Travel Insider

Best new hotels in the U.S. South

Nora Zelevansky, CNNUpdated 23rd April 2018
(CNN) — Historically, travel in the American South has evoked a specific romantic image: Guests in wide-brimmed hats sip mint juleps and sweet tea in white rocking chairs beneath weeping willows or among the colonnades of Antebellum and Georgian Revival mansions.
Now, that picture is changing as new chic hotels from Louisiana to the Carolinas are throwing tradition to the wind by embracing a contemporary aesthetic, more urban Bauhaus and mid-century modern than neoclassical.
This new look -- defined by a combination of a kind of organic minimalism and nostalgic references to the not-so-distant past -- tends to feature elements such as exposed brick walls and original industrial beams and eclectic details from vintage typewriters to local contemporary artwork.
These nine hotels across the South are turning their backs on Tara, disrupting preconceived notions of Southern hospitality when you stay here:

1. Ace Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana

When Ace Hotel arrived in New Orleans in March of 2016 -- taking up residence in a converted nine-story Art Deco building that was Barnett's Furniture Store from 1928 through the 1970s (the first local shop to carry Scandinavian modern furniture) -- it was obvious that change had come to The Big Easy.
Many would argue that the "hipster" hotelier (which rejects that label) pioneered the prevailing contemporary hotel experience, being first to emphasize what is local, authentic, minimal and even eccentric. Their mandate is to build hotels as "monuments to the cities they live in."
This Ace, set in a warehouse district near downtown, has a live music venue, Three Keys, as well as an adjacent four-story addition imagined by architects Eskew+Domez+Ripple with events spaces and local indie boutiques Defend New Orleans and Friend. Plus, the hotel's oyster bar is housed in an original Creole cottage.
In the lobby and restaurant, the designers preserved details such as terrazzo floors, Corinthian columns and salvaged wrought-iron Deco gates. Trinkets, art books, Turkish Kilim rugs and vintage leather furniture, all sourced at local flea markets, pervade.
As an additional local touch, 32 Southern artists -- including 13 from New Orleans -- were tapped to paint armoires in the rooms.
Ace Hotel New Orleans, 600 Carondelet Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; +1 504-941-9191

2. Quirk Hotel, Richmond, Virginia

Like many small cities in recent years, livable Richmond has attracted an influential creative class, who brought restaurants, shops and galleries.
The arrival of Quirk Hotel in September 2015 was emblematic of that shift: At the center of Richmond's burgeoning Arts & Design District, among record, vintage shops and up-and-coming boutique brands like Ledbury, the property is housed in an historic landmark, once the city's finest department store, JB Mosby & Co. (1916).
Despite heavy history, this new addition is all light, high ceilings and airiness, giving the impression of boundless space.
After very copious research into the city's history, owners Ted and Katie Ukrop led the overhaul, hoping to honor the location's legacy with "quirky" details such as original century-old wood beams repurposed as bed frames (juxtaposed with sleek white lacquered furniture and frosted showers), along with preserved arches, groin vault ceilings and an ornamental ironwork staircase in the lobby.
The two chose a predominantly pink and gray palette as a backdrop for artwork by local creators (all for sale). The most notable is likely local artist Susie Ganch's installation, "Pile," made entirely of white coffee lids from local baristas—representing a sense of community and unexpected beauty.
(In addition to their QuirkGallery, with revolving artwork, the hotel has a quarterly artist-in-residence program.)
Quirk Hotel, 201 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23220; +1 844-757-8475

3. The 404, Nashville, Tennessee

The 404 Nashville
The 404 Nashville
Courtesy The 404 Nashville
Set in Nashville's sustainable and walkable Gulch neighborhood, a onetime railroad yard that began gentrification in the early aughts, The 404, a tiny luxe five-room boutique hotel, opened in March 2014, was once a mechanic's garage.
Developer Mark Banks and architect/designer Nick Dryden were intent on retaining as much of the original structure as possible, while keeping the look "eclectic and charming."
Exposed timber, steel trusses and concrete floors are offset by vintage and custom furniture, local antiques and details like gold fixtures and white subway tiles in the bathrooms, warming up and elevating that industrial core.
Each loft-style space has its own spiral staircase to an actual loft for work or additional sleeping space and a writing desk, as well as details like Turkish-linen towels. Artworks by local photographer Caroline Allison play on organic imagery and suggest a kind of simplistic fantasy.
The 404 Hotel, 404 12th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203; +1 615-242-7404

4. The Durham Hotel, Durham, North Carolina

In 2015, The Durham Hotel opened in a former Home Savings Bank, designed by architect Perry C. Langston and erected in 1968.
Commune Design approached the project with the cultural legacy of mid-century modernism in mind, preserving the facade, bank vault door behind the bar, curvilinear architecture of the vaulted ground floor and mezzanine with brass railing.
In downtown Durham, the hotel's sleek roof deck view is spectacular enough to attract a surprisingly large crowd of locals and visitors for open-air yoga classes.
In-room details and amenities are heavily and thoughtfully North Carolina-based: Commissioned artwork is by three local artists (Ashlynn Browning, Martha Clippinger, and Heather Gordon), beds are draped in custom blankets by Raleigh Denim (available for purchase), even minibar items are curated by NC Made.
In the entryway to the hotel there's a magazine stand that sells vintage vinyl from Durham's Merge Records.
The Durham Hotel, 315 E. Chapel Hill Street, Durham, NC 27701; +1 919-768-8830

5. Hotel Covington, Covington, Kentucky

Most people associate Kentucky with two things: horses and dramatic hats. The story behind Hotel Covington, opened in September 2016, is in keeping.
In the early 1900s, a man named John Roberts Coppin bet on a horse named Knowledge, won big and used his earnings to erect a fashion hub, Coppin's Department Store (open from 1910 to 1977).
After a $22 million renovation, that building is now home to the region's first true design hotel. Covington, Kentucky, is across the Ohio and Licking rivers from Cincinnati. That juxtaposition of North and South interested the designers, who emphasized a 6,000 square foot outdoor patio area designed to look like a greenhouse.
Lastly, one cannot ignore Kentucky's bourbon legacy: The three sisters behind local woodworking company Grainwell created a Barrel Wall installation that references that rich history in a modern way.
Hotel Covington, 638 Madison Avenue, Covington, KY 41011; +1 859-905-6600

6. The Restoration, Charleston, South Carolina

The Restoration in Nashville: Small, chic, inviting.
The Restoration in Nashville: Small, chic, inviting.
Courtesy The Restoration/Andrew Cebulka
When The Restoration opened in March of 2016, it was cobbled together from five distinct buildings, which date anywhere from 1886 to 1963, whose original purposes range from a pub to a department store to a Bell South telephone and telegraph building.
And it's that history, as well as the history of Charleston itself -- churches, steeples, plantation pioneer Eliza Pinckney, the port and the color of indigo, for example -- that most inspired the property's concept curator, Cory Ingram.
Nodding to the Southern tradition of an estate library, the hotel's Culture Library is stocked with a mix of books, magazines, art journals and antiques to peruse. The hotel's upmarket shop, The Port Mercantile, is another draw.
Perhaps the most unusual design-related offering is The Open Road project, which allows people to work with an in-house master craftsman to customize a dream hand-built motorcycle (picked up four to nine months later).
The Restoration, 75 Wentworth Street, Charleston, SC 29401; +1 877-221-72029

7. The Line Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Change is coming to our country's capital. Located at the border of the South (depending who you ask!), D.C. is known for its Old World grandiose hotel options along Pennsylvania Avenue. But off that main drag, the neighborhood of Adams Morgan is where the new Line Hotel opened in 2017.
The boutique design hotel is housed in a neoclassical revivalist building that was once The First Church of Christ, Scientist, built in 1912.
So, the designers and architects -- from Sydell Group and INC respectively -- preserved architectural elements such as 60-foot vaulted ceilings, millwork and brass detailing, copper entry doors and milk glass windows.
The original church organ was repurposed as a chandelier and the pews -- reimagined in color -- became public seating. Hymnal boards from around the world guide visitors through the spaces. There are over 3,000 artworks ranging from charcoals to textiles from local artists, plus plants and a tiny library curated by local staple Idle Time Books.
The hotel will also have its own podcast network, Full Service Radio, operating from its lobby and focusing on all things local in lifestyle, entertainment and politics.
The Line Hotel DC, 1770 Euclid Street NW, Washington, DC 20009; +1 202-588-0525

8. Hotel San Jose, Austin, Texas

OK, this one isn't quite so new anymore, but it's so good we have to include it on the list.
This onetime motor court hotel built in 1939 was converted by hotelier Liz Lambert in 2000 and now epitomizes Austin's best take on quirky bohemianism.
The bungalow-style, 40-room property reflects its proudly "weird" surrounding city and neighborhood specifically with its hippie blankets, Eames arm-shell chairs, terracotta roofs, kimono robes, loaner refurbished Remington typewriters and delivery service from next door neighbor and local standard, Jo's Coffee.
Hotel San Jose even hosts its own five-day free music festival concurrent with South By Southwest. Ultimately, the uniqueness of each room and the offbeat, but not heavy-handed nature of the environment encourages creativity, individuality and, most importantly, taco eating.
Hotel San Jose, 1316 South Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas 78704; +1 800- 574-8897

9. 21c, Bentonville, Arkansas

When 21c decided to open this museum hotel in February of 2013 -- inspired by Moshe Safdie's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the local legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright protege Faye Jones -- the brand created another reason to visit Arkansas.
Located just off the burgeoning town square, the property was designed by Deborah Berke Partners from inception as a hybrid between a home and a public art space. For that reason, shared areas in the hotel have a gallery-style sleek feel with sharp minimal edges, while guest rooms have a more plush vibe with custom furniture and pops of Mod-esque decor.
It was important to the creators to achieve symbiosis between the indoors and outdoors, so skylights throughout bring in natural light, while exterior benches are constructed from surrounding local limestone, Carthage Marble.
Travel photographs by local artist Laura Lee Brown (who just so happens to be the brand's co-founder) hangs in each room. Of course, artwork abounds in more than 12,000 square feet of exhibition space, too.
21c Bentonville, 200 NE A Street, Bentonville, AR 72712