It took a while, but I finally had a chance to check out Toronto's Ritz-Carlton this weekend. And I can see how the Canadian Automobile Association gave it that coveted five-diamond rating.
It's a first-class hotel, with all the amenities you possibly could want. Here's a brief rundown.
LOCATION: A great spot. We had tickets for Rain, the wonderful Beatles tribute band, at the Royal Alex on Saturday night. The commute from the hotel, located on Wellington adjacent to the CBC building, was all of 48.3 seconds (it might've been 48.7, now that I think of it). The Entertainment District is right at your door, and it's a three-minute walk to Union Station and close to the ACC and Queen West and the Eaton Centre, even, if that's your thing.
PUBLIC SPACES: The lobby is quite open and airy; perhaps a touch on the cool side. But lovely browns and light blues and modern paintings and gorgeous lighting. I love the way the TOCA (as in Toronto, Canada) bar (see photo) opens up right onto the lobby and gives the place an immediate jolt. The bar at the back, a nice room with a small, circular bar called DEQ, has a great patio that's perfect when the weather cooperates as it opens up onto that small, green park that's across from the Convention Centre, just east of the CBC.
THE SPA: Ooh. And la. And la. I had my first-ever facial and manicure (you oughta see my nails; they look smashing). Very relaxing and thorough. The rooms are wonderful, and there's a eucalyptus steam room and a hot tub for relaxing, and big TV's in the men's locker area. The Sanctuary,a mixed men's and women's area for relaxing after your treatment, has a glass ceiling and terrific lighting, plus water with local berries and nice snacks. My treat was a "Blokes and Beer" bit, so named to add a touch of testosterone to the experience. The "Man-E-Cure" included a nice but messy rub with hops. It usually comes with a full massage but I didn't have time so just did the manicure and facial. They bring in a cold bottle of Mill St. Organic Lager to sip on after your treatment; a nice, manly touch on Grey Cup day!
THE ROOMS: Again, nice and bright. There's a lot of creme and brown, as many hotels do these days, but also some nice splashes of colour and art work. Huge windows, and some rooms have smashing views down over the Convention Centre to the Roundhouse and Lake Ontario. Very pleasurable, even in the rain on Sunday morning. The bathroom was great, with a rainshower-style apparatus but not quite enough water pressure for my tastes.
THE SERVICE: Exceptional, just fabulous. Friendly folks, but not in your face. Very helpful and quick. And not just because they know I'm a travel guy. I stopped at the TOCA bar after the Rain show and chatted a bit with the bartender/mixologist, who showed me some barrels where he's making his own, oak-aged vermouth and bitters and vodka. Quite cool. He was chatting with some guys next to me and was explaining how bitters are made and how they're quite strong - about 70 per cent alcohol level, etc... Quite interesting. He told them to try a dash of bitters served in a glass of ginger ale for a hangover. When they said it sounded intriguing, he quickly opened up a couple cans and served them a sample, no charge. That's good service. And it's a cool, sleek room with a nice, curvy bar and interesting lighting.
THE FOOD: I didn't eat here on the weekend, except for breakfast on the club level, which was great. But I've been to TOCA before and had a fabulous meal with incredibly good service. The Toca bar serves a great cocktail called the Good Date, with Canadian Club, date and black pepper liquor and orange zest. A touch sweet but nice on a winter's evening. Also tasty - and pungent - is the Bitter Bombay Bee with Bombay Sapphire Gin, honey, bitters and lemon peel. I've tried the flatbread with northern wood mushrooms, which is on the bar menu at both DEQ and TOCA, and thought it was great. But pricey, at $20.
THE COST: There's a Bed and Breakfast deal on now for $375, including breakfast for two and valet parking. That's a helluva deal for what could be Canada's top hotel. There are several other packages, including a Spa Package that costs $505 but includes a $200 spa credit and breakfast for two. Definitely worth a try.
HOLLYWOOD GOES HOTEL CRAZY
Toronto is certainly a focal point for hotel building in North America, what with the new Ritz and the coming Shangri-La and Trump hotel and the new Four Seasons up in Yorkville. Hollywood, too, is on the rise. USA Today is talking about a new Dream hotel at the intersection of Cahuenga Blvd. and Selma Ave., near the W Hollywood. The West Hollywood strip, meanwhile, has The Andaz, The Standard and The Mondrian.
Definitely a happening spot these days, with rooftop pools and cool bars and movie-star glamour and just slightly better January weather than we have in Toronto....