Shangri-La Hotel Toronto 188 University Ave.; 647-788-8888; shangri-la.com. 202 rooms from $460.00.
Consider the Toronto International Film Festival one big birthday party for the Shangri-La Toronto. Just days after celebrating its first anniversary, the second North American outpost of the luxury chain will be jumping with wheeling and dealing Hollywood players, late-night/early morning cocktails and other assorted A-list revelry. Your chance of scoring a room during the festival is pretty much zilch, but just give it a couple of weeks.
Whether its whereabouts meet your definition of true Shangri-la depends on how you feel about being in the centre of all it: The intersection of University and Adelaide is as about as downtown as it gets. The area is loud and busy – but also energizing and exciting. It’s just down the street from the Canadian Opera Company, minutes from the theatre district and at the doorstep of public transit. Business travellers will appreciate it that it’s also close to Bay Street, and members of the exclusive SoHo House couldn’t get any closer.
The look, as one would expect, is luxury chinoiserie. Layers of rich textures – creamy leather seating, hanging glass orbs, travertine columns – keep a neutral palette from fading to blah. The temptation is to run your fingers along everything (fine for the raw silk walls, not advised when it comes to the staff’s cheongsam-inspired dresses). Asian flourishes such as calligraphy paintings and Chinese vases in the rooms add to the subtle exotic feel.
Room with a view
Toronto has built itself a stunning skyline, but for full effect it’s best admired from a distance. The view up University offers a glimpse of green, but this will likely not be the Instagram moment of your trip.
Eat in or eat out?
Sick of all the hipster restaurants, with their Edison bulbs, lamentable indie soundtrack and endless variations of tacos? If the answer is yes, dine in and try Bosk. It is a dining experience that makes you feel very grownup, even if you have to suppress a giggle every time the phallic – but no doubt ridiculously expensive – water pitcher comes around. This summer, the six-course tasting menu (starting at $65 with wine) included a delectable caviar doughnut, foie gras with pickled cherries and scallops with sweet corn soup. Wine selections from the sommelier Mark Moffat (who is a wonder with pairings and patient when faced with endless questions) are a must. That being said, it would be remiss to leave the premises without popping into the adjacent Momofuko Noodle Bar for as least one drippy, succulent pork bun.
The signature treatment at the hotel’s Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie – or, as I call it, 30 minutes in steamy heaven. The fact that my practitioner lost 10 pounds just by working in this blissful atmosphere should be explanation enough, but here’s how the hammam and gommage treatment (as it’s officially known) unfolds. You take your clothes off (I opted for the disposable thong, thank you very much), unwind in a private Moroccan-styled steam chamber, have the scrub down of your life, then zone out on silk pillows while sipping tea and eating flaky honey pastries. Total escape from reality, for just $125.
If I could change one thing
The Shangri-La is certainly not the first hotel to make guests call down for ice. I get it: Ice machines are loud and tacky. I don’t care. Just let me get it myself. And if you are going to make me order it, don’t keep me waiting for 30 minutes.
Whom you’ll meet
The hotel’s various drinking spots have perfected the art of luring both guests and locals. In the evenings, you can expect Bay Street suits looking for non-business transactions at the Bar; while the Lobby Lounge becomes a living ad for United Colors of Benetton. This is multiculturalism at its sexiest.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.