TORONTO — The stairs leading up from the lobby to the second floor read “Not for one but for everyone,” a single word affixed to each step. It’s somewhat of a grandiose claim, certainly, but here at Ace Hotel Toronto, it’s one that imbues the entire guest experience.
Checking in with my husband and eight-year-old daughter, I worry that we’d stick out like sore thumbs. After all, the 123-room hotel, opened in summer 2022 and marking Ace Hotel’s debut in Canada, sits squarely in Toronto’s uber-hip Garment District, known for its second-hand shops and dive bars and not necessarily for any kid-friendly extra-curriculars.
But no one gives us a second glance, not the dozen or so millennials glued to their laptops and cell phones in the lobby, or the older couple checking in ahead of us who’s in town visiting their daughter. It’s not like anyone’s ignoring us, per se – in fact, the front desk clerk goes out of his way to warmly greet us and personally escort us to the elevator. It’s just that everyone is politely minding their own business, giving each other space to do their own thing, a laidback approach that’s very much in line with the hotel’s overall vibe.
You see it in the exterior architecture right away. Built from the ground up at the juncture of Camden and Brant Streets, the 14-storey, red-brick building looks, well, old, despite being brand new. Reminiscent of the many turn-of-the-century factories and warehouses that made the neighbourhood a textile hub in the early 1900s, Ace Hotel Toronto from the outside looks modest, ordinary even, the sleek wooden archway above the entrance being the only giveaway to the building’s acute nod to style. Nothing about its outward appearance hits you over the head in an obvious way – not like the glitzy, glassy and modern exteriors of Toronto’s other hotel hotspots. With its subdued and stoic façade, it makes you wonder just enough what lies beyond the front door.
“At Ace, we always look to a city’s history to inform the design ethos for each project,” says Brad Wilson, Partner and CEO of Atelier Ace/Ace Hotel Group. “Our design partners, Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, wanted the building to feel like an organic addition to the neighbourhood. With their use of Canadian materials, including red brick and Douglas fir, and inspiration taken from the Garment District factories in the area, the hotel seamlessly integrates into the surrounding landscape of brick-and-beam warehouses.”
While the outside leans heavily into the industrial look, the inside is a retro wonderland of vintage furniture, warm woods and incredible curvilinear details, a running theme that carries you from room to room. Curves are everywhere in the lobby – the rounded edges of the front desk, The Lobby Bar’s bar top, the bar stools, banisters and side tables – but nowhere is this more apparent than upward, to the massive steel-edged concrete arches that stand like soldiers, from lower level to ceiling, along the entire length of the room. Designed to be a signature feature, they add gravitas to the space, a modern calling card that will make Ace Hotel Toronto instantly recognizable and Instagrammable.
And yet despite all the concrete, both on the walls and ceiling, there’s a warmth to the ground floor that immediately puts you at ease. Red oak accents soften the starkness of the grays, as do the abundance of oversized glass windows that offer unobstructed views of the playground across the street. Colours are subdued and muted, save for the odd jewel-toned cushion and potted plant, allowing the earthiness of the Douglas fir flooring to really permeate the space.
Everything feels old and modern, hard and soft, cool and warm, a mish-mash of textures and materials that has a near-instant calming effect. As far as first impressions go, Ace Hotel Toronto makes a lasting one, with a vibe and a style all its own.
THE ROOM __________
Opening the door to our guestroom, I’m first struck by colour. Front hallway walls painted in deep burgundy and rust brown, coupled with the bright amber of Douglas fir wall panelling and flooring, make for a 70s throwback that feels tasteful and current. Like the ground floor, the ceiling is concrete, and walls are minimal-ecru with just a single piece of black-and-white canvas art hanging above one of the double copper-framed beds. Custom quilts designed by Canadian artist Kyle Parent are reminiscent of those passed down from generations ago, while the honey-coloured wooden benches and desk serve as subtle nods to Canadiana and cabin culture.
The unfussiness of the room gives way for the standout star to shine – wood-panelled window boxes designed by Atelier Ace that perfectly frame the surrounding neighbourhood and park below. And to make sure you take the time to enjoy the view, a leather-cushioned window seat basks in the sunlight, an open invitation if I ever saw one.
The 70s retro vibe carries into the bathroom with its white-tiled walls, flooring and tub that’s so deep my daughter needs to be hoisted into it. Curves once again are in abundance here, in the copper-rimmed mirror and the ultra-cool curvature of the wood vanity, which match the rounded edges of the headboards in the other room. It’s a seamless transition between the two spaces, tied together by an aesthetic that highlights both nature and man-made materials.
And as with all hotels that appeal to a younger crowd, the guestroom offers a bit of fun and quirk, too. A vintage radio and record player are complimentary for guests to enjoy, along with the few old school records ranging from 80s hip hop to 70s folk. Doubling as room décor, both musical accoutrements are never-before-seen oddities for my young daughter, who wastes no time playing DJ and organizing an impromptu dance party to celebrate our arrival.
THE FOOD __________
It’s only when you descend the stairs from the lobby to Alder, Ace Hotel Toronto’s wood-fired restaurant, that you notice the Lobby Bar is actually hung by steel rods from the concrete ceiling, a floating platform meant to resemble a wooden tray. ‘Cool’ would be an understatement, for sure. But this revelation is simply a precursor to what will be one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in recent memory.
Headed by famed Toronto chef Patrick Kriss, owner of such culinary stalwarts as Alo and Aloette, also in Toronto, Alder feels more grounded than the light and airy Lobby Bar above, anchored by the base of the building’s concrete arches and weighted down by laid-in brick flooring. But this isn’t to say the space lacks warmth; it has it in spades thanks to an open kitchen where a wood-fired hearth and grill are clearly visible. The fact that Alder is both a triple- and single-heighted space also helps – with plenty of light pouring in from the lobby, it never runs the risk of feeling like a basement half-buried in the earth.
We are promptly seated at our table by the hostess and given menus. It is while we’re debating between the Braised Short Rib and the Australian Lamb that Garrett, our excellent server, first introduces himself. He tells us that Alder is a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant that focuses on family-style plates, that all mains are cooked over a wood fire, and that unlike Chef Kriss’ other Toronto eateries, this one is more laidback, a departure from the intensity of fine dining. He also tells us that we must absolutely try the Endive Salad, an odd recommendation, I think, since it’s just a salad.
Spoiler alert: it’s not just a salad. In fact, this salad is everything, sweet and tangy with the satisfying crunch of candied pecans, the saltiness of pecorino romano, and the sourness of pickled grapes. It’s the kind of dish that you come back for, complemented by an all-star supporting cast of plates like the popular Tempura Shishito Peppers (crunchy, crispy and perfectly shareable), the Ricotta Ravioli (beautifully buttery and rich), and the Grilled Octopus (insanely good and tender soft). And there’s no better way to end such a meal than with a huge helping of Coconut Cream Pie, generously topped with chocolate shavings and lined with a delicious macaroon crust.
Though the food at Alder is what people come for, the service is what makes them want to linger. No less than five different servers make an appearance at our table at some point during dinner, to either bring us our drinks, top up our waters or clear our plates. Like a well-choreographed waltz, the wait staff gives a master class in synchronicity and service, never faltering or failing to share a kind word. And despite being the only party there with a young child, at no point did we ever feel out of place, a testament to Alder’s convivial spirit.
THE GOODBYE __________
After a very restful sleep and a pastry-laden breakfast at a nearby French bakery, it is with heavy hearts and dragging feet that we check out of the hotel the next morning. The front desk clerk asks my daughter if she’d like to keep our cardboard key card as a souvenir, to which she replies with an enthusiastic “yes.” It seems that the hotel has left just as much of an impression on her as it has on me.
Though it’s definitely a bittersweet feeling to go, I also know with absolute certainty that I’ll be back to sample late-night fare at the Lobby Bar and enjoy views and cocktails at Evangeline on the 14th floor, both of which we failed to do this time around. It’s a promise I make to myself right then and there, with one final gaze upward to those formidable concrete arches, to return to Ace Hotel Toronto again and again.
This article originally ran in the Summer edition of Travel Professional. To read the issue, click here.
For more information about Ace Hotel Toronto go to www.acehotel.com.