Just in time for the 41st edition of TIFF, Toronto hotels are having a #WeTheNorth moment. Here, a shortlist of hotels that are destinations in themselves.
Toronto the Good is on the fast track to Toronto the Always-Getting-Better. In the haute hotel corridors of this cosmopolitan city, makeover has given way to reimagine. The buzzwords now include transform, renew and re-energize, and hotels are now destinations in themselves. Hotel bars are where to see and be seen, while in-house restaurant kitchens are manned by Canada’s—and the world’s—top chefs. Here, a shortlist of what’s renewed and notable.
The place Thompson Toronto
The space Lobby Bar
Designed by local firm II BY IV Design, the lobby is now more than just a pass-through en route to the adjacent French bistro Colette. Before you hit the front desk, you are invited to turn right, stop and take a sip of a bespoke cocktail or share a plate of nibbles at the bar while feeling like you’ve stumbled upon someone’s well-appointed, mid-century modern living room. The bar’s lounge area is inviting, with citrusy hues mixed with graphic black and white, and jazzy-styling live entertainment to keep it mellow. But the true star is the 110-foot-long mural by Spanish artist Javier Mariscal. Look closely, as it’s his vision of the Toronto skyline, echoing the real thing up the elevators, at the hotel’s Rooftop Lounge. www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/thompson-toronto
The place Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
The space Café Bouloud
The revamped Yorkville outpost of celeb chef Daniel Boulud may be in the hotel’s flagship and in a tony Toronto ‘hood, but the café’s lighter, brighter French brasserie feel makes it unpretentious with a lived-in luxe. Interior architect Martin Brudnizki took his cues from “strong yet simple” mid-century design and how it creates a harmony in an interior. Leather, brass, glass and tweed add to the tactile appeal of the room.
But it’s the architect of the food that has them flocking. “This menu is without a doubt very French in its DNA,” says Boulud. “But we are also in Canada, and we celebrate its ingredients in our dishes.” Chef de cuisine Sylvain Assié helms the kitchen full time, adding international touches, from Vietnamese to Spanish.
The best view and perhaps most coveted seats in the house are at the wood and high-gloss dining counter, flanked by eight leather bar stools. It’s the sort of place that suits a glass of champagne, but order the elevated charcuterie or rotisserie cooked over an open flame. www.fourseasons.com/toronto
The place Sheraton Centre
The space The entire hotel
Perhaps most notable as the recently announced official host hotel of Prince Harry’s initiative, the 2017 Invictus Games, it’s also known locally as having one of the coolest—and largest hotel pools in the city. It’s an indoor-outdoor affair, making it possible to swim while snowflakes are falling as well as in the summer, and the outdoor Waterfall Garden adds to the green space.
It’s a magnet for Bay Street business types, as it’s connected to the financial district by the city’s underground PATH system but shoppers—Eaton Centre, Hudson’s Bay on Queen and Saks Fifth Avenue are just down the block—while families and theatre goers find their place here, as well. The hotel spent $120 million in 2015 rewiring for speed and efficiency.
With one of the most extensive bandwidths in the city, the renovated rooms now have faster Wi-Fi, bedside tables are equipped with docking stations and electrical outlets within reach (finally, no poking around behind the bed for a plug). And, with the addition of three new ballrooms equipped with state-of-the-art lighting, it’s fit for a prince to throw a party. www.sheratontoronto.com
The place Le Germain Hotel Toronto
The space The guestrooms and hallways
With its Mercer Street proximity to King Street, and its row of live theatres, and to sports venues such as the Air Canada Centre (to see the Raptors and Maple Leafs) and the SkyDome (for the Blue Jays), the hotel wanted to give their guests other reasons to visit.
“We invited guests to experience and give feedback on a model room in the hotel over the course of three months before the start of the renovations,” says Christiane Germain, co-president of Group Germain Hotels, who worked with Quebec City-based LemayMichaud Architecture and Design on the refurb. Ergonomic touches, new furniture and mood lighting topped the test-drive list, and the hand-made art installation above the bed is a feathery sculpture unique to each room by Canadian artists BARKAS.
But sometimes it’s the human touch that counts. I discovered Prince playing on the TV when I entered the room. The concierge had done her homework. The Artist is one of my all-time faves, and I’d just posted a tweet on my sadness over his loss. www.legermainhotels.com/en/torontomercer
The place InterContinental Toronto Centre
The space Guest rooms and suites
Located on Front Street, the hotel is a hot spot for business travellers. It’s attached to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and convenient to Union Station, the CBC’s HQ and the city’s financial and fashion districts. But there’s pleasure to be had, too: the Air Canada Centre, Ripley’s Aquarium Canada and the Harbourfront area are all just a walk away.
While upgrading the rooms, Toronto-based design firm Chapi Chapo was inspired by the views and the history of the neighbourhood. The residence of Bishop Strachan, the first Anglican Bishop of Toronto, was once on this site, and the firm wanted to infuse a touch of vintage Brit, with chevron-patterned, bleached-wood headboards, herringbone in the fabrics and library-style reading lamps. Darker woods and a glass desk allow for a calming workspace, while a curvy, low-profile chaise with a sitting room feel keeps sightlines uninterrupted, whether you’re gazing out at Lake Ontario, the CN Tower or glittering skyscrapers.
And don’t miss Azure, the lobby’s restaurant, where chef de cuisine Grace di Fede has a way with the daily catch, sourced locally, a boon for pescatarians. www.torontocentre.intercontinental.com
The place Fairmont Royal York
The space The lobby, the bar and the guestrooms
If you haven’t had a cocktail in the hotel’s Library Bar recently, now’s the time. With one of the best martinis in town and a revolving whisky “library” of single malts, the updated cosy yet rat pack-cool room’s ambient lighting is perfect for a date.
After a nightcap in what was once the tallest building in the city, stroll through the refreshed lobby, but don’t miss the hand-painted ceilings, original from 1929. Take an elevator (royal fact: Queen Elizabeth uses No. 9 to get up to her suite during her stays) to a room, all newly kitted out with sleep-inducing mattresses surrounded by digital-detox tones of grey and blue.
And, being on Front Street, the hotel is across from Union Station and the UP Express, the new fast-track train to Pearson airport.
Tip: Join the hotel’s loyalty program for free Wi-Fi and book a Fairmont Gold room for access to what’s been voted by frequent travellers as a best value club lounge program. Breakfast, cocktails and a dedicated concierge are just part of the service. www.fairmont.com/royal-york-toronto
A version of this article appeared in the September 2016 issue with the headline, “The6ix.”