CULTURE & TRAVEL

Stylish Stays | Urban Style: Four Boutique Hotels with Art, Luxury, Hipster Cachet & More

Discover these big city getaways in Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Cleveland and Toronto.

Dave Ghose and Steve Stephens
A guest enjoys one of the seating areas in 21C Museum Hotel in Cincinnati. The century-old building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cincinnati: 21C Museum Hotel

Lodging that doubles as a contemporary art center

Art, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. So who are we to question the artistic merits of the typical décor of the typical hotel?

Still, the intentionally and carefully curated art installed in 21C Museum Hotels, a small chain founded in 2006 in Louisville, sets those hotels aesthetically apart.

Ohio’s only 21C, in Cincinnati, is located in the former Metropole Hotel, a century-old building on the National Register of Historic Places. The hotel is in the heart of the city, just steps from Fountain Square and adjacent to the Contemporary Art Center and Aronoff Center for the Arts—a perfect locale for art lovers.

But visitors don’t need to leave the hotel to enjoy intriguing exhibits and site-specific installations of contemporary art. Public spaces are filled with interesting and provocative pieces, such as Austrian artist Werner Reiterer’s “Untitled,” an enormous brass chandelier hanging, incongruously, outside the hotel entrance.

The hotel’s main installation changes periodically. A new exhibit, Refuge: Needing, Seeking, Creating Shelter, was installed in late summer. The exhibit explores the challenges faced by displaced individuals and peoples through works such as Burundian artist Serge Alain Nitegeka’s portraits of refugees painted on shipping crates. 

The hotel, a 1.75-hour drive from Columbus, has rates of $249 to $639 per night.

Steve Stephens

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Artist in residence Jeff Zimpel at Saint Kate - The Arts Hotel in Milwaukee

Milwaukee: Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel

An artist in residence invites guests to make their mark.

Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel defines itself with the motto, “invite participation and expect change.” To that end, the 219-room hotel in Milwaukee’s downtown theater district launched a new artist in residence program in September, an initiative that encourages guests to explore their own creativity, in addition to giving one artist every year studio space, a stipend, networking opportunities and a chance to exhibit their work.

The first recipient is Jeff Zimpel, a Milwaukee multidisciplinary artist and educator. His eight-month residency is expanding upon An Ecology of Marks, a community-based exhibition at Arts@Large, a Milwaukee arts nonprofit, that drew inspiration from the colors and materials found in nature and incorporated the public into the project. The same principles are guiding Zimpel at Saint Kate.

Every week, from Thursday through Saturday, Zimpel works in his hotel space, called “Studio Ecology,” where guests are welcome to drop in and talk with him. On Saturdays, he also offers a tour of his studio and the hotel’s permanent collection and current exhibitions. Moreover, Zimpel encourages participation, asking his studio visitors to make a “mark,” a term he uses to describe creative visual expression, employing handmade brushes, natural pigments, resin tiles and watercolor paper.

Zimpel’s residency will culminate in a two-month exhibition at Saint Kate, and though the contents of that show aren’t set, he may incorporate some marks made by guests, says Saint Kate curator Samantha Timm. “He engages a lot of our values at Saint Kate,” she says. 

The hotel, a 7-hour drive from Columbus, has rates of $249 to $1,861 (the latter for a two-bedroom suite) per night.

Dave Ghose

The indoor dog park at the Metropolitan at the 9 in Cleveland

Cleveland: The Metropolitan at the 9

An architectural gem with its own dog park

When visiting an unfamiliar city, one of the greatest joys is uncovering architectural treasures during a short stroll down any street—while walking your dog, perhaps? Cleveland’s Ninth Street offers a wealth of such discoveries, not the least of which is the Metropolitan at the 9, a Marriott Autograph Collection hotel.

The 29-story, Brutalist-style tower sits directly adjacent to the Neoclassical- and Beaux-Arts-style, 1907 Cleveland Trust Co. building—an architectural contrast if ever there was one. The hotel tower, built in 1971, was designed as the headquarters of Ameritrust Bank by famed Hungarian Modernist architect Marcel Breuer. 

The bank was bought out and left the building in 1996. The tower nearly fell to the wrecking ball, but preservation efforts prevailed, and in 2014 the vacant building was converted to luxury apartments and the Metropolitan at the 9.

The hotel takes full advantage of the features left over from its banking days, including the original vaults beneath the Cleveland Trust Co.—now containing the Vault cocktail lounge. But what really sets the hotel apart—aside from its architecture—is its attitude toward dogs, which are not only welcome with an additional charge, but also have access (with their owners) to their own doggie park on the 29th floor. And—as a bonus—cats are prohibited. 

The hotel is a 2-hour drive from Columbus and runs $175 to $535 per night.

Steve Stephens

A room at the Drake Hotel in Toronto

Toronto: The Drake Hotel

A hipster hot spot grows up.

First things first: Drake doesn’t own the Drake Hotel. The hospitality landmark in Toronto’s ultra-trendy West Queen West neighborhood addresses that question on its website: “We enjoy all things Toronto, including Drake!” the website declares. “We opened our doors in 2004, long before @champagnepapi was #the6ix God.”

Indeed, over the past 18 years, the flophouse-turned-boutique-hotel has set a new standard for design, cultural cachet and stylish lodging in “the Six,” as Drake calls his hometown (a reference to the 416 area code). The hotel also became a linchpin in the transformation of West Queen West into an artistic, nightlife and shopping hub, declared by Vogue in 2014 as the second-coolest neighborhood in the world (behind only Shimokitazawa in Tokyo).

Since then, gentrification has tamed West Queen West: Many cool boutiques, bars, galleries and other early pioneers have closed or moved in search of cheaper digs. But by no means have all of the neighborhood’s charms disappeared, and the Drake remains a West Queen West anchor, though the hotel, too, has evolved.

In December 2021, the Drake opened its Modern Wing, a five-story contemporary addition that more than doubled the number of guest rooms (from 19 to 51). Other highlights include a lobby bar with a comfy retro vibe and the Rooftop Terrace Suite, a boxcar-inspired retreat with two bathrooms, a kitchenette, a terrazzo-topped bar, a private terrace and an over-the-top price tag—$2,499 in Canadian dollars for a night in October ($1,906 in U.S. currency).

Yet even with that extravagance, the Drake remains true to its roots. More affordable “crash pad” rooms are available, and the hotel’s signature music venue, the Drake Underground, continues to book an eclectic lineup of up-and-coming DJs, indie-rock acts and hip-hop performers. Then there’s the hotel’s “pleasure menu” of sex toys and other erotic goodies available via room service. The Drake may have grown up, but it still wants to have fun. 

The Drake is a 7-hour drive from Columbus. Rates are $251 to $1,906 per night (U.S. currency).

Dave Ghose

This story is from the October 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.