TORONTO -- During
a recent visit to this vibrant Canadian city, I spent several
nights each at the Four Seasons Toronto and the Fairmont Royal York
hotels, world-class redoubts for the rich and famous, as well as at
the Drake and the Gladstone, properties shaking off the detritus of
checkered and unfortunate pasts.
To my mind, the
designation railroad hotel is a proud one, conjuring up images of
the majestic properties erected by the Canadian Pacific Railway
throughout Canada from the late 1800s to the mid-20th century. The
Fairmont Royal York, with its neoclassical facade and pointed green
roof and dormers, was nearly the last such grand edifice to have
been constructed when it opened for business in 1929.
hard by the business district, two blocks from the Toronto
Convention Center and above a busy transit and shopping nexus, this
Front Street colossus checks in at 1,365 guest rooms and 82 suites,
with five restaurants, four bars, a business center and an indoor
While my room was
large, handsomely decorated and equipped with amenities that ranged
from a soaking tub to a useful work space, it was love at first
sight when I entered the Royal Yorks grand lobby, featuring a
forests worth of lacquered woodwork, a meet-you-under-the-clock
landmark, hand-painted ceilings, travertine pillars and an elevator
reserved for Queen Elizabeth II and other honored guests. Rack
rates start at $179.
Epic restaurant occupies a space at the western extension of the
lobby. For more, see www.fairmont.com.
like the Royal York, began life as a railroad hotel in 1880 to
accommodate the CPRs new Parkdale Station, but there the
For as recently
as 2001, the Drake was, in the words of owner Jeff Stober, part
flophouse and part crackhouse, which probably should have been
enough to discourage even a visionary like Stober from sinking $5
million into transforming the joint into an artsy hangout
featuring, as the hotel proclaims, high style at affordable
Situated in Queen
West, once an area no tourist ever ventured to, the Drake is an
artists residence for the rest of us, complete with live-in
painters, exhibitions, performances and a young and exuberant
And where else
will you find hotel rooms called Crash Pads, described as ideal for
one, fit for two, or a meetings space with the moniker the
Underground, a lower-level venue with a sound system that would do
a top-notch nightclub proud?
Although there is
no in-house pool or array of high-tech exercise equipment, there is
a yoga den on the second floor featuring yoga classes, as well as
an adjacent massage and treatment facility.
My Crash Pad digs
were spare at 150 square feet, with exposed brick, a metal grid
attached atop one wall (with a ladder to reach it) for hanging
clothes and packing away accessories. A long window ledge, which
doubled as a shelf, looked out on Queen Street West, where gritty
street life is reality art of its own kind. A narrow stall shower
subs for a tub.
Rooms come with
LCD televisions, DVD players, hardwood floors, custom furniture and
millwork, safe-deposit boxes and something you wont find, I
believe, in any other hotel: a handmade textile doll. The nightly
rate for the Crash Pads is $159, while a suite is $259.
Lounge, both restaurant and bar, is excellent. For more
information, go to www.thedrakehotel.ca.
railroad property built, in part, to service the Parkdale Station
is the Gladstone, which prides itself on being the oldest operating
hotel in Toronto and is just completing a redo. The property was
constructed in 1889.
My room was one
of 37 artist-designed units on the third and fourth floors -- there
are 51 newly renovated rooms and suites in all -- that feature
works by locals.
The room itself,
while a bit on the cramped side, featured a 20-inch, flat-screen
TV, with CD/DVD player and all-natural, Canadian handmade
Rack rates range
from $150 to $275. For more information, go to www.gladstonehotel.com.
It is only about
a 20-minute taxi ride from the formerly mean streets of the western
badlands, where the Drake and the Gladstone are formative agents in
a cultural revival, to the posh Yorkville district that the Four
Seasons Toronto calls home, but it took no more than the hotel
doormans hearty greeting on my arrival to make instantly clear that
I was not only in another part of town but truly in another
check-in process, for starters, was at once proper, friendly and
courteous, without bordering on the condescension that is all too
often the case in the ethereal realm of five-star hotel
My quarters in a
deluxe executive suite were big enough to house Torontos Maple
Leafs hockey team -- no penalty box, this -- with a large bedroom,
spacious separate seating area and two baths.
All told, the
Four Seasons offers 380 guest rooms on 32 nonsmoking floors, with
nearly half of the accommodations falling into one or another
category of suite.
The hotel keeps
room service and concierges on duty 24/7, maintains a full-function
business center and will shine your shoes, press your clothes and
baby-sit your kids. It will even drive you to work in a limousine,
free of charge. Rack rates start at $340.
flagship dining room, Truffles, was named Torontos No. 1 restaurant
by Gourmet magazine, and its Studio Cafe is a cheery venue for
breakfast, lunch and an informal dinner. For more, go to www.fourseasons.com.
reporter Joe Rosen, send e-mail to [email protected].