An arresting work of art (it was created by Barcelona-based artist Javier Marsical), the mural is also a stark representation of the proliferating high-rise construction, especially along the Lake Ontario littoral, that is altering the profile of this city.
It seems that everywhere I walked during a recent sojourn to Toronto, large construction sites -- some inchoate, some near completion -- informed the changing cityscape.
The recent expansion of the city's luxury hotel sector is just one aspect of that building boom. Four luxury properties have opened in Toronto since June 2010, and they will soon be joined by two more top-shelf hotels: a new Four Seasons (the old Four Seasons closed in March) and a Shangri-La. The former is scheduled to debut in October, and the latter by September.
The following is a capsule commentary on three of the new hotels I visited: the Thompson Toronto, which opened in June 2010; the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, which opened in February 2011; and the Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square, which also opened in February 2011. Thompson Toronto
One of two Thompson international properties (the other is in London), this chic, 102-room property looks to be targeting a younger demographic than some of the more formal and traditional luxury venues in town. For example, a yoga studio offers yoga classes and wellness treatments, while a rooftop infinity pool/bar and lounge, the only one of its kind in Toronto, is a logical choice for weekending trend-setters, whether hotel guests unwinding after daylong business meetings in town or neighborhood fun-seekers out for an evening's good time. And aside from the observation deck of the 1,815-foot-tall CN Tower, perhaps no vantage point offers a more arresting view of the city.
Then, too, the Thompson Diner, one of the hotel's three contiguous restaurants, is not your grandfather's traditional hotel eatery. Open 24 hours, the diner offers comfort food at reasonable prices (maybe it is the truffle oil that elevates the mac and cheese to $12.75) and often attracts a sizeable post-midnight crowd.
The other restaurants are Scarpetta, one of four iterations of New York chef Scott Conant's Italian-style dining rooms, and Wabora Sushi, a Japanese fusion venue.
As for the hotel's service credentials and accommodations, they are about what you would expect from a sophisticated luxury property: attentive (if informal) desk staff, 24-hour room service, WiFi, hardwood, flat-screen plasma TVs, marble bathrooms and heated floors, terry bathrobes, floor-to-ceiling windows, Dean & Deluca amenities, 400-thread-count Sferra linens, iPhone docking stations and practical workstations. Ritz-Carlton, Toronto
Several blocks west on Wellington is the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, where service, ambience and accommodations run true to the demands of an international brand that has come to define luxury.
One of two Ritz-Carlton properties in Canada (the other is in Montreal), this hotel is classy from the word go: To wit, entering the spacious yet intimate lobby upon checking in, I sensed a subtle scent of perfume that pervaded the spacious lobby.
Situated across from Roy Thompson Hall, the grand performance center in the heart of the King Street theater district, and adjacent to the new headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival, the Ritz-Carlton has 267 guestrooms, including 59 suites of varying degrees of opulence.
All of the rooms offer either city or lakefront views from floor-to-ceiling windows; heated flooring; dual vanities with TV built into a vanity mirror; private shower with rainfall showerhead; soaker tub; terry bathrobes; Frette fine Italian linens; WiFi; DVD player; and 43-inch, flat-screen TV.
More than 450 pieces of Canadian art accent the public areas, extensive conference facilities and guestrooms, including two Chihuly-like chandeliers by the late Toronto-based glass artist Jeff Goodman.
Service at the Ritz-Carlton, not surprisingly, is flawless and friendly, perhaps too friendly for the occasional misanthrope who eschews being greeted, saluted, welcomed, fawned over, courted and stroked at every turn. But then again, not many people complain about being fussed over and pampered, and in fact, many are willing to pay handsomely for the privilege.
The hotel's primary restaurant is Toca (TOronto CAnada), where chef Tom Brodi's menu has a definite Canadian accent as do the serving plates that are individually hand-painted with Canadiana (they are done by a member of the hotel staff). A walk-in, glass-enclosed cheese cave and a chef's table are also noteworthy.
Another hotel dining option is the DEQ Terrace Lounge, which includes an outdoor bar area and fire pit.
A 13,000-square-foot spa on the hotel's fifth floor includes 16 treatment rooms, steam and sauna and a salon, while the 24-hour fitness center would make your local gym feel insecure. An indoor pool completes the picture. Hotel le Germain Maple Leaf Square
It should comes as no shock that this boutique property, a slap shot away from the Air Canada Centre (the home of Toronto's professional basketball and hockey teams) and within walking distance of its baseball and Canadian Football League teams at the domed Rogers Centre, has capitalized on its proximity to the local sports scene.
Its 4,600 square feet of high-tech-equipped meetings space, for example, evoke the essence of ice hockey, Canada's national sport, with venues named the Penalty Box, Offensive Zone, Defensive Zone, Neutral Zone and the Hall of Fame (the hockey version is relatively close by).
Moreover, hotel guests can enjoy a continental breakfast at the glass-fronted, second-floor MVP Zone or talk sports, business or whatever at the Play Lounge in the lobby.
The hotel's 167 rooms carry on the sports theme, with black-and-white photo prints of ripped athletes on the walls and black ottomans shaped like hockey pucks (at least that's how a hotel official described them; the ottoman in my room looked to me like an ordinary footrest).
Finally, Le Germain is located in a new condo/shopping complex that includes a sports bar voted North America's Best by ESPN Mobile in 2010.
Even sports fans demand their comforts, of course, and Le Germain offers the likes of goose-down pillows and duvets; terry robes; bedside central light panels; ergonomic work chairs; 40-inch, flat-screen HD TVs; complimentary WiFi; rainfall showers; and Molton Brown toiletries. An in-house fitness facility is available to guests around the clock.
The new Thompson Toronto, located near the once raffish and now hip King West neighborhood at the corner of Bathhurst and Wellington, features a 152-foot-long, black-and-white interpretative mural of the local skyline that dominates the decor of its elongated lobby bar.