Your own modern art museum right downstairs
Strolling by the brightly lit awning and oversized chandelier on Cincinnati’s Walnut Street, you’d easily mistake the 21c Cincinnati for an old-school, hoity-toity hotel or a small live theater. But walk inside and you’ll immediately be surrounded by a revolving collection of provocative contemporary art, the kind that will make you think deeply before you even check in.
Art permeates everything in this 1912 building, originally opened as the Metropole Hotel. Light fixtures in rooms are abstract. The elevators look, at first, like they’re covered in dirty mirrors, but upon closer inspection are etched to reflect the building’s past as a 1920s playground, then later a derelict apartment complex. Wander around late at night and you’ll feel like you have an entire two-story art museum to yourself, a little like “Night at the Museum” without anything coming to life.
The rooftop bar and restaurant are casual but smart. Locals frequent both, possibly even more than the guests, and the menus are approachable but still delicious. With the hotel sitting across the street from the city’s performing arts center and next door to its contemporary art museum, the creative vibe is literally all around.
Arts next door, and the rest of the city a streetcar away
The 21c Cincinnati sits in the heart of downtown on Sixth and Walnut streets. Though most of Cincy’s attractions aren’t right nearby, the Connector street car has a stop a half a block away that allows you to access the city easily. If the weather’s nice and you’re up for a walk, nothing is so far that you’ll wish you’d taken an Uber.
The Aronoff Center is right across the street, so if you’re in town for live theater or ballet, you can literally look out your window and walk over when you see the show is starting. Turn right out the 21c’s front door, and you’re at the Contemporary Arts Center, a Zaha Hadid-designed multistory modern art museum. Its collection changes every four to six months, so you’ll never have the same experience twice. Walk three blocks down Walnut Street and you’re smack between the Reds’ and Bengals’ stadiums as well as the row of sports bars and restaurants that run between them in the city’s “open refreshment” district.
To see the city’s best, most unique and quintessential experiences see our Best Things to Do in Cincinnati guide.
Also near the 21c Cincinnati:
- The largest collection of Italianate buildings in the world are 15 minutes away by streetcar in Over the Rhine. The onetime German immigrant enclave is now a colorful collection of bars and restaurants in colorful, restored structures..
- Eat around the world at Findlay Market. The oldest continually operating farmers market in America has all sorts of fresh food surrounded by international restaurants and food stalls.
- Learn about the dark history of slavery and the heroes of the Underground Railroad at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, right on the banks of the Ohio River, 10 minutes away on foot.
- Hike to the top of the Art Climb at the Cincinnati Art Museum, then enjoy the museum’s collection of over 60,000 works for free.
- Rent a Red Bike at any station downtown and bike along the riverfront bike path for fantastic views of the Ohio River and the historic Roebling Bridge.
- If you’re in town over the summer, hit the bar at Washington Park for some serious people-watching. Then stick around for an outdoor show.
Shower tiles with noses sticking out make even the bathroom an artistic experience
While the art is seemingly all around you at the 21c Cincinnati, the rooms are a bit of a respite. Yes, the subway tiles in the bathroom have random body parts sticking out of them, all crafted by a local pottery studio. And, yes, the light fixtures are all a little more interesting than your typical hotel lamp. But aside from a couple of pictures on the wall the rooms aren’t teeming with art, and that is on purpose.
Unlike a white-walled art museum, the rooms are comfortable, with an ample desk, good closets and wood-paneled dressers to keep your clothes. They also all come with flat-screen TVs and Nespresso machines as well as fluffy robes and telephones. Each tier of room is broken into two main categories of rooms: Luxury and Deluxe. The Luxury rooms tend to be bigger and, depending on the tier of room, the view may vary between each. Other than that, the room tiers break down like this:
King Rooms – The 21c’s standard King Rooms are warm and spacious, with a desk, a single king-sized bed and a dresser. They also have glass showers and Malin+Goetz bath products in the bathroom, as well as a hair dryer and all the ironing stuff you need. King Rooms rooms also come in a studio version; slightly larger rooms with a sofa, coffee table and, in some studio rooms, a tub.
Double Queen Rooms – All the trappings of the King Rooms in a larger space with two queen-sized beds.
Suites – In addition to the Deluxe and Luxury layouts, the 21C offers an additional category of suite rooms: corner suites. All offer seating areas immediately after you walk in with a couch, a leather chair and a large flat-screen TV. The corner suite has a separate dining room with a four-seat table, a banquet with Nespresso machine and up to two bedrooms. The suites also have wet rooms with a bathtub and a shower. And the Luxury suites can connect to second rooms for families looking to rent it all out.
It’s probably obvious by now that the 21c Cincinnati is all about art, art, art — so much so that we think it qualifies as an amenity. Indeed, in the lobby, a sprawling mural sits behind the front desk and a small gallery is just off reception. Use the bathroom on the first floor and you’ll walk across the rare permanent installation inside the 21c, “Healing Tiles.” It’s a collection of red blobs on the floor that separate when you walk over them, then come back together, replicating the healing of human skin.
The second floor boasts another series of galleries as well as a ballroom with the original crown moldings of the Metropole. Head to the upper levels and each floor greets you with a work of art from a local artist right when the elevator doors open. Just outside the main entrance, you’ll also find an out-of-place, oversized chandelier titled “Untitled.”
The spa, too, is a bit of a gallery. On your way there you’ll pass by a large, red fishnet installation. Then, as you ascend the stairs to the front desk, you’ll walk by “Field of Grass,” where blades of grass connected to sensors on the roof blow at the same speed as the wind outside. Inside, you’ll find a tranquil escape with all the standard spa services, plus an outdoor terrace to decompress with a drink.
The spa’s terrace is also the 21c’s rooftop bar, Cocktail Terrace. Unlike a lot of hotel rooftop bars, there’s not an ounce of pretension here. You’ll find a handful of signature cocktails on the menu, but you’ll also find the White Claw Float, which mixes hard seltzer with raspberry and ice cream, and a bucket of mini Miller High Lifes, if you prefer celebrating with the champagne of beers. All of it’s paired with a panoramic view of the neighborhood and a seafood-heavy menu. Who said artistic spaces had to be stuffy?
The 21c’s restaurant is named after the swanky hotel that once occupied the building. The decor feels a little like the rooms, lots of grays and thin modern furniture. Metropole says its menu is one of modern French and Italian cooking, with dishes like seared salmon with Weisenberger grits alongside bourbon barrel soy brined chicken. The drinks downstairs are different than they are on the roof too. All of the items are also available as room service.
Other amenities include:
- 24-hour fitness center
- Business center
- Laundry service
- Valet parking
- Museum shop