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Writer: Amelia Jeffers

Photography: Courtesy The Junto

If you followed any of the Gwyneth Paltrow trial coverage or caught an episode of Succession on HBO Max (ok, who could actually watch just one episode?), then possibly you have heard about the latest headline-making trend: stealth wealth. If you are unfamiliar, stealth wealth refers to an understated style that relies on timeless design made with quality, lasting materials. Think Sharon Stone circa 1998 on the red carpet at the Oscars, incomparably elegant in a Vera Wang couture evening skirt paired with a white button-down from Gap. For many of us in the Midwest, stealth wealth isn’t new; a laidback, approachable sensibility doesn’t equate to a lack of luxury.

Stealth wealth was on my mind when I visited The Junto (Columbus’ brand new (and first) independent lifestyle hotel) several weeks ago. The comfortable-swank-meets-industrial-chic aesthetic creates a seemingly effortless backdrop to what the management hopes will become a focal point for the sprouting and ambitious Peninsula community, described by the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation as: “bring{ing} together the best of all worlds - just around the bend of the Scioto River. Already on its way to becoming a lush, urban oasis, the Peninsula will have something for everyone: miles of waterfront views and pathways, acres, and acres of parks and community greenspaces, conveniently connected bike trails, easy access to Scioto River canoeing and kayaking, and close to Downtown’s most popular places, happenings, and events, and steps away from Franklinton’s arts scene.”

Columbus-native Jimmy Merkel is the visionary behind MakeReady, the leisure brand and property management company responsible for The Junto. Merkel has decades of success in the hospitality arena: the company he co-founded in 1999, Rockbridge, has made more than 290 real estate and hospitality investments in 39 states worth over $10 billion. The Junto is Merkel and Co’s first venture in his hometown. For Merkel, the opportunity to leverage the talent and experience of his team to impact life in central Ohio has been exciting. He defines the role of The Junto design as behaving “like the neighborhood’s living room.”

Translating as “an assemblage coming together for a common purpose” (or “together” or “club” depending on the language), The Junto is definitely living up to the name and goals. Guests to the imposing brick facade located directly across from COSI are greeted by the Trade Room, where hotel check-in occurs alongside coffee-fueled brainstorming sessions among colleagues who need a convenient and comfortable place to work. Local friends gather around the fireplace in the adjacent library with cocktails while an out-of-towner nestles into a cozy spot with a book. Around the corner, a small family checks out the Gear Garage for afternoon entertainment options, and the expansive patio with a double-sided fireplace serves as a warm and inviting space streetside as well as hotel-facing.

Food and beverage options are as thoughtfully developed as expected from a property of this caliber. Maudine’s Coffee Shop serves up delicious brews from local fave One Line Coffee with a playful brand built around The Ohio State University 1926 homecoming queen: “Maudine Ormsby, a local farm girl with big brown eyes and a sweet-natured disposition.” The back story is worth a trip to the website, I promise. The Brass Eye is a decadent and dynamic rooftop bar with a witty nod to one of the great minds in America’s history, Ben Franklin. Little West Tavern brings a bit of the old West spirit to the modern atmosphere, cooking up wood-fired comfort fare from yummy burgers to sizzling seafood.

The Junto has only been open for a few weeks but is already topping the charts at visitor-reviewed sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. With its muted palette and warm wood and leather appointments, The Junto is stealth wealth at its finest. Hotel rooms number just under 200 and range from 250 to 1250 square feet, including several lofts and a spacious apartment. More than 13,000 square feet of flexible and unique meeting space means that The Junto can handle large corporate events and conferences as well as more intimate celebrations. In fact, the rooftop terraces present what is possibly the very best spot for one of central Ohio’s most popular traditions: Red, White, and Boom (in our interview, management hinted at the option for renting out an entire floor of rooms and meeting space for the annual fireworks display). sl

The Junto is located at 77 Belle Street. Check out Staycation discounts, private party reservations, and special events at The Junto by visiting


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