Yorkville is the chic part of Toronto. I walked west from Avenue Road along Prince Arthur Avenue, and was immediately struck by what a casserole this area is. A potpourri of trees blends perfectly with traditional decades-old houses and a modern block that should never have got planning permission (by contrast, Toronto’s even-younger skyrises are up there with the best architectural shapes anywhere). People from all over the world seem to live in harmony here. Blue plastic litter bins do not exactly blend in, but they are not out of place in front of a couture house offering all-white gowns, for weddings and other events.
First Capital Realty, led by President and CEO Adam Paul, seems to be leading the rise of Yorkville. It owns, for instance, Yorkville Village, the mixed-use Bay Street development that includes Whole Foods, and it is working on bringing Jimmy Choo and Versace to Yorkville Avenue, which is already akin to London’s Mount Street or Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive. (I love some of the existing Yorkville Avenue stores and such whimsical cafés as Sorrelle and Co., a gluten-free chain that does not seem to be related to the always-packed Sorrel neighbourhood-Mediterranean restaurant further north, at 1158 Yonge Street, in Rosedale.) Interestingly, First Capital Realty last month bought 60% of The Hazelton Hotel, on Yorkville. This is the phenomenally successful independent hotel run by GM Hani Roustom, a super-charming Lebanese-Canadian who admits he learned hard work and team leading – and, I suspect, networking skills – during five years aboard Louis Cruises (now Celestyal Cruises).
For the last three years, he has been running this 77-room hotel where over 35% of guests are regulars. Yes, they come for the location and the product, with memorable interiors by the local duo Yabu Pushelberg. Regulars also come for the absolutely superb service. Every one of the team genuinely seems to anticipate what customers want. A rarity here is that all food, including room service, is freestanding quality. Everything, from menus through to cooking and service, is run by local culinary ‘name’ Mark McEwan. This means that ONE Restaurant’s outdoor patio (summer only) does over 250 dinners nightly. I saluted Canada with a Prince Edward Island ribeye and its bone marrow, addictive truffle fries and Vineland Estates ONE Red Cabernet 2015 Niagara.
I am sure others, like me, appreciate not only facilities that include a 24/7 Technogym, and a proper lap pool, but also regular activities. The Hazelton is, with Yorkville Village, a founding partner of the twice-yearly Toronto Fashion Week, which next takes place 4–6 September 2018. At all times, there is people-watching, both on the patio – who is that at his regular corner table? – and in the bar, reminiscent of the Plaza Athénée in Paris. And, by the way, do not ignore the serious art displayed around the hotel. Much of it, admittedly, belongs to Canada’s hard-to-identify abstract school. My own favourites include the shiny steel suitcases, bright glass panels in the vehicle drive-through and ‘Everyday Life, 2017’ by Mr Brainstorm, the Hollywood-based Parisian who, in real life, is Thierry Guetta. I left this unique luxury hotel with endless happy memories.
A couple of blocks west, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto literally towers over Yorkville. The 55-floor building is not, admittedly, all hotel: the 259 luxury rooms and suites go up to the 21st floor and above that are 210 residences, presumably the homes of the great and good of Toronto. Since this city is a melting pot of nationalities, including masses of Iranians and Russians, it is fascinating to think about the myriad of languages used. Even the hotel’s ground floor, however, seems to soar – it is a good thing, says the gal, that GM Konrad Gstrein could have been a basketball player in another life.
Yabu Pushelberg also did the interiors here … I adore suite 1120’s soft grey-green colouring, accented with soft orange throw cushions. The whole effect – with pale wood and some soft carpeting that feels deliciously sensuous in bare feet – is so right for today’s Light, Bright and Elevating mode. Everything, including light switches, is simple, uncomplicated (the espresso machine is one of the most basic, just as most guests have at home). Gstrein has added such personal touches as full bathroom toiletries that thoughtfully include Freshstarts makeup remover pads. Interestingly, the current owner, the car and truck bumper magnate, Shahid Khan, apparently loved the hotel, but he could never get a room when he came to visit his Ontario factories. (The answer, my friend, was blowing in the wind: BUY the hotel.)
Konrad Gstrein has promised to provide instructions for the highly advanced Matrix jogging machines before my next visit; the dashboards exhibit the futuristic technical know-how of Matrix’s Taiwanese owners, the Lo family. One answer, of course, is to use other items in the spacious and airy 24/7 gym, which comes with a full array of waters and, thoughtfully, coffees in the morning breakfast hour. Toronto is also seriously into outdoor cycling during the summer, and there are lots of shared-bike docks (dockless systems do not seem to have arrived yet). I actually like walking when I am here, especially around the Yorkville area – a one-time hospital is now, as of late 2017, a Chanel store, the only such freestanding Chanel house in Canada, with Peter Marino interiors and one floor entirely devoted to Karl Lagerfeld designs.
Four Seasons Hotel Toronto is truly right up there on the style front. Daniel Boulud oversees its all-day brasserie, now with a Martin Brudnizki look that includes the softest tan leather chairs that make you want to stay – forever. You get a feeling of brasserie authenticity with the menu, and you quickly understand the value of the offering, served with Rosenthal china and Robert Welch cutlery. Breakfast is à la carte only, and it was tempting to go Canadian, with lemon ricotta hotcakes or buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, whipped cream and sour cherry compote. I can, however, report that the Greek yoghurt, a perfect avocado and wholegrain sourdough toast and bottomless coffee all warranted 10/10 – as did the fact that my New York Times had arrived before 6am. But, as always in any luxury environment, it is the people who make a stay unforgettable, and a concierge I had never seen before came to say goodbye, with such genuine warmth it made me want to return, and soon.
Lead image: The Hazelton