Night at the Museum
Boutique hotel meets contemporary art gallery
THE NEIGHBORHOOD: Housed in a series of renovated nineteenth-century tobacco and bourbon warehouses, the flagship 21C—now one of seven in the brand, including a newly opened Nashville outpost—anchors downtown Louisville’s revitalized West Main Street. Its central locale makes it a handy base for Derby-goers and exploring the nearby East Market District and Butchertown neighborhoods.
THE VIBE: Proof whiskey bar—a paean to the state spirit with more than 120 Kentucky bourbons—and a lobby full of thought-provoking artwork set the tone for a convivial, warm welcome. It’s hard not to strike up a conversation with your neighbor when you’re nursing a tumbler of rare booze while trying to make sense of an edgy art installation.
THE DIGS: A massive golden replica of Michelangelo’s David by Turkish conceptual artist Serkan Özkaya greets guests in front of the hotel. Inside, the lobby and event space double as a free-to-the-public contemporary art gallery featuring rotating exhibitions and permanent installations. Currently showing: the Future is Female, an exploration of contemporary feminist art from the hotel’s collection that commemorates its tenth anniversary. But the art doesn’t stop there. Works grace the ninety-one guestrooms, each a stylish backdrop in its own right with high ceilings, large windows, and, in some cases, exposed brick walls. For an immersive experience, book Asleep in a Cyclone, an art installation and guestroom mash-up inspired by a 1960’s counter-cultural artist community.
Art may be its calling card, but 21C takes food and drink just as seriously. Not a brown water purist? The cocktail menu at the bar is just as inventive as (and sometimes inspired by) the art hanging on the walls. The Spanish Archer—fino sherry, sfumato (an amaro), rosemary-lemongrass syrup, pineapple vinegar, and prosecco—is a refreshing aperitif. At the lauded Proof on Main, the menu showcases the Bluegrass State’s seasonal bounty with dishes like blackberry pop tart with chicken liver paté and cracklins, and slow-roasted grassfed lamb with black quinoa and creamed greens. And in the not-local-but-can’t-miss department: the charred octopus with bagna cauda that regulars won’t let the chef take off the menu. For dessert, look no farther than the selection of Kentucky and Tennessee cheeses. The breakfast menu is packed with riffs on the usual suspects, including a standout benedict with a cornmeal biscuit, country ham, and red-eye hollandaise. If pastries are more your thing, head a mile down Market Street to Please & Thank You bakery for a peanut butter brioche and espresso with local honey.
What to Order
Order eggs your way through room service, have a proper breakfast at Proof, or take a long stroll to Please & Thank You, a bakery-coffee house-record store on Market Street.
Proof’s Kentucky Bento—celeriac soup, chicken roulade, braised greens, heirloom beans, and broccoli salad—is a sort of lunchbox CSA from surrounding farms.
Start with a small-batch bourbon—Pinhook perhaps?—and charcuterie selection, then move on to one of Proof’s stellar entrees. The rye cavatelli with brown butter and lardo is a wise choice.
Mentioned in this post: