Just as in Scotland, Kentucky’s distilleries are often deep in the hinterland, where they were once far from the prying eyes of the Pinks. As I pondered the logistics of my trip to explore Bourbon country, I couldn’t ignore the wariness I felt at staying in B&Bs in tiny towns off in the hills. My choices would be mostly shots in the dark, and I just wasn’t comfortable with that (which is funny, considering that’s exactly what I do all over Scotland – go figure). I opted for the city instead, and Louisville became headquarters for the entirety of my jaunt along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
It did not take me long to focus in on the place I wanted to stay: 21c Museum Hotel. 21c is an attractive building with arched windows, red penguins, and a gold replica of the statue of David outside overlooking Louisville’s historic downtown. On my way into the hotel, after a 7-hour drive from Madison, Wisconsin, I spotted a limo out front whose body was completely covered in red rhinestone-esque jewels. I think it’s the house vehicle. The interior of the hotel lobby is what you’d expect from a place called a ‘museum hotel,’ as in, art was built into the fabric of the place, but the art installations were consistently edgy, imaginative, and provocative. I hadn’t even seen my room yet, but I knew I’d chosen well. What can I say? I’m a sucker for lux.
Upon checking in, Sarah and I made our way up to the corner suite on the top floor, passing numerous quirky bits of wall art that included a series of portraits of people interacting with each other despite being in different frames, a kind of projected electrical shadow that mirrored your movements, and amorphous shapes that looked like neural networks built up over a series of glass slides.
The door to our room opened into a hallway, off which were the bathroom and a mint julep nook – a nice touch. The hallway ended in the dining area replete with a massive wooden table and windows looking over Main Street. A sitting area containing a couch and two chairs hid in the darkened reaches beyond the dining table, and the king-size bed stood out of view around a bend in the wall. This was an enormous, L-shaped suite. Perhaps I didn’t truly realize it at the time of booking, but we were about to do the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in style.
Our suite nailed my personal aesthetic with a modern, minimalist foundation, clean lines, and steel and glass accents. The unique artwork on the walls and the decorative choices raised my appreciation of the space. It was a pleasure to come back to the hotel after a long day out on the road visiting distilleries. We sat and read on the couch and ate dinner at the table; this suite was more like an apartment loft decorated by someone with a lot more taste than me than a simple hotel room.
One of the real highlights of 21c is their in-house restaurant/bar Proof on Main.
Proof on Main has to be one of Louisville’s best gastronomical destinations. The restaurant, decorated with the same quirky panache as the rest of the hotel, including a mass of flying, often bloody, papier-mâché birds, serves up modern dishes with inventive twists that wouldn’t be out of place on Top Chef. The bar provides a stunning array of Bourbons and an impressive list of house-developed cocktails, not to mention a charcuterie plate (among other fancy bar bites) that sent me off to cloud nine for the remainder of one night.
On our last night at 21c, we enjoyed a lavish dinner at Proof on Main that included an incredible dish of scallops, wheat berries, and grape tomatoes and rich, delicious gnocchi with beet shavings and baby chard. The pictures below will do more than any words to convey the deliciousness of these entrees.
21c Museum Hotel worked like a charm as a base for exploring Bourbon country and the city of Louisville. We could easily walk from the hotel to many of downtown Louisville’s sites, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I liked the city. 21c is a luxury boutique hotel – they were recently named to Condé Nast Traveler’s prestigious platinum circle – so keep that in mind when you’re planning your trip to Bourbon country. That said, you will find that 21c Museum Hotel plays a big role in making your jaunt among Kentucky’s Bourbon distilleries a comfortable and memorable one.
Disclosure: 21c Museum Hotel provided me with a media rate. All thoughts and opinions expressed here, as always, are my own.
Cover photo by Rrrrred via Flickr/Creative Commons