance, and Angel’s Envy, Copper & Kings, and the Rabbit Hole Distillery are a short Uber ride away.

To walk off all the buttery Southern delicacies you won't be able to resist (give in!), walk across the historic Big Four Bridge, a former railroad truss bridge that crosses the Ohio River, connecting Louisville with Jefferson, Indiana.

Hop on the Kentucky Bandwagon

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