[ON LOCATION] BARBARA SCOFIDIO
Everywhere you turn in Toronto, there’s something being built, or expanded or launching. There’s that unmistakable buzz that you feel only in the most exciting cities in the world.
A recent visit was all about that, showcasing everything new. The starting point was our host hotel, the Park Hyatt Toronto, which has emerged chic and stylish after a 4-year renovation. The objective was to create a residential feel that was distinctly Toronto, and the city’s own Alessandro Munge of Studio Munge came through, with touches like hooks for your coats at the entrance to the rooms and a cozy fireplace in the lobby. His design inspiration was Canada’s landscape—especially stone—and his natural touches are everywhere, in the carpets, furniture, finishes and features like the front desk.
Local art is everywhere, too. The hotel’s dramatic and cavernous entrance is marked by a fabulous public art sculpture, “Rendezvous,” by Canadian artist An Te Liu, and then greeting guests as they step inside is a large-scale tapestry by another Canadian artist, Shannon Bool. The hotel’s 17th-floor Writer’s Room Bar is the place to see and be seen in the evenings, with million-dollar views of the skyline and CN Tower in the distance and a fresh Bar Bites menu, with options like a foie gras doughnut and tuna tartare with Nori chips. The hotel’s location in Yorkville is just steps away from charming, leafy streets with designer stores and trend-setting restaurants set in historic brownstones, as well as the Museum District, home to the Gardiner and Royal Ontario Museum (affectionately known as ROM).
In fact, it’s Toronto’s bustling avenues and distinctive neighborhoods that draw you in; it’s easy to forget that the city’s metro area has a population of almost 6.5 million people. There’s always the feeling of sense of place, whether you’re on West Queen West, with its outdoor cafes and youthful vibe, or down on the Harbourfront, with its soaring skyscrapers and marinas. It was there where we caught a glimpse of the Sheraton Centre Toronto’s new lobby renovation—an open-air, living room concept beneath its atrium waterfall that Marriott is rolling out at a number of its Sheratons. Guests can order food from the lobby restaurant, Dual Citizen, from wherever they sit in this huge space, and there are small, modern meeting rooms that can be rented by the hour for pop-up meetings. For traditional, upscale meeting spaces, including boardrooms with some of the best views of the city, this is also your place.
Another creative hotel concept that’s come to Toronto is the just-opened Canopy by Hilton Toronto Yorkville, which was designed to be an extension of the neighborhood. Its lobby and open concept restaurant, Dia, are stylish and trend-forward, featuring carefully curated touchpoints such as panels by local street artists and shelves of locally inspired gifts for sale, including Ontario honey.
Groups should take advantage of a number of new restaurants and venues that have recently opened, all centered around brilliantly executed concepts and fabulous food and drink. There’s Black + Blue, located in the Financial District, an elegant experience for seafood and steak lovers, where the cuts of meat are rolled out to the tables to educate diners curious about their characteristics. Its private top floor overlooking the action or its heated outdoor patio, along with a couple of intimate private rooms, are available for groups.
The buzz at the Downtown Core’s new Laotian restaurant, Lao Lao Bar, was palpable—you just knew you were at the hot spot in town. Its mission: “To seek to connect contemporary expressions of Lao culture and reinterpret our memories of home through sharing elevated food and drink.” We tried a most unusual dish: tapioca dumplings, blue, sparkling, with the subtlest peanut flavor, wrapped in lettuce and simply delectable. Another new addition in the Harbourfront area is the world’s first NBA Courtside Restaurant, which seeks to share the story of everyone’s favorite sport (perhaps, in the home of hockey, their second-favorite) through its decor, memorabilia and hearty pub fare.
Groups choose Toronto for an exciting, cosmopolitan experience, and this city delivers, whether through festivals celebrating its diversity, such as the Toronto Caribbean Carnival or Pride Toronto; art exhibitions (the city is home to the largest number of artists in Canada); or culture and entertainment. In Yorkville, street plaques celebrate the many well-known musicians who began their career playing in its bars and clubs, from Neil Young to Gordon Lightfoot (and of course, Drake is on the speakers everywhere you go).
With the rise of Canadian comedies such as Schitt’s Creek, it was exciting to visit the new home of The Second City comedy club, just opened last November. The legendary Catherine O’Hara got her start while working there as a waitress. It’s also the home of many of our other favorite comedians: John Belushi, John Candy, Mike Meyers, Billy Murray, Stephen Colbert—and the list goes on. Second City also has an extensive training facility that can be rented for meetings, or a couple of its spaces can be used as an unforgettable setting for an evening of cocktails and comedy.