It’s not too often that a hotel’s grand opening involves a simultaneous celebration of the art, music and food of the community it inhabits.
But in the midst of what many locals call a community-wide “artistic revitalization,” that’s exactly what The Oxbow Hotel, Eau Claire’s newest spot downtown, did this weekend in hopes of becoming a “major cultural hub” for the community, co-owner and collaborator Nick Meyer said.
A weekend full of events kicked off Thursday Oct. 20 with the hotel’s official ribbon cutting ceremony, where attendees could enjoy live jazz, complimentary h’orderves and champagne, as well as tours of the new facilities.
Friday and Saturday nights brought more jazz and further celebrations of the local collaborations with local artisans, designers, musicians, producers, farmers and chefs, among others.
Meyer said all these festivities celebrating the local scene are not just to be seen as an introduction to those passing through town.
“The basic idea with the place overall is to have a hotel that is not only for travelers and creates an awesome experience for them,” Meyer said, “but a place for locals and students who already know and love this place, so that they can also have an awesome experience.”
For Elan Mccallum, front desk agent at The Oxbow, this is what appeals to her the most as an employee and lifelong resident of Eau Claire.
“It’s cool to basically welcome people to a community that I’ve always been a part of,” Mccallum said, “and then sort of allow that community to be exhibited here in a hotel, where people come and go and their experience here is transient but will remain memorable.”
The Oxbow’s facilities not only include the hotel itself, but also The Lakely, a restaurant serving up breakfast and dinner — but not yet lunch.
“We have a chef who has worked all over the state,” Meyer said. “We call it ‘Midwest modern comfort foods’ in the sense that we serve comfortable stuff you can know and pronounce, but done at a really high quality. It’s cool for anyone in that way.”
Meyer said he hopes the venue will become “a sort of jazz club for the region,” with jazz shows during the restaurant’s dinner time three nights a week.
The Oxbow collaborates with UW-Eau Claire’s jazz faculty, as well as the finest jazz groups in the region in order to make this a reality, Meyer said.
The Lakely also hosts other genres of music with DJ sets, providing turntables and mixers so that local musicians like Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon can pop in for a quick set.
The first night The Lakely hosted music, Meyer said, Vernon spun records between jazz sets and surprised the crowd with an improv indie rock set he performed with some friends.
“That’s the kind of stuff he and his friends will do, just pop in once in awhile,” Meyer said.
This weekend the hotel also hosted a reception honoring their various collaborators Friday night, as well as a reception for artists the following evening. The artists honored at the reception included the eight regional artists who designed artwork featured inside hotel rooms, as well as the artist currently showcased in the gallery, Hjordis Olson.
The Oxbow selected Olson, an artist who hails from Colfax, as their first featured artist in the gallery because of her colorful, large-scale work that provides what Meyer deems an “unusual narrative.”
Cody Bartz, a graphic artist from La Crosse, designed one of the posters featured inside hotel rooms. He said he received a “mood board” from The Oxbow to draw inspiration from that was “woodsy” and “earthy.”
From that, Bartz created a poster composed of tell-tale Wisconsin imagery, hailing the state’s iconic “Wisconsin welcomes you” signs at the borders, badgers and most importantly, beer.
“I wanted to demonstrate that Wisconsin love of drinking,” Bartz said with a chuckle.
An attendee of Saturday’s artist reception, Jo Ellen Burke, said she took part in The Oxbow’s opening weekend events not only because she knows some of the featured artists and is an artist who has lived in the Eau Claire area for the last 40 years, but because she feels she, as well as all fellow community members, should feel they have a duty to celebrate what is happening artistically in the Chippewa Valley.
“I think the things that are going on artistically in Eau Claire are just phenomenal. I love The Oxbow and what they’ve done for Eau Claire,” Burke said. “We’re just really celebrating raising the bar and making things culturally more artistic.”
But that duty should not just lie with those of her generation, she said.
“We love the youth and the university kids and we hold out a hope that what will transform Eau Claire will not just be on our generation. It’ll really be on that (younger) generation to make a difference in this community,” Burke said. “We have a responsibility to make it endure and to take care of it and to foster more of this growth.”