Luxury Hotels

Toronto’s glorious ‘new’ Fairmont Royal York luxury hotel


Well well well. The old nursery rhyme describes how the grand old Duke of York marched his men up and marched them down, and the 90 year old dowager that is Fairmont Royal York has had a past of up times and not so up times but honestly, says the gal, since this June, after a renovation that cost hundreds of millions of dollars, she has been as high as Everest.  So many remember the mausoleum of the lobby, dominated by a floor-standing clock. Now, re-designed by Rockwell, a giant clock looks down on what is a brilliant and so-popular lobby bar, CLOCKWORK Champagne & Cocktails. Alexandra Champalimaud, whose Raffles Singapore renovation has also just opened, has done the hotel’s completely-new Fairmont Gold lounge, taking up all of the 18th floor – see a video below – and Fairmont Gold rooms (see another video, showing suite 15-010).

Crested cups in Fairmont Gold ..

Champalimaud style is so recognisable, namely chic and sleek, white and bright, with lush fabrics and considerable use of soft blues. The Fairmont Gold lounge has so inspired all those working there that they seem to smile, nonstop. The same can be said of Club guests, who are spoiled for choice as there are so many sitting areas, with two, four-metre long gas-fuelled fires and a library with really covetable hardbacks. But, it is important to say, the tradition of the Royal York has not completely disappeared. Gorgeous stylish tabletop china, for instance, bears a suitable crest. Downstairs in REIGN bar the Nikolaus Wilhelm Schimmel grand piano looks as if it has been here since the hotel’s first opening party, in 1929.

..and gold logos for eggs

The re-opening by the Mayor of Toronto on 11th June 2019 and parties on 24th June must have been amazing affairs – there were in fact three concurrent parties, one hosted by Canada Fashion Awards (this is a country that loves sartorial specials, there is a four-day event coming up, starting 22nd August 2019, honouring African Fashion Week).  There certainly is no shortage of the fashionable and the discerning, praising what has been done here at the hotel.  Take the main restaurant, REIGN, like a series of small rooms in a big private house. I sat with the hotel’s GM Edwin Frizzell for a deliberately national dinner, East Coast oysters followed by Ontario lamb chops.

Edwin Frizzell in Rockwell’s CLOCKWORK lounge

Edwin Frizzell, possibly a frustrated designer of both interiors and landscapes, is now frustrated no longer.   Inspired to work in this lovely industry by Arthur Hailey’s book Hotel, he started creating this renovation when he arrived here in 2014: for five years, just as a two-star Michelin chef awakes every morning dreaming of his third star, he has been working on this new look, travelling frequently with the hotel’s lead owner to talk to, commission and work with designers and suppliers.  In REIGN, one bar area cleverly converts to a working bakery at breakfast time. The long desks for checking in and out have been subtly removed from centre stage by putting them three steps up and ten steps back, but either side there are elegant curved walkway approaches for those with wheelies or baby buggies. This whole luxury hotel is now a theatre, beginning to end. NOW SEE THE HOTEL’S MAGNIFICENT NEW LOBBY, SUITE 15104, AND THE FAIRMONT GOLD CLUB LOUNGE

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Luxury Hotels

Back to Toronto and its luxury hotels

NOT the Four Seasons Toronto café!

It does seems that the number of ‘global celebrity chefs’ who are unequivocally admired, wherever they are working, can be counted on two fingers. One of those is Daniel Boulud. They love him in London, they love him in Montreal and in New York, and they love him here in Toronto – the gal just missed him, sadly, as he had been hosting yet another event here at Four Seasons Toronto. If he is wanted here, he comes. He oversees the hotel’s mezzanine brasserie, meeting place for the city’s financiers as well as Yorkville ladies-who-lunch (and dine) and also the ground floor DB Bar, which spills out to Yorkville Avenue in summer. See a view of part of the bar, above.

The hotel’s Jane Waterous

This is a 259-room hotel that is ideal for basketball’s best: the ground floor’s main areas are double-height, which makes an ideal gallery for some sensational art. Hanging over front desk is a gigantic dandelion mobile by local Toronto artist Alissa Coe. By the elevators on the ground floor is another Jane Waterous pointillist composition, a reminder how eye-catching this artist’s works are (having seen so many Waterous works in Montreal a few days ago I am beginning to think I will dream in pointillist style). But then we need yet more art associations in hotels generally. Association with the elements of life is one of the many distinguishing factors between basic lodging and worthwhile luxury.

The hotel’s GM, Konrad Gstrein

I had arrived so late that I missed dining, sadly, but I met up, over breakfast, with the hotel’s passionate GM, Konrad Gstrein. The menu had some notable items, say granola parfait made with acai, and a range of kombucha: I tried the ginger and turmeric kombucha, but later read that although kombucha lowers cholesterol in animals there is no medical evidence it has any effect if you only have two legs. Café Boulud also offers a range of national breakfasts, like American (obvious), Canadian (hotcakes or pancakes with maple syrup, sour cherry compote and lots of whipped cream), Italiano (egg white frittata with red and green veggie bits) and Parisien (croissant, naturally, jambon, Comté and an over-easy egg).

Love this home-made blackboard sign

Konrad Gstrein has a nephew who is just starting in luxury hotels and we talked youngsters – today, employers cannot ask applicants for jobs how long they will stay, but expect them to ask you, their potential boss, what you will do for them.  As Gstrein says, however, he would rather have someone stay only a shorter time but be highly motivated throughout than someone else stay double the time, without the enthusiasm.  He certainly gets a passionate group here.  On arrival I had been handed a welcome sheet with details of suggested events for the whole month – bother, I missed the Caribbean parade, but I could catch the Toronto Blue Jays if I wanted. On departure I noticed a simple blackboard sign announcing complimentary coffee: now SOMEone had thought of, and made, that sign. NOW SEE SUITE 1001

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Luxury Hotels

Montreal’s sensational new luxury Four Seasons hotel

The open atrium

Who remains the greatest Montreal-er in living memory? Leonard Cohen springs to mind. There is a 21-floor high mural of him, on Crescent Street – see the photo above. Artist Gene Pendon, working with a team of 15, created the 10,000 sq ft likeness from a photo taken by the singer’s daughter, Lorca Cohen.   As luck would have it, Cohen can be clearly seen from the city’s newest luxury lifestyle centre, originally conceived as a Thompson but it marvellously evolved into Four Seasons Hotel Montreal, and it opened 8th May 2019. The gal called in for a few hours before leaving town. It is an intriguing concept, with a direct 3rd floor opening to the Weston family’s Holt Renfrew (think Hong Kong’s Marco Polo direct to Lane Crawford, but they are both owned by Wharf) and, from the fourth floor up, an open atrium hosts futuristic sculpture – think The Peninsula Tokyo, but there the atrium ceiling is closed, here it is open to the sky.

No, not a hammam but the ladies’ washroom

There was once a Hotel de la Montaigne on this rue de la Montaigne site but then along came local entrepreneur and retailer, Andrew Lutfy of Groupe Dynamite. He is already billed as keynote speaker at the C2 Montréal thinktank, 27-29 May 2020: by that time he will be able to share a year’s experience of his 163-room hotel, which opened 8th May this year. It might be Lutfy’s first hotel but he knew, and knows, what today’s lifestyle followers want (I have not yet met Mr L but I gather that for him the word ‘lifestyle’ is even more important than the word ‘luxury’). He got Gilles & Boissier to do most of the interiors, which include ladies washrooms that are more like a hammam. He wanted bedrooms with clear glass walls allowing see-throughs to freestanding corium bathtubs – see the video below – and he OKed finest-crystal bathroom glasses, Riedel naturally.

Fish drying chamber, with scarves

There is an eight-room spa with airy off-white colouring and somewhat narrow corridors that could pose challenges for sumos and, indeed, many of today’s normal people by the time they have wrapped white towel robes around their torsos (by contrast, the large all-white sauna makes you want to sing. The 24/7 airy fitness centre has a new range of Precor pieces that almost made me yodel as I followed its alpine walkway, complete with on-screen cowbells. It is the third floor, however, that is showcase, and cash machine, for the hotel. Four Seasons appointed a first-time GM, who had been number two in the Macau hotel, but they cleverly hired a highly creative and locally-experienced Director of Sales and Marketing, Alex Tessier, who had, at a previous boutique hotel in Montreal’s Old City, won a global marketing award where finalists included Accor, at corporate level.  Here, he was determined to have the restaurant full from the first night – what do you think first-timers thought of the restaurant entrance, going in past a glass-walled fish drying cabinet that is also incongruously hung with designer scarves?

Caprese, by Marcus

And, sure enough, Marcus, the restaurant, has indeed, despite being upstairs on the third floor, been full from day one. Part of its success is its layout, with indoor seating and, year-round, a covered terrace. Marcus Samuelsson, he of Red Roosters and others, is a big draw to those who know him and his easy-to-eat food: his menu here is traditional French brasserie, with raw bar and fish of the day and a few infiltrations, say sashimi and quite honestly one of the best capreses in a long time. From Marcus you can sashay around the Social Square, the third floor of this luxury hotel, taking in the low barrelled ceiling of the night club, and the speakeasy-type booth for two, ideal for paparazzi-phobes who want links to a mixologist and no-one else. And from the third floor Leonard Cohen is so close you feel you can touch him. WANT TO SEE ROOM 1005?

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