Bull City is Not BS

Last night via an exceptional Hotwire find on a dreadfully rainy Monday night, I was able to test drive the new 21c Museum hotel in Durham. Architectural Digest called it one of the best new hotels in the world this year. And let me just say, holy shit; this place is great. This was a true respite in an area of the country that at times can feel a little lifeless and lonely. I was sleeping with six pillows in an art museum! Two favorites.

In terms of decor, the room was…OK. Unoffensive, if not a little drab, but man oh man was that bed comfortable. Six pillows. Six!


There was a taste of art and a funky chandelier that sort of looked like a bunch of crystal penises. Classy description, no. True, yes.


My favorite thoughtful detail was this cheeky duck in the shower. I hadn’t seen a hotel duck since the one at the beautiful Acqualina in Sunny Isles. The whole room was pristine in terms of cleanliness, and I think this guy had something to do with it. He kept an eye on me as I found a new favorite brand of bath product – Malin and Goetz – and thoroughly enjoyed the most amazing shower head in the history of the world.


The mini bar was set up with some fine local selections and had censors that detected when you were moving things about and out of the fridge. I found this out upon checkout when they confirmed my lift of two products. Big brother, much?


I was coming off a particularly stressful time and showed up in pristine, state-of-the-art gym clothes (underneath a chic raincoat, of course) to ensure that I would work out first thing. I did indeed and found this wall full of core bits and nibbles. Some I didn’t even know what to do with (so I didn’t)!


Leaving my workout, I encountered this charming installation, complete with the signature pink penguin. There was lots of light work (that photographed horribly) throughout the hotel. It reminded me a bit of the Gansevoort in NYC.


Meanwhile…back in my room…. turn down service left me chocolates and switched the bathroom lights to my favorite color! I don’t even remember telling them I loved purple-y pink. Disco shower with duck, here I come!! And I hadn’t even had a cocktail yet.


I headed down to the beautiful craft cocktail bar and ordered one for the road, but not before chatting new music with the manager. Drinks were welcome throughout the museum and I had two floors of contemporary art to see before dinner! Can you think of a better use of a Monday night when it’s pouring out?


There were many interesting pieces, but my favorite was actually a 15 minute video of animated water colors. This is a still from the shots. Chat me up and I’ll share video clips with you!


Finally, dinner time at the gorgeous Counting House restaurant on the first floor of the hotel. The whole building used to be a bank, so the name works. I had a nice enough (sort of weird) waiter who offered to show me the bank vault after dinner. Ummmm. This was Durham on a Monday, so other than a handful of tables, things were pretty desolate at 9:30PM. I would not be going into a vault with a stranger – sound like a recipe for a Law and Order episode. Maybe next time, with a friend!


I stuck to small plates and was able to try some great things. This was by far my favorite. Duck roasted brussel sprouts with a soft egg! The layer of duck was shredded and just a little oily. It was a great juxtaposition to the crispy sprouts and runny yolk.


Next up was the octopus on a bed of beans. I would not be ordering this again. The octopus looked too much like giant spiders, there was a mint puree involved, and beans are not great in my book.


So, I switched it out for the shrimp and grits with tasso ham and manchego. These were amazing. So, so flavorful which I don’t think you can normally say for shrimp and grits.


Since I was having a “treat yo’self” day, I had to try dessert. I went on creepy waiter’s recommendation of this hazelnut chocolate concoction. I should have gone deconstructed apple pie with cardamom ice cream. Not that this was bad, but it was way too rich and I’m not THAT big of a chocolate fan. The cookie was far too thick, but the hazelnut ice cream was to die for.


I was chatting with the manager again before leaving. He’d asked me where I was from, was I staying in the hotel, and what brought me there. I think with the incessant food/bar photography he gathered that I was a novice hotel reviewer, so I told him the other piece – that I’d had a really rough couple of days and needed to getaway and relax and eat something wonderful.

I headed back to my room for a face mask and manicure while watching some trashy tv. I was most surprised to find a knock at the door. The manager had sent me this giant plate full of cookies and a huge glass of milk. He probably does this for everyone, but I felt truly special and taken care of – exactly what I needed on such a bad day. I hate to say, but the cookies were terrible, just as the one that was part of my dessert. I loved it anyway.


Since I didn’t really eat two desserts, I ordered room service for breakfast after my next workout. An egg white fritatta with veggies and lemon! And a homemade English muffin. Absolutely wonderful.


Then, it was back to real life for a little while. I truly recommend this hotel to anyone who needs a spot to stay in the Research Triangle. Maybe I’ll just move in and become the resident cookie baker?

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