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Yellow Penguins! Naked Statues! Inside Cincinnati's New 21c Museum Hotel

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  Site Where: 609 Walnut Street [map], Cincinnati, OH, United States, 45202
December 3, 2012 at 5:09 PM | by | ()

Fresh off last week's ribbon cutting, we buzzed by Cincinnati's new 21c Museum Hotel on its first Saturday in business for a quick tour. Our visit was so fresh, in fact, the paint literally hadn't even dried yet (we saw a guy running around spot-touching the walls).

When we arrived at 5 o'clock the hotel was booked solid and curious passerby were parading in, some having just caught "The Nutcracker" matinee at the performing arts theater across the street. Or checked out the latest exhibits at next door's sprawling Contemporary Arts Center (designed by Zaha Hadid). Or just pounded few brewskies at Toby Keith's bar around the corner.

In other words, the location's choice and the masses welcome! 24/7, in fact. The 10-floor, 156-room property, just like its Louisville sibling, doubles as a contemporary art gallery whose exhibition spaces are free for anyone to peruse, any day, at any time.

We met GM Gerry Link in the lobby/ground floor gallery, where it took us a few seconds to realize the attractive, well-dressed people holding laptops and chatting pleasantly in front of us were not stylish guests soaking up the free WiFi, but the coolest front desk agents ever. To advertise their employee status, Gerry and the staff sport only tiny yellow penguin pins (the hotel's icon) on their lapels. (We agree, guys. Uniforms are *so* last century.)

As far as the art goes, we think it's safe to say no other hotel in the Midwestern U.S. can pull off greeting guests with realistic, life-sized statues of a butt-naked people in its lobby, no siree (courtesy of artist Judy Fox). So, let us assure you: there's plenty of weird artsy fartsy stuff to gawk at… like the video installation of an Israeli man's family walking around Central Park dressed up like ostriches. Riiight. But since curator Alice Gray Stites likes to mix it up, you'll witness some truly beautiful works on view, too. Like Ryan Wolfe's "Field of Grass" in the stairwell leading up to the spa and rooftop terrace, which uses a computer to coordinate the movement of each synthetic blade of grass with the wind outside.

Along those high-tech, environmental lines, the hotel's "solarium" is an interesting way of bringing the outside in when you're in the middle of the city -- and is hands-down the most romantic spot in the building. Located on the mezzanine level, come nightfall guests can plop down in one of the Fat Boy bean chairs and gaze up through the transparent ceiling at a trio of fiber-optic tapestries soaring seven stories high and sparkling with a rainbow of LED lights.

Eager to see the digs, Gerry unlocked one of the luxury suites for us to sniff around. Clean, comfortable, and just spacious enough, the rooms trade the edgy feel of 21c Louisville's exposed brick walls in favor of more minimalist, streamlined decor. The large sectional and dining-cum-work area might make the added splurge worth it if you're considering a room upgrade. For us, the bathrooms are the highlight: each room's feature gleaming white tiles with facial parts (eyes, lips and noses) subtly molded to appear as if they protrude out from the wall (a tad creepy, we're not gonna lie). And the slick black and white, shower-tub combos wouldn't be nearly as awesome without their adorable rubber duckies!

Back downstairs, the owners' crazy camel collection in a large glass display case made us chuckle, as did the portraits of presidents' mistresses in the hotel's impressive Metropole restaurant. Belly up to the charcuterie bar for wursts du jour cut in antique meat slicer by a plaid-clad barman. A must-try item? The "7-hour egg." (That's right, *an* egg. Slow-cooked. For seven hours). For those who care, there's plenty of swank conference & function space, as befits Cincinnati's status as a corporate HQ.

Rates start at $239. The third 21c Museum Hotel is set for a February opening in Arkansas.

[Photos:Suzanne Steinert/HotelChatter]

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