“Sometimes my wife and I just stop in here to gaze at the art,” my cousin told me as he met me at the 21 C Museum Hotel in downtown Cincinnati a few weeks ago. That was indeed what I found the couple doing as they waited for me to come down from my suite where I was staying for the weekend. I have a feeling they wouldn’t have minded if I’d taken a bit longer to arrive so they could peruse more of the captivating pieces lined along the walls.
If you’ve followed my travel stories on the site thus far, you know I’m a fan of convenience when it comes to leaving the comfort of my home. As much as I enjoy visiting different cities, I love a property that doesn’t force me to leave in order to get a taste of the local culture. And with a museum gallery, restaurant and spa right within its walls, this boutique hotel does just that.
As soon as you step into the lobby of 21 C, you get a sense of the property’s uniqueness, as the design mimics an art gallery with the bright open space, concrete floors, and walls covered in encapsulating artwork.
If there were a wait to check in, you’d certainly have more than enough pieces to occupy your eye. But with the hospitable staff at the midwestern hotel, you’ll likely have to find your own time to explore the works on display.
In fact, the pieces in the lobby of 21 C are just a preview for the art gallery that’s housed on the second floor of the hotel. Up the beautiful winding iron staircase with purple and gold steps, which is a work of art in itself, is a museum with rotating exhibitions from contemporary artists around the world.
Currently on display through August 2023 is Refuge: Needing, Seeking, Creating Shelter, an exhibition that leans into the current collective need for safe spaces amid climate concerns, a global pandemic and far-reaching economic insecurity.
Standout pieces in the exhibition are the anonymous portraits from Johannesburg-based artist Serge Alain Nitegeka whose work reflects his own experiences as a refugee from the African country of Burundi. On display from Soweto-born and Cape Town, South Africa-based artist Mohau Modisakeng is the photographic series Passage depicting the journey of would-be refugees.
The art continues into the guest rooms of 21 C in a traditional sense with paintings and fabric prints on decorative pillows, and in unconventional ways as well such as uniquely shaped chairs that almost mimic sculptures. (Hint: see what body parts you can pick out in the custom bathroom tile crafted by the local Rookwood Pottery Company.)
I can confirm the website’s description of the king bed in the luxury corner suite as “incredibly comfortable” is incredibly accurate. And the top-floor accommodation is so spacious at nearly 700 square ft that my friends were having an entirely separate reunion at the dining table while I visited with my family on the large sectional in the sitting area. The bathroom also has more than enough space for girlfriends to get ready for a night out at the same time. And the enclosed bathtub-shower duo eliminates any potential slipping and sliding across a wet floor.
Should you fancy room service or simply going downstairs for a glass of wine, perhaps after taking advantage of one of the spa services available on site, Metropole is located right across from the elevators on the ground floor. The menu is a modern mix of French and Italian and I don’t believe you’ll forgive yourself if you leave without trying the crispy deviled eggs.
Having attended college in Cincinnati, I know what a cultural hub the southern Ohio city is. And what I love about 21 c is the way it embraces regional artisans while also exposing locals and travelers to global art movements in an environment that’s more warm and inviting than a traditional museum. This hotel is worth at least a one night stay whether you’re a resident of the Queen city or simply passing through.
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