Museum Peace – Restful Stays at Luxurious 21c Museum Hotel Nashville
By Mary Noe

21c Museum Hotel Nashville exterior

The hotel’s historic facade

After being named one of the ‘50 Best Places to Travel in 2017’ and one of the ‘Friendliest Cities in the World’ by Travel + Leisure, it’s easy to see why Nashville, Tennessee, is on the radar of travel enthusiasts. Its inclusion in AFAR’s list of ‘Where To Go In 2017’ and ‘Best US Cities to Spend a Weekend’ by Thrillist has also ramped-up excitement about this vibrant southern city.

Nashville’s music scene is legendary, and its entertainment, culinary, and cultural offerings are gaining international acclaim. ‘Music City’ offers a variety of hotel options, including a lodging experience that is truly unique – 21c Museum Hotel Nashville. Each 21c (which stands for 21st century) property allows guests the unparalleled experience of staying in an exquisite boutique hotel that is also a contemporary art museum. This groundbreaking concept merges the worlds of contemporary art and luxury hospitality – they’re part multi-venue art museum, part boutique hotel, and are topped off with a first-rate chef-driven restaurant. The result is a truly unique kind of travel experience that’s neither pretentious nor stuffy.

Founded by contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, the 21c portfolio has grown from their flagship property in Louisville, Kentucky, to seven museum hotels in the South and Mid-West, with more on the way. All seven 21c properties were recently named ‘Top Hotels in the South’ in Condé Nast Traveler’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards. The rankings are based on the quality of rooms, service, food and dining, location and overall design.


Introducing 21c Museum Hotel Nashville

Opened last May in the renovated, historic Gray & Dudley building, the 21c Museum Hotel Nashville property is a stunning example of how 21c is bringing contemporary art to its guests, visitors, and local residents. And it brings both world-class art and sleek luxury to downtown Nashville, and to anyone who dreams of staying in what feels like their own private art museum.

21c Museum Hotel Nashville

Where hotel lobby meets art gallery

Before visiting the Nashville property, I wasn’t a huge fan of contemporary art – or so I thought. I was intrigued by the brand’s premise, however, and found that stepping into 21c Museum Hotel Nashville is to immerse yourself in a space that is luxurious, sleek, and meditative. The artwork is unobtrusively placed throughout the public spaces, with galleries and exhibits that merge with the reception area, lounge, walkways, bar, and restaurant.

You can become as engaged in the experience as you’d like – the installations meld seamlessly with the calm décor of the hotel. You can simply stroll past the exhibition spaces and individual pieces on your way to the elevator or to the bar and restaurant, take a docent-led tour to fully experience the exhibits, or return to linger in the galleries and spend more time at the most intriguing displays.

“The only thing that’s exact is that nothing is the same,” says cofounder Steve Wilson, and the 21c Museum collection offers both rotating and permanent installations at each venue.  In Nashville, The art of NOW runs through February 2018 and offers stirring, thought-provoking statements on the present-day state of global society. Menagerie, currently being displayed in Gray & Dudley, the sensational on-site restaurant, includes Beth Cavener Stichter’s ceramic sculptures and runs through December 2018.

The carefully curated pieces compel you to interact. During my visit, a favorite way to amuse myself was at the site-specific Bilateral Time Slicer Intermix, an engaging, interactive installation that merges your facial image with those of others, resulting in a global slice of life that transforms continuously before your eyes.


A Flock of Teal Penguins

You won’t be able to miss perhaps the most famous and recognizable component of the 21c collection… the human-size penguins that have become guest favorites at each property. Each of the groups’ hotels has its own flock of colored penguins, created by Italian artist collective Cracking Art Group with materials derived from petroleum products to, as the group states, “raise awareness of environmental issues and the use and misuse of natural resources.”

21c Museum Hotel Nashville

Guests are encouraged to linger awhile

Red Penguin sculptures were first exhibited at 21c Louisville and were so embraced by hotel visitors that they have remained on permanent exhibition. Says Wilson, “They were part of our opening exhibition in Louisville and people couldn’t help but interact with them. They would move them around, take photos with them, take them to dinner and to their rooms. They have really become an icon, and emblematic of our mission to make thought-provoking contemporary art more accessible to the public.”

The 21c Museum Hotel Nashville penguins are part of a flock of limited edition Teal Penguin sculptures – a colour that’s associated with serenity and strength, calmness and clarity. Says Alice Gray Stites, the company’s Chief Curator, Museum Director, of the fun sculptures: “As teal spans a spectrum of blue/green hues, 21c’s Nashville ambassadors… reflect the spirit of openness, innovation, and engagement that has transformed this 1900 building in the heart of downtown into a center for contemporary culture and hospitality.”

The ubiquitous penguins seem to magically and mysteriously move about the hotel, arriving beside your table or next to your lounge chair, silently adding a playful element to your 21c experience.


Take the Tour

Be sure to take advantage of the complimentary docent-led museum tours, offered several times a week. Not only will you get an in-depth tour of the current exhibitions, you’ll learn far more about the collection than you would notice on your own. You will also learn about the history of the hotel and about how the new spaces were designed to preserve and highlight the historic architectural features of the Gray & Dudley building, a former hardware store.

21c Museum Hotel Nashville

Contemporary art exhibits are part of the experience

Another neat thing is the fact the hotel gallery is open 24 hours a day. In a town as vibrant as Nashville – where many visitors are literally up all night – 24 hour access seems entirely reasonable, for hotel guests and art-loving visitors alike.

Since my visit to 21c Nashville, I have found myself thinking back to some of the displays and wishing I had spent more time perusing the collection. It’s the first time that the décor – indeed, the very essence of the 21c experience – was such a compelling component of my stay at a hotel.

From the bellmen to the bartenders, the helpful hotel staff were on point professionally and fashionably. Stylishly on-trend, the welcoming staff at the front desk looked as if their outfits had been curated by hip fashion designers, and it’s obvious that individuality and creativity is encouraged and embraced.


Art for Art’s Sake: Rooms and Suites 

Designed to serve as sanctuaries from the galleries and the hustle and bustle of the hotel, the rooms and suites are certainly easy to relax in. Stylish and calm, they each offer a serene respite from the busy downtown scene, too. The guest rooms also feature the kind of excellent amenities you would expect from a hotel of this caliber, including free Wi-Fi, HDTV flat screen televisions, Nespresso coffee machines, Malin + Goetz bath amenities, and luxurious bedding. And for those who like to workout, the fitness center is open 24 hours.

21c Museum Hotel Nashville guest roooms

Luxury suites include exquisite handmade furniture

Of the 124 rooms at 21c Museum Hotel Nashville, 14 are suites, including stunning Rooftop Suites with outdoor terraces which can even be reserved in groups to provide a multi-suite, expansive rooftop experience. For a truly exceptional stay, book one of the three “artist experience suites”, each curated by one of today’s most intriguing contemporary icons.

I was fortunate to stay in the Ouroboros Mosquito Artist Suite, curated by actor, director, and art collector Adrian Grenier. The suite was tucked at the end of the 2nd floor gallery, and I was delighted to find that my accommodations were as contemporary and current as the hotel’s art collection, and included site-specific installation of photographs and prints from Grenier’s film Teenage Paparazzo.

The furnishings were sleek and understated, with subtle hues of grey and white that served as a muted background for the artwork. The rooms had neutral walls and hits of yellow and purple that seemed to amplify the black and white photographs placed throughout. The comfortable, king-sized bed was dressed in soothing white linens, and the bathroom was sleek and cool with black tile, luxurious towels, and Malin + Goetz bath amenities.

Ethereal light filtered through the wall of glazed glass panes and gauzy drapes, and the décor of the suite made it feel like I was living in a black and white film. The suite seemed an extension of the gallery and, surrounded by engaging and thought-provoking pieces, I had the feeling that I was sleeping in a rarified space.

Other suites offering an equally unique overnight experience included:

  • The Sanctuary 21c Suite: Another site-specific installation, this suite was created by Dutch artist Sebastiaan Bremer and famously features a recording studio and visual arts studio within the suite. With a king-sized bed and all the 21c trimmings, this is a dynamic space to enjoy an incredible immersive art experience during your time in Music City
  • Yung Jake – Artist Suite: The third artist suite gets its style – and name – from visual artist and rapper Yung Jake, who created custom digital wall paper, paintings, and a music video for the space. Again, a comfortable sitting area, king-sized bed, and colorful accoutrements round out the accommodations specific to the suite.


The Restaurant, Lounge, and Location

Gray & Dudley, the property’s restaurant and lounge, continues to garner acclaim for its delicious food and upscale vibe. Award-winning executive chef Levon Wallace brings his West Coast flair to the 21c Nashville table, and offers fresh twists on downhome dishes.

The lounge area is sophisticated in polished blacks and browns, and is an upscale yet comfortable place to relax and watch the quiet flow of hotel guests and savvy locals arrive for dinner. The lounge “Eats” are eclectic and interesting, and include smoked catfish dip and dry aged steak tartare. The ‘hot nuts’ (with chili pepper and lime salt) and whipped ricotta (with pine honey and lemon) are perfect accompaniments to the handcrafted cocktails.

Located in the heart of downtown Nashville, the hotel is within walking distance of the famous honky-tonks of Lower Broadway, the Ryman Auditorium, and Bridgestone Arena, but is tucked away from the crowds and noise.

The 21c offers seasonal packages that take full advantage of its location in this vibrant city. While some focus on spa time, shopping, or art appreciation, my favorite is the “Honky-Tonk Getaway” package, which offers dinner at Gray & Dudley, two tickets to the Country Music Hall of Fame, tour of the Ryman Auditorium, a souvenir from the 21c Museum Shop, and more.

In a town known for spectacular music and food, the 21c Nashville is a beautiful gift to the city, bringing contemporary art and luxurious accommodations to its guests.

To hear more about how this remarkable hotel chain got started, check out the video on Luxury.TV.

LuxuryUS Tip: The property has wowed Nashvillians and visitors alike and regularly sells out its rooms. When planning your Nashville adventure, make your 21c Museum Hotel Nashville reservations well ahead of time!

To learn more, visit the 21C Museum Hotels website at


Contributor Mary Noe is a freelance writer who offers a fresh approach on local happenings, keeping readers current on travel, community, and lifestyle trends.