Chain Hotel in the Blog?
When Don and I travel, we shy away from chains, because we like surprises. Hotel chains are predictable and don't usually make it into the Notable Nights Blog. But 21c is all about surprises. Each of the 10 hotels is different.
It's the only hotel chain I can think of, that sort of guarantees a little bit of adventure... at least for people who look for it! I just love the idea. Refurbish an old building in an urban area. Fill it with a luxurious hotel, an upscale restaurant and a modern art museum. Along with that, throw in lots of curious stuff!
The first of its hotels opened in 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky. Soon they will have 11 of these artsy, city hotels. They aren't in hip NYC or trendy Austin, but in states like Iowa, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Tennessee. Love that.
When Don and I started planning our road trip through Arkansas, we were thrilled to learn that Bentonville had a 21c hotel. But, the hotel was in a new building, with no history. There would be no city vibe. Blog worthy? We decided to find out.
Before we got curious about the hotel, we were interested in the Arkansas town... which is known to some, as the Birthplace of Walmart.
Whether you're a fan of Walmart or not, the Walton name has a lot to do with Bentonville history. I've actually been sort of intrigued with Sam Walton, since my history prof in the '70's spoke of him...
Downtown Bentonville looked charming, when we arrived last November. It was easy to imagine locals strolling down the sidewalk, back when Sam and his wife first opened Walton's 5 & 10 Variety Store.
That was in 1950, 12 years before there was a Walmart anywhere. Bentonville was a cozy town of about 3,000. 70 years later, the original 5 & 10 Store is still open on Main Street... and there are over 50,000 residents!
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
61 years after Sam Walton opened his store, his daughter founded Crystal Bridges. The town began to explode. Like many, Don and I were lured to Bentonville, because of the museum.
The 217,000 square foot museum opened in 2011 and began attracting tourists quickly. Obviously, they needed more hotels.
Now... About the Hotel
Don and I were eager to experience a little of this now popular town. We had one day & night, so we hit the museum early. (Wonderful!) Then we headed to the hotel, about a mile away.
As we approached, the hotel looked clean and modern against the blue sky. I hoped there would be some good surprises in the somewhat stark building.
The old downtown area was bustling with festivities, leading up to the town's tree lighting ceremony. We were lucky to find a parking spot on the street, across from the skating rink. Wish we'd had time to skate!
We rolled our bags down the walk. As we got closer, the brick and glass building started to look more intriguing. We passed a lineup of windows, jutting out on the sidewalk. Odd!
Before reaching the entrance I spotted our first art surprise.
A sweet bee sculpture was clinging to the brick. He looked like he was heading up to the sign, that wrapped the corner. "The Hive Restaurant" Glad he pointed it out.
We walked past the entrance so I could take a quick hotel pic, without people around. A little later, the area was swarming with crowds, enjoying festivities.
The Fleetwood Cadillac limousine was a fun surprise. The green penguins, perched on the roof added a little extra amusement! They looked like they were guarding the place.
A chained off space beside the building, held a towering sculpture called, "Orange Tree". The balls and hoops tempted me to play, but it was obviously meant to be enjoyed with eyes only.
Two very friendly valet guys opened the entry doors, as we came through with our bags. They made us feel like we were entering a gracious old hotel.
The lobby looked nothing like a gracious old hotel. The airy space was more art gallery, than lobby. The registration desk was a simple table with stools and computers and a very welcoming staff.
Don checked us in and I checked out the art. I was drawn to the boats that floated along the white wall.
When I stepped closer to examine each piece, the art became eerier. Each boat felt like it was from a different dream. I really liked them, but I hoped I wouldn't dream about them.
Across from the desk was a snaking, couch. The divided gray pieces reminded me of cushy dominoes. They seemed ready for me to trigger some action, with a little tap. At the end of the curvy lineup was a treadmill... which was part of an art installation and not for running. Was the couch art? Should I sit on it?
Two years ago, Don and I stayed at another 21c, in Kansas City. We knew a bit of what to expect. The hotels all have permanent art galleries, as well as traveling exhibits that rotate through their hotels.
What a shame that the current rotation exhibit in Bentonville, was the same one we saw in Kansas City! I recognized most of the thought provoking pieces from the "Refuge" collection.
"Sudden Gust of Wind"
Before heading up to our room, I peered down this hall. I could see the narrow windows, that we had passed earlier on the sidewalk.
A glance at the walls and ceiling, made me feel like a sudden cyclone had just busted out all the window glass. It looked like the wind had scattered a huge pile of papers! Those "flying" pieces of paper, were really 400 pieces of metal.
Clearly, our hotel didn't restrict art to the galleries. We passed a light fixture, that was a work of art. It didn't need a spotlight, since it was one.
While we waited for the elevator, I noticed movement behind us. The wall-like structure, suddenly seemed aware of us. Our movement sent the fan-like discs whirling. The shadow on the wall also came to life! Hard to capture in a still photo.
4th Floor Walls
We asked for a room on an upper floor and got our wish. We headed up to the 4th floor, which is the top floor. That's high for Bentonville.
When the elevator doors opened, we colorful surprise. Even though I was excited to get to our room, I had to stop and stare at the wall.
I was fascinated by the green design, that surrounded the emergency info panels. Were those faces? The patterns below, looked like intricate rugs, perfect for an elaborate dollhouse!
Who's in the Hall?
We turned down the hallway and I spotted one of the hotel's mascots!
I crossed fingers as we headed closer. Please be next to our door! Yep! He seemed to be guarding our room, #405.
Fun With Penguins
I love the 21c Penguins! Each hotel has their own colony. Guests are encouraged to interact with them.
I welcomed our Green Friend into the room for a visit. We checked out the view and looked through some books.
The whole penguin thing started as a temporary exhibit with the opening of the first hotel in 2006.
People fell in love with the red penguins in Louisville, so they stayed. Now, all the hotels have them. I loved our green guy. He looked perplexed when I talked into the receiver, which plugged into my cellphone. (another room perk)
Don and I met our first penguin at the Kansas City hotel. They had sky blue penguins there, which seemed to all disappear into guest rooms, later that evening. Staff claimed that the penguin kidnappings were due to the large number of "kids" staying that night.
That memory kept us from hogging our green guy for too long. After a while, Don took him to the elevator and faced him towards the doors, so he could properly await new guests. An hour later, he was riding the elevator...
More Room Perks
Our room wasn't cheap. Over $300. in a small town, is a lot to me. But the room was hip and spacious and scattered with animals. There was a hen pillow and dog pillow and a mighty fine hippo collage.
In the bathroom, there was another critter. The rubber ducky in the shower would have preferred a tub... like me. But the bathroom's sleek design, glowing mirror and soft robes made up for the lack of tub!
The hotel's Hive Lounge was super crowded, so we enjoyed our own happy hour with a view. I'm sure the lounge wouldn't have been as generous with olives, as Don!
We sat near the window and let it entertain us. We peered down at the orange, "Hoop Tree" and out towards the water tower. Later that night, we gazed down at the lit trees, on the square.
Around 8:00, we headed down to the restaurant and surrounded ourselves with honeycombs, bees and vines. There was still a decent crowd, seated in the restaurant and lounge. (my photo was from afternoon)
"BuzzKill" was the name of the artwork, made from repurposed materials. Pieces of plastic swimming pool... PVC pipe... extension cords...
I read later that the artist hid some random items in the art. I love that kind of thing, but my ignorance meant I totally missed the hunting experience.
I also missed the meaning. I read that there was a serious element, to what I thought was whimsical art. The hidden treasures were more sobering than fun. (hidden skulls etc.) The bees looked cute, but there was a message, reminding us about current concerns, with honeybees and environment.
Waiting for a Table
We were told the wait could be 30 minutes for a table, so I made a quick dash while Don did the waiting.
I trotted down a block, with my camera and caught the last of the festivities. The live music had ended at 8, but Santa was still seated in his sleigh outside of Walton's. The trees looked like they wore glowing hairnets! I felt like I had stepped into a Hallmark Christmas movie!
I returned, just as a table opened up in the back corner. It was a fun spot, for taking in the beehive art and watching diners interacting with penguins.
Jessica was our very energetic server. Her black lipstick, colorful glasses and stories, made everything more entertaining. We worked up an appetite while Jessica raved about the chef's specialties.
My only food pic shows my onion soup in the spotlight. It was delicious, but Don's seared halibut was really the star. He couldn't have been happier.
I was cautious about saving room for the special treat, that I'd observed other diners enjoying.
Cotton Candy With Our Friend!
I've been to a restaurant or two that offered free popcorn, but never cotton candy! I was giddy when Jessica brought our complimentary bags to the table.
As we nibbled, I saw the table across from us leave. I asked Jessica if she could grab their penguin for us. She whirled around and delivered the green guy right to us. Then when I asked her to take our picture she got serious. "Oh we need to stage this!" She cleared our dirty dishes and moved our friend to a better spot. Oh I do love to play at dinner!
The rest of our evening was lovely and we headed out happy the next day.We drove out of town feeling like we'd gotten our money's worth with all the extra perks!
Our hotel felt luxurious, but it was fun... I mean whimsically fun. It was also serious, with thought provoking art and seriously good food.
Our hotel could have been floating at sea and we'd have been content exploring and relaxing inside. But the location in Bentonville was a huge plus. My memory will be a combination of our hotel, the colorful town square and of course the Crystal Bridges Museum.
But let us not forget the penguins! I was afraid I might tire of the fun, but no. Yay for green penguins!
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My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!