21c Museum Hotel set for Monday opening

story by Julie Bagley
jbagley@thecitywire.com

The 21c Museum Hotel nestled in downtown Bentonville and promising world-class contemporary art, dining and hotel experiences is set to open Monday (Feb. 11).

With an estimated price tag of $28 million, and the potential to employ up to 160, the hotel is expected to be a good neighbor to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which is located within walking distance, a quarter-mile away.

The hotel features 104 guest rooms and suites, more than 12,000 square-feet of exhibition, meeting and event spaces and a restaurant and bar showcasing locally-grown ingredients (see below).  The hotel will have rotating exhibitions and guests can participate in culinary programs.

PART OF A CHAIN
21c is striving to be a chain. Its flagship is located in Louisville, Ky., and is the vision of philanthropists and contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. In the middle of Bluegrass Country they wanted to turn farmland into an economic driver for the community and a place to spark conversation and new ideas.

That idea turned into action with the creation of the first 21c Museum Hotel alongside world-renowned architect Deborah Berke. She rehabilitated a series of 19th century tobacco and Bourbon warehouses along Louisville’s downtown West Main Street. The hotel opened in 2006. The name evokes the 21st century with innovation of combining Southern hospitality with design and culinary creativity.

Berke designed the Bentonville location with Little Rock-based firm Polk Stanley Wilcox. According to company literature, the design of the hotel integrates natural lighting throughout the 100,000-square-foot property, which will also feature a 125-seat restaurant, ballroom and meeting and board rooms as well as outdoor spaces for private functions.

“Bentonville is a small town, but it’s home to people from all over the world and has cultural attractions like Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art that compete with big cities,” Emmanuel Gardinier, 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville general manager said.

‘ALREADY EMBRACED’
Like many who come to call Bentonville home, Gardinier is a transplant. He has more than 25 years in managing hotels around the world. He’s originally from Paris and has managed hotels in Lausanne, Switzerland; Reims, France; and the French West Indies.

“Bentonville is home to people from all over the world. There is a true sense of community in Bentonville that is quite remarkable, and very inviting. The hotel is not even open yet, but people have already embraced it,” Gardinier said.

Inside the 21c Museum Hotel is The Hive, a restaurant with reservations available right before Valentine’s Day, Feb. 12.

Arkansas-native Matthew McClure is the executive chef. His cuisine is described as “refined country.”

“Moving back to Arkansas six years ago gave me the opportunity to reconnect with the ingredients and food culture of my childhood, things like black walnuts and sweet onions,” McClure said, “The menu is my take on the foods and ways of cooking that are familiar to this region. For example, we are doing a lot of pickling and preserving, making jam, and sourcing whole animals whenever possible.”

ART AND CORNBREAD
Dishes to share or begin a meal include house-made Pimento Cheese, served with bacon jam and toasted white bread; Crispy Chicken Livers marinated in buttermilk and pan-fried; and Pickled Shrimp, accompanied by salt-cured country ham, mustard greens, and crispy cornbread.

While that is southern to the core, there is also a twist on the regular Southern-fare with rabbit and dumplings served with house-made potato gnocchi.

The Hive will open for dinner, Sunday through Thursday, from 5 to 9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from 5 to 10:30 p.m., with breakfast, lunch and brunch to follow.

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If The Hive sounds a bit too formal, a bar menu will also be offered in the coming days from the opening. It will include dishes such as salt and pepper ox ribs, pickled egg salad and The Hive Burger. It’s not your regular burger. This one comes with ground brisket with pickles and pimento cheese.

McClure worked for years in Boston and most recently returned to Little Rock where he worked under chef Lee Richardson at Ashley’s at the Capital Hotel.

“The energy of downtown is very vibrant, and in addition to The Hive restaurant and the hotel, we look forward to adding a contemporary art museum open free-of-charge and 24-hours-a- day,” Gardinier said, “We are excited to open our doors and welcome both visitors and the community.”

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