Travel, Etc. --> A Road Trip to Louisville
A Road Trip to Louisville
The 21 C Museum Hotel and Dinner at Proof
I have to admit, we don't know much about Louisville. I was not even sure know how to pronounce it and the first thing we found out was that pronunciation is something that even the natives don't even agree on. It always has been somewhere I drove through on my way to somewhere else. So, when the Sunday New York Times featuredan edgy museum / hotel in Louisville in the Sunday travel section, it got our at-tention. Heck, the Times doesn't even like the hotels in Manhat-tan... so, when they gush about an edgy hotel in Louisville, we had to check it out.
And edgy it is... the Times said "more MoMA than match the sofa" and they were right. This combination modern art museum and hotel is just about the last thing you would expect to find anywhere in the midwest except maybe River North in Chicago. But Louisville?
Located on West Main Street just off the river, it resides in a restored 1860s brick warehouse on what was once called "Whiskey Row." A major redevelopment is under way in the area and the block is now home to the The Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Louisville Science Center and an IMAX theater along with a lot of other historic buildings awaiting a new purpose.
Owner Steve Wilson and his wife have invested over 26 million dollars in the 91 room hotel, not to mention the 10 million dollars worth of personal art collection that rotates through the hotel. No need to worry about the expenditures though, Steve is a member of the family that controls the 2.7 billion dollar liquor conglomerate, Brown Foreman. Think Jack Daniels, Finlandia Vodka and Southern Comfort. And the dollars show...the building as been beautifully renovated.
Our room featured exposed brick walls, a 42 inch plasma television, a Herman Miller Aeron chair, our own well-programmed iPod and docking station, cushy robes, a king bed with 500 count sheets, Malin and Goetz toiletries and even a rubber ducky for the tub. And all for the same price as the Embassy Suites in Chicago. And, if you are wondering what the red things are all over the building, they're 42 inch tall, red plastic penguins... of course, why not! They are everywhere, in the lobby, in the hallways....Linda even invited one to spend the night in our room (and his silhouette against the window gave me a pretty good start at 3 a.m.).
The name 21C is a reference to the 21st Century and the fact that all the works were produced by living artists. The gallery and public spaces include art of almost every description including audio and video installations along with paintings, drawings, sculpture and a few things that defy classification.
In the alcove between the elevators was one such installation called Text Rain. As you face the wall, a hidden camera projects your lifesize black and white image on a screen while multi-colored letters of the alphabet rain down on you... the trick is that they stick! Hold out your hand and they will collect on your palm and they are even supposed to spell out poems. And, although we could never make any sense out of the patterns, it was fun to stand back and watch while a fascinated 8 or 9 year old girl tried to hold all the letters she could on her hands and arms.
From the life size, very edgy, statues of children behind the main desk to the interactive wind and sand display in the lobby, art is pretty much every where in the hotel. Art is in the eye of the beholder and as we see it, some of it's great, some of it's goofy, but it's all pretty interesting.
Proof on Main
Proof on Main, the restaurant at 21C is another art filled space where you are greeted by a bronze statue of a rather devilish faun offering you an apple from the end of the bar. The dining room doubles as a gallery but the food is the real star. Run by Drew Nieporent's Myriad Restaurant Group, the same group who operate Nobu and the Tribeca Grill in New York, it has become one of the hottest tickets in Louisville. And, after our first encounter on Saturday night we knew why. In fact, we cancelled our Sunday reservations at another restaurant and dined there again on Sunday.
Chef Michael Paley's menu is short but packed with interesting offerings. As a starter, we were attracted to his Charcuterie plate. Now charcuterie is a word I always have a tough time with. Paul, our store's expert in "all things French" says it is pronounced char-coot-er-ie and it loosely translates from French as "lunch meat." And we have to tell you, this was the best lunch meat we had ever had!
A bargain at $16, it was more than enough for two and included their house cured rabbit liver paté, pork country terrine, bison bresaola, and coppa along with Italian prosciutto and finocchiona all served with crisp Tuscan toast and a very tasty chutney. I have to say it may have the best cured meat selection we have ever had... so good we ordered it again on Sunday night.
On Saturday we both succumbed to the same temptation, a bone-in Kentucky Bison Tenderloin, grilled to a crusty, perfect medium rare and served with buttered leeks and fingerling potatoes. Unfortunately, we had noticed the New York strip at the next table served with a cone of thin, crisp French fries and had to add them to the order... good enough to be worth the guilt!
On Sunday we repeated the starter but branched out for our entrées. Linda choose the smoked Amish chicken with spicy greens and a bread salad with scallions, pine nuts and currants. Tender, moist and delicately scented with smoke, it may have been the hit of the evening. My Diver Scallops were perfectly prepared and accompanied by an interesting caramelized spaghetti squash, but you know there really is nothing like good roast chicken. I think we pretty much split our entrées.
The wine list is comprised of about 100 well chosen wines all priced at about twice retail... the going rate. Saturday we chose the Orin Swift's "The Prisoner," a very popular Zinfandel - Petite Sirah blend that we are probably selling out of as I write this. It could not have been more perfect with the steaks. Sunday night we threw wine pairing etiquette to the wind and ordered the Girard Petite Sirah, just because it's really good... it really didn't overpower the food. Well, maybe just a little... but we still enjoyed dinner.
Overall a great experience... both the hotel and restaurant. Be sure to find some things to do. We went to an IMAX movie on Sunday afternoon but there are plenty of other things to do. Check out Louisville at http://www.gotolouisville.com/ and check out the 21C and Proof on Main
700 West Main Street Louisville, KY 40202
May 7, 2008