Gone are the days when busy professionals attended conferences to experience the meeting alone. Today, attendees want to interact as much with the destination as they do with speakers and peers. Because meeting agendas are typically jam-packed, however, it’s not always possible to steal away for a day of sightseeing. The solution: Instead of requiring attendees to leave the venue to see a local attraction, bring a local attraction to the venue. Many hotels have done exactly that by opening on-site museums dedicated to local art, history and culture. Here are five of them.
W Minneapolis – The Foshay
W Minneapolis – The Foshay occupies one of the Twin Cities’ most iconic buildings: Foshay Tower. Modeled after the Washington Monument, it was built in 1929 and was the first skyscraper to rise in the state of Minnesota. Along with the 27th-floor Prohibition Bar -- a sky-high speakeasy that originally was intended to be a full-floor retreat for the building’s original owner, Wilbur Foshay -- check out the Foshay Museum and Observation Deck on the 30th floor. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday, the museum is dedicated to the history of Foshay Tower and its namesake founder. The observation deck wraps around the entire building and offers a 360-degree view of Minneapolis that extends up to 30 miles on a clear day. The museum’s docent can answer questions and is available to give short presentations. Up to 40 people at a time can be accommodated.
The Willard InterContinental (Washington, D.C.)
The nation's capital is steeped in history. You can find it on practically every street corner in the national parks, monuments and museums that dot the city. You also can find it in many local hotels, like the historic Willard InterContinental, two blocks east of the White House. Established in 1818, it was once known as the “Residence of Presidents” because it served as a transitional home for presidents-elect in the weeks before their inauguration. In fact, every U.S. chief executive since Franklin Pierce has either stayed at the hotel as a guest or visited it for an event. Along with its famous Round Robin Bar -- which was frequented by presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant -- one of the hotel’s main attractions is its History Gallery, a small walk-through museum dedicated to the property's storied history. Among its contents: a copy of Lincoln’s bill from his 10-day stay prior to his 1861 inauguration.
Palmer House Hilton (Chicago, Ill.)
In the heart of the Loop business district, the Palmer House Hilton is the Windy City’s oldest hotel and one of the longest-running properties in North America. Opened in 1873, it was America’s first fireproof hotel, the first to have electric lights and telephones in its guest rooms, the first with elevators and the birthplace of the brownie, which was created in the hotel’s pastry kitchen for the 1893 World’s Fair. You’ll learn all that and more when you visit the Palmer House Museum. Hidden on the hotel’s mezzanine level, it can be visited only in the company of Ken Price, the hotel’s longtime public-relations director and its official historian. Price knows everything about the place, its history, founder, famous guests and notable events that have taken place there, and he’s documented it all with historic newspaper clippings, artifacts and memorabilia. Price also offers a “History is Hott!” luncheon and tour Tuesday through Saturday that includes lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, a presentation in the museum and a tour of the property’s historic spaces, all of which offer a unique lens through which to view Chicago history.
21c Museum Hotel Durham (N.C.)
Because they unlock a city’s past, history museums can be a great way to experience destinations. Art museums can be equally enlightening, however -- especially when they feature work by local artists or that touches on local themes. One such venue is the on-site art museum at 21c Museum Hotels’ North Carolina outpost: 21c Museum Hotel Durham. Located in downtown Durham, N.C., the hotel has over 10,500 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to contemporary art and cultural programming developed by chief curator Alice Gray Stites. A highlight for those who want to learn more about Durham is “It Will Warm You Twice” by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist Duke Riley. One of seven permanent site-specific installations collectively titled “Reflecting Transformation,” it’s a large-scale mosaic comprising cigarettes and mini cigars that represent the ubiquitous role tobacco has played in Durham’s history and development, as well as the ultimate decline of its influence.
Baha Mar (Nassau, The Bahamas)
The Bahamas is full of beautiful sights to behold. At Baha Mar, however, there’s more for eyes to enjoy than gorgeous ocean views. There also is a vast collection of paintings, sculptures and photographs by local artists, whose work comprises the world’s largest collection of Bahamian art on exhibit today. Called The Fairwind Exhibition, the collection showcases over 150 years of island art, from the early 1800s through today. Housed in the 200,000-square-foot Baha Mar Performing Arts and Convention Center, it includes works by Amos Ferguson, Maxwell Taylor, Stan Burnside (pictured), Lynn Parotti, John Cox, Dionne Benjamin-Smith and John Beadle, among many others.