Louisville hotel named Condé Nast fave

Wade Johnson has plopped down in plenty of hotels, but the businessconsultant ranks his stays at 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Louisvilleas a one-of-a-kind experience.

Wade Johnson has plopped down in plenty of hotels, but the business consultant ranks his stays at 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Louisville as a one-of-a-kind experience.

Turns out, that one-of-a-kind experience has a large following.

The 90-room boutique hotel — where contemporary art is an eye-catching theme — won the honour of top U.S. hotel in Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s 2009 Readers’ Choice Awards. It was quite a coup, since 21c is a relative newcomer and the winner is typically a well-known place in a big-city tourist destination. 21c was followed in the rankings by The Peninsula in Chicago and the Mandarin Oriental in Boston.

Johnson, a mergers and acquisitions consultant from Chicago, said there’s a “different feel” at 21c, which opened in 2006 in a series of renovated 19th-century tobacco and bourbon warehouses.

Perhaps it’s the 1.2-metre-tall plastic red penguin sculptures manning parts of the hotel. Or the contemporary art seemingly on display everywhere — from the lobby to hallways to elevators and public restrooms. There are paintings, photographs, video art and sculptures ranging from whimsical to provocative.

“I love staying here,” Johnson said. “It’s fun, it’s quirky, it’s unique.”

Most of the artwork comes from the private collection of the hotel’s husband-and-wife owners, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, and from their art foundation.

Ed Varela, in town from Texas on a business trip, had just checked in when he got his first look at a plastic penguin stationed near the front counter. “Oh gosh, that’s different,” he said.

Varela planned to check out the art displayed in more than 800 square metres of exhibition space. 21c features rotating curated exhibitions and even has a full-time museum director.

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