Appropriately for being on museum row, the 21C Museum Hotel is both travel lodgings and art space. The art begins out on the sidewalk, picks up in the lobby, is on display in several galleries, carries through the public restrooms, and into the rooms themselves, each of which have at least one original piece. The contemporary art is a constantly interesting mix of photography, multi-media, conceptual, paintings, graphics, video installations, and interactive. Everywhere you look there’s something new to catch your attention and usually to make you think.
The theme during our visit in September 2008 was “Connections” and how the human experience is made up entirely of these but that’s why it is so difficult to forge your own identity.
Next to the elevators are two identical realistic looking heads, one with a female voice, one male, lying on a bed engaged in random, always changing conversation where they struggle to understand each other, fight, and make up. It’s supposed to prompt dialogue about what qualifies as intelligence, especially when it’s a machine.
We were smitten by an interactive video display by the elevators that generates random letters until you stand in front of it and wave your hands around and then it makes words – “my body” or “synonymous” or “thinking” for instance.
The men’s room, which is a finalist for a competition called “Best Bathrooms,” features a slightly disconcerting urinal experience, as you face a wall of water that seeming looks out into a hallway, but is really one-way glass.
The style of the hotel is industrial, with exposed steel girders and lots of expanses of untreated concrete or plain white walls, but unlike other hotels that pursue that aesthetic this one hasn't neglected comfort for the sake of style.
Rooms come in a variety of styles and sizes but all are gorgeously appointed - plump white beds splashed with color, 42-inch flat screen TVs, fancy name-brand amenities, iPods in docking stations, mini-fridges, coffee makers, silver mint julep cups, and even rubber ducks for your bathtub. Each room has a piece of art in it tied to the main exhibit downstairs.
Mary's room had a beautiful exposed brick wall and overlooked Main Street's Victorian buildings. It was moderately sized and tremendously comfortable. Rick's room was one of the biggest in the house, huge with a terrace that was as big as the room itself.
Prices are not inexpensive - figure at least $200 for the standard room and over $400 for the terrace room mentioned above. That's not bad for a hotel in a major city and we are hard pressed to think of a city hotel that we have stayed in that we have liked better. And certainly we couldn’t like this place any better if it were dipped in Ruth Hunt’s chocolate.
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