Ace Hotel Toronto: What's the draw?
It's nearly impossible to stroll by the Ace Hotel Toronto and not do a double take. Amidst the carbon copy condos and reflective glass office towers that consume the city's skyline, the Ace Hotel's 14 storeys of gorgeous precast red brick (an ode to the Garment District's once-ubiquitous factories and warehouses) doesn't just catch your attention; it takes hold.
You'd be forgiven for stalling foot traffic at Camden Street and Brant because you're too busy drooling over the entrance's glowing archway that blends and bends wood and brick into effortless looking curves. Nevertheless, I'd recommend getting yourself inside at once to nerd out on more architectural feats and design touches that will leave you wondering, "This is a hotel?"
Take the colossal poured-in-place concrete arches, for example, towering over you like sturdy giant legs and bearing the load of the entire structure above. This isn't a roadside motel makeover on a tight budget — Toronto-based architectural design company Shim-Sutcliffe Architects and Atelier Ace (the Ace Hotel's in-house creative agency) pulled out all the stops to build this seven-year-in-the-making masterpiece.
Giant "knuckles," which remind me of the kneecaps on a transformer, connect the concrete arches to the pillars below, where Alder's wood-fired oven awaits. The highly anticipated restaurant from chef Patrick Kriss is a far cry from standard hotel eateries with their continental breakfast bars and sad eggs thanks to Alder's inventive dishes and chef-driven menu full of Mediterranean flair.
The hotel's design may sound utilitarian and industrial on paper, but it's accented with warm colours and textures like red oak and Douglas fir, and flooded with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Why have a lobby when you can have The Lobby, floating in the middle of the multi-levelled space and suspended by steel rods affixed to the beams above. Don't question how it all worked out so seamlessly — just sip your Ace Martini and enjoy the surrounding beauty.
Ace Hotel Toronto: What are the rooms like?
The 123 guest rooms are designed to feel like (very sexy) urban cabins, where you can be in the heart of the city while simultaneously taking shelter from it. Unstained Douglas fir plywood wraps the windows in metre-thick ledges that frame the metropolis outside and provide the perfect nook for reading an actual book or listening to the curated vinyl collection.
Tuck yourself into the custom quilt by Canadian artist Kyle Parent or the butter soft robe from Canadian label wings+horns and drift away in your own private chalet adorned with deep blues, warm terracotta and copper fixtures.
Ace Hotel Toronto: What's on the menu?
We opted to have dinner in The Lobby for a more lively, cocktail bar feel. The mezzanine was particularly buzzy that night with holiday parties, second dates and a few stragglers still typing away on their laptops at the communal table.
With computers resting peacefully upstairs, we sipped on tequila cocktails and fought over the last bite of our endive salad. Listen, I usually don't get excited about salads, but this one, with its charred cherry grapes that tasted like juicy morsels of meat, crunchy pecans, pecorino romano and punchy mustard vinaigrette, was really something.
The Lobby is walk-ins only, but it shares a kitchen with Alder, chef Patrick Kriss's new baby, so you can order from their menu too if you're in the mood for something a bit more substantial than share plates. The Alder Burger with griddled havarti and pickled peppers has the ideal meat-to-bun ratio and a smokey, brined flavour, which made the chuck's time on our plates short-lived.
My favourite dish of the night was the grilled chicken in a jus of brown butter, thyme and harissa oil, served with a North African-style harissa paste and sweety drop peppers for a pop of brightness. Absolutely golden.
Ace Hotel Toronto: What else?
After dinner, we drifted upstairs to Evangeline for a cheeky nightcap. The recently opened rooftop bar is bookended by two over-sized fireplaces for optimal coziness. The rooftop faces west and has an unobstructed view, so if you're up there before 5 p.m. in the winter, you can catch the sunset.
Sink into the leather couches with a sundowner in hand like the Meiji Restoration, a manhattan riff with Japanese whisky, Cocchi Rosa vermouth, plum wine and yuzu bitters. It's a saucy little minx of a cocktail and the perfect end to a day well spent.
Rooms from $369 a night
Ace Hotel Toronto, 51 Camden St., acehotel.com/toronto