The rooms at 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis have artwork from Missouri-based artists.

The 21c Museum Hotel Experience in St. Louis

Friday March 31, 2023

By Rachel Huffman

21c Museum Hotels, an award-winning hospitality brand, pushes the boundaries of the museum and hotel worlds.

At its newest property in St. Louis, both travelers and residents can gather in the thoughtfully refurbished and exquisitely accessorized space to experience contemporary art exhibitions, community-focused cultural programs and elevated food and beverage options. Here, every detail sparks conversation and encourages connection.

21c Museum Hotel St. Louis is housed in the former YMCA on Locust Street.

Housed in the 96-year-old, 10-story, Renaissance Revival-style YMCA building at 1528 Locust St., 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis spans almost 200,000 square feet, including approximately 14,000 square feet of museum exhibition space featuring site-specific installations and rotating curated exhibitions, along with 173 rooms adorned with exclusive artworks from Missouri-based artists.

Room types abound, ranging from loft rooms with tall ceilings and oversized headboards to the library suite where geometric plaster designs dance across the ceiling and original wood paneling reflects the historic value of the space.

At 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis, even the furniture is artful. Design elements of the mid-century modern pieces, including the colors and stitching, evoke memories of the YMCA.

The property also boasts two 21c Suites in the converted racquetball courts. The two-story signature suites are equipped with a kitchenette, six-person dining table, spacious living room, powder room and a fireplace featuring a massive metal hood – and that’s only the first floor. Upstairs, there’s a fitness loft with state-of-the-art equipment and a king suite that combines homey woodwork and stylish emerald wallpaper that feels as if it’s also made of wood.

Good Press is a new cafe opening at 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis.

You don’t have to be a guest to indulge in the 21c Museum Hotel experience in St. Louis. From the chef-driven restaurants to the contemporary art galleries to the wellness center, there are plenty of splendid spaces that the public can explore.

As you enter the property, take note of the original banister of the main staircase and the decorative ceiling embellished with rosettes. Then, on your tour of the first floor, see if the rooms remind you of anything. Including a billiards room lined with original crown molding; a library with floor-to-ceiling wood paneling and a whispering gallery; and a private, 14-seat dining room with a built-in fireplace, it’s as if you’re walking around the game board of Clue.

Intricate woodwork gives the lobby a luxurious feel, and plush seating encourages visitors to engage with the space, friends and other guests. From the lobby, you can also access an airy courtyard, the two dining concepts and a stunning bar backed by double-height windows.

Executive chef Matthew Daughaday, formerly of Reeds American Table, Niche Food Group and Juniper, has helped create Idol Wolf and Good Press for 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis. The former is inspired by the rich culinary traditions of Spain, while the latter might become your new favorite hangout.

Idol Wolf serves Spanish-inspired dishes in St. Louis.

Warm earth tones, beautiful tile, wood accents and round arches set the scene at Idol Wolf, where you can savor the flavors of different regions of Spain.

“Sharing a bunch of small plates is a playful way to eat,” Daughaday says, “however, the menu will focus on more than tapas. We’ll have a traditional paella, but we’ll also use paella as a vehicle to get creative and use more local, seasonal ingredients. We’ll represent a lot of classic Spanish dishes, like pintxos, but it’s been fun to see what we can get from local farmers and make other dishes inspired by those ingredients. We’re working with Newman Farm – I think David Newman raises some of the best pork in the country – as well as Buttonwood Farm, Farmstead Foods and more.”

Good Press has a more casual vibe. You can sip a signature coffee drink during a meeting, nibble on a snack while you work on your laptop or grab a healthy meal to-go. Daughaday and his team believe Good Press is the neighborhood café that downtown St. Louis needs.

“There’s a lot of good growth happening in St. Louis, and 21c adds to that,” Daughaday says. “I’m excited to be a part of the progress.

“My goal has always been to make the best food that I can make,” he continues. “With these restaurants, I want to offer good food from a slightly different perspective. I hope that people see us as a dining destination when they’re going to City Museum, a soccer game, the St. Louis Aquarium, the Gateway Arch and other St. Louis attractions.”

The bar at 21c Museum Hotel has double-height windows.

More of the building’s historic spaces, such as the gymnasium and elevated fitness track, will be transformed into art-filled public meeting and event spaces. Free and open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, each of the five galleries has cutting-edge audiovisual technology and windows to let in natural light. The cherry on top? There’s a bar in the pre-function gallery, and those 21 and older can grab a drink to enjoy while they peruse.

The permanent collection at 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis consists of site-specific commissions inside and outside, which were designed to respond to the architecture – to the past, present and future of the building and its uses. In the main stairwell, for instance, there will be a multimedia installation by California-based artists who have conducted extensive research about St. Louis. Their artwork references the geographical, horticultural, social and political history of the region.

In the lobby, there will be a sculptural installation, as well, and throughout the property, you’ll find the iconic Cracking Art penguins that patrons have come to expect at 21c Museum Hotels. Fun fact: The color for the St. Louis penguins is orange. Both the hue and the fruit are associated with health and energy – qualities that are central to the mission of the YMCA, which founded the site that now houses 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis.

The rest of the artwork will be part of temporary exhibitions that last 10 to 12 months. 21c Museum Hotels was founded by contemporary art collectors and preservationists Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, and their collection, which fills the galleries at the 21c properties, includes paintings, large-scale sculptures, photographs, videos and more representing countries around the world.

“We want everyone who walks through the door to feel welcomed and inspired,” Alice Gray Stites, museum director and chief curator of 21c Museum Hotels, says. “We want everyone to see themselves and their cultures represented as well as to discover new faces and places with which they’re unfamiliar. We’re lucky that our founders are still active in selecting and acquiring works, and curiosity guides them – curiosity about the ways in which people live and work and play across the globe. Their collection is about the breadth of human experiences both lived and imagined. That diversity of voices and visions defines the art that we present.”

21c Museum Hotel St. Louis has five art galleries filled with contemporary art.

In her curatorial approach to inaugural exhibitions, Gray Stites also thinks about what’s happening in the world and, in particular, the region. “To say that we live in a rapidly changing world is an understatement,” she says. “So, we take into account what’s shaping people’s experiences of the world right now.

“All but one of 21c’s buildings are historic renovations,” she continues, “and the process of transforming something from the past into a place that’s rooted in the present but looking toward the future also shapes the perspective that we’re expressing through the exhibition.”

The Elevate at 21c program will also guarantee that local and regional artists have pieces in the galleries. “It’s really important for people who stay at 21c Museum Hotels to get a sense of the authentic culture of the city and the art being produced in the area,” Gray Stites says. “St. Louis has such a strong, vibrant art community, and we’re making a major commitment to showcasing that to our guests.”

In the guest rooms, “the artwork stands on its own,” she explains. “We choose pieces that enhance the design but also offer a moment of introspection and reflection. The artworks might raise questions, making your experience in the rooms enjoyable, interesting and inspiring.”

21c Museum Hotel St. Louis also has a roster of free events and programs that are open to the public. From artist lectures to poetry readings and film screenings to musical performances, there’s always something to do.

“St. Louis has a history of making art and ideas accessible to the public,” Gray Stites says. “Between the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Saint Louis Art Museum and St. Louis Public Library – Central Library, there’s a multitude of places where people can see, share and connect ideas. That nurtures an engaged citizenry.”

21c Museum Hotel St. Louis hopes to become another catalyst for inspiration, creativity and pride within the community.

You can swim in the original lap pool from the YMCA at 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis.

Another feature of 21c Museum Hotel St. Louis is the athletic and swim club. Doused in fresh coats of sea green paint, the area boasts the original YMCA lap pool covered in historic tile; a long, rectangular hot tub where the bleachers once stood; a sauna; a steam room; and a rejuvenating water experience. The weight and motion rooms have cool cutouts in the walls where you can rest, and there are also two treatment rooms in the spa. Guests as well as residents with memberships have access to the invigorating space year-round.

21c Museum Hotel St. Louis is now taking reservations for stays from July 1. Don’t wait to embark on this unique experience.