Chicagoans can stay in an art museum overnight

Danielle Braff

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The 21c Museum Hotel is part museum, part hotel.21c Chicago.

Go for the art, stay for the night.

By Danielle Braff

It’s a museum. It’s a hotel. It’s . . . both?

21c Museum Hotel is a new hotel/museum in River North with more than 10,000 square feet of exhibitions plus 297 guest rooms including more than 100 suites in Chicago. It’s one of nine locations from this multi-venue museum that’s open to visitors for play and for rest. 

Visitors to the museum (free of charge 24/7, even if you aren’t staying in the hotel) are greeted with solo and group exhibits curated by Alice Gray Stites, the museum's director and chief curator. Currently, the museum is featuring the work of more than 50 contemporary artists including Kara Walker, Yinka Shonibar and Titus Kaphar - and it explores the power and evolution of religious, political and economic belief systems. 

This 21c Museum in Chicago - like the other properties, has the signature penguin sculpture made from recycled plastic by Crackling Art, the art collective. Every property’s penguin has its own color that embodies the identity of the city. Chicago’s evergreen penguin symbolizes growth, nature, renewal, preservation and hope. 

“We are thrilled to see the doors of this hotel open in such an established arts community as Chicago,” says Craig Greenberg, president and CEO of 21c Museum Hotels. “The hotel is ideally located just blocks from newowned arts institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Design Museum of Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago - and is anticipated to serve as a connector between locals, visitors and the city’s vibrant art community, while also bringing the 21c experience to new audiences.” 

It all stems from contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilsons’ vision to increase the public’s access to art. The couple founded a single property initially to share contemporary art and to revitalize downtown Louisville. The first 21c property was opened in 2006 along downtown’s West Main street, and it rehabilitated a series of 19th century warehouses to create a union of hotels anchored by a contemporary art museum. 

In the Chicago property, there’s high-end art ranging from the massive bison sculpture to the menorah made from repurposed guns throughout the lobby. 

“We live on a corner of curiosity, it’s almost alice and wonderland-like,” Brown says.

Wilson agrees, explaining that the art is all about change, expression, beauty and the times.

“We like sharing the art that we have,” he says. “The fact that someone reacts to it emotionally is what we’re hoping for: It’s turning into some sort of an arts community center.”

Guided docent tours are offered once a week, and once the pandemic eases, the museum hopes to add more community art-focused talks and events to its calendar.

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Rooms at the hotel are decorated with their own art.21c Chicago.

Tired after viewing all the art? Check into a hotel room, where you still don’t have to miss out on culture: original art is on display in each room. Guest rooms have marble baths, wood furniture and brass accents. 

Lure Fishbar, a high-end seafood and raw bar restaurant opened in the former David Burke’s Pimehouse spot, and diners will be able to roam from the restaurant to 21c’s art galleries. 

21c replaces The James Hotel (and prior to that, the Croydon Hotel, which was renovated by Deborah Berke Parnters to become a 21c property. There’s a new lobby - the brass staircase was moved to hold space for the gallery - and the rooms were redecorated. 

Special packages for guests include girls getaways, pride, art lovers and Chicago-specific stays. Pets are always welcome, and a special pet package includes a $20 donation to the Anti-Cruelty Society. 

Starts at $120 per night. 55 E Ontario St., River North.

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I'm a lifestyle writer with a focus on trends, fashion, parenting and business. My stories have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and more. I live just outside Chicago with my husband, daughter, two cats and a dog. I love to travel to exotic locations and to read memoirs.

Chicago, IL
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