It is the cusp of summer in Toronto. The skies are beginning to clear, the mercury steadily rising. You have many children, with just as many bottles of sunscreen and sun-hats of various sizes. You are absolutely ready for the season, but also thoroughly, completely exhausted. And because you don’t have nearly enough money to fly somewhere truly tropical and ocean-front and sophisticated, hip, even … sexy, you start thinking of a staycation for you and your partner.
In Toronto, there is a good, exceedingly fashionable spot to be found on a small, nearly hidden stretch in the west end in the Garment District. That is where, at the corner of Brant and Camden streets, sits the Ace Hotel, the stylish U.S. hospitality chain’s first location in Canada, which opened its revolving oak doors last summer. Travel + Leisure magazine recently lauded it as one of the world’s best city hotels.
While Torontonians are spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury hotels, a weekend stay at the Ace offers something the city’s big five-star properties cannot: a smooth air of self-confidence in knowing that good things come in small packages. And that there is value in being cool.
Why you should visit
With 14 storeys holding 123 rooms, the Ace isn’t a giant like Four Seasons or the Shangri-La. But what the property lacks in size it more than makes up for in attitude. Certainly, those other hotels have their go-big-or-go-home appeal, but the implicit promise of visiting an Ace – whether in Toronto, Brooklyn, Sydney or Kyoto – is that you will be treated as an insider, a member of a semi-secret club where luxury is balanced with an atmosphere of indie-cool cred that cannot be faked.
For some, an ideal staycation involves a huge bed that you don’t have to make yourself, a room-service club sandwich and maybe a lap or two in a pool. That is all nice, really. But a visit to the Ace, even just overnight, allows for a genuinely romantic escape – you can let your worries and anxieties melt away, comfortable in knowing that your surroundings have been designed for maximum chicness.
Even approaching the hotel, designed by Shim-Sutcliffe Architects, feels like discovering a slightly new kind of Toronto that has existed just beyond your eyesight. Sleek, imposing and brimming with an air of should-I-actually-be-here mystery, the red brick-and-glass building is the most beautiful kind of retro Brutalism.
Inside, the soaring lobby is split in two, the curved check-in desk one way and a grand porcelain bar top the other. It is a kind of choose-your-own-adventure fantasy, where you can either head straight to the peace of your room or get socially high off the buzz of the mezzanine cafe, where creative types straight from the central casting of a Wes Anderson movie are ordering lattes and typing away on MacBooks while framed by grand concrete arches, bathed in natural light.
Couples eager for privacy can head straight upstairs, where they will find a room that toggles between sleek New York urbanism and rustic Canadiana. The centrepiece is undoubtedly the desk and lounging nook, outfitted with a giant window looking out onto the city and framed with Douglas fir plywood as if to imply the view was a piece of gallery art. The bathroom is outfitted with both a rainfall shower and a deep, grand bath, and stocked with Uka bath products straight from Japan (the shampoo has hints of juniper, rosemary, cedarwood and yuzu). The bed is wide and covered with custom quilts designed by Canadian artist Kyle Parent, and is situated low to the floor, as if anticipating guests will simply roll out.
And, as is the Ace’s original claim to fame, there is a vinyl turntable in one corner – a grace note underlining the property’s defining indie-hip vision.
The space is so inviting, warm and, simply, cool-as-hell that you will be hard-pressed to muster the energy to explore the rest of the property. Yet any proper Ace staycation would be ill-served by dashing out for some anonymous pizza around the corner. Instead, head to the hotel’s subterranean restaurant, the Mediterranean-inspired Alder, and experience one of the more exciting dining destinations to arrive in the city since Alo opened – which makes sense, given that both are run by chef Patrick Kriss.
In the buzzing but still acoustically sound restaurant – the evening sun slipping gently through the lobby’s six giant oak-framed windows – delicately plated hamachi crudo (laced with orange, pine nuts, fennel and the kick of a jalapeno vinaigrette) gives way to velvety beef carpaccio and then smoked-paprika-accented grilled octopus, its smoky char somehow not overpowering the pillow-y softness of the seafood. Apparently, no meal at Alder is complete without a slice of the towering coconut cream pie (an extension of Kriss’s sky-high lemon meringue from Alo’s sister restaurant, Aloette), but because someone in my party had an aversion to coconut – okay, it’s me, I admit it! – the warm pear cake spiked with pink peppercorn makes a fine capstone, too.
Room for improvement
For younger couples, a post-Alder visit to the rooftop bar Evangeline might be a must. But despite the space’s expansive view and the perfectly calibrated cocktails (it’s hard to go wrong with the Ace Martini, or the Japanese whiskey/plum wine concoction the Ace calls a Meiji Restoration) the volume is high and the crowd is extremely energetic. If staying a night at the Ace is like visiting your coolest friend’s apartment in the hippest part of town, going to Evangeline is – at least for those past their club-going prime – just a little too close to uncomfortably realizing how old you’ve now become.
Still, Evangeline isn’t all electrifying hustle and bustle. The rooftop space also plays host to a number of lower-key, social-circle events, with a packed spring 2023 calendar including the new Shorts in Conversations series featuring short-film screenings followed by filmmaker discussions, and its Salon 51 series, in which local author Marlowe Granados interviews fellow novelists.
Since you’re in the neighbourhood
Before the Ace opened, I’m unsure that anyone in Toronto would know where exactly the “Garment District” might be located. But this curious rebranding of the Fashion District/Queen West neighbourhood is fine, given that it might help lure visitors to an area of the city that is more than just a bland stretch of Spadina. Just across the street from the Ace is the new Waterworks Food Hall, which should soon become a top dining destination. Just a few blocks away is Chinatown, which has impressively retained its gritty authenticity despite its surrounding developments (including, yes, the construction of the Ace).
For couples who don’t get downtown often enough for these kinds of urban interludes, or cannot even recall the last time they watched a movie together that didn’t involve their children demanding more Puss in Boots, the TIFF Bell Lightbox is just a seven-minute walk away, the effortlessly cool cinematic complement to the Ace’s environs.
The take away
The best reason to travel remains allowing yourself the time to leave your home and its attendant worries and responsibilities behind. The best escape that Toronto has to offer right now – one that you can fall into easily and discreetly – is at the Ace. You’ll arrive back home feeling like a more relaxed, and far cooler, person than you did when you left.
The Ace Hotel, 51 Camden St, Toronto, rooms start at $429/night. acehotel.com
The writer was a guest of the hotel. It did not review or approve the story before publication.