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The Globe and Mail

Toronto's Thompson boutique hotel is a buzz


  • 550 Wellington St. W., Toronto;
  • 416-640-7778;;
  • Superior rooms from $225; Suites from $650

It is not by accident that the Thompson Toronto is positioned to attract locals as much as visitors. For those who measure the city's cool quotient by the increased presence of hip foreign brands, the arrival of this prominent boutique hotel chain is another sign that the city is worthy of alpha-plus status. In the three months since opening, the Black Eyed Peas, Adrian Grenier from Entourage and Ugly Betty's Becki Newton have all been spotted there and the 16th-floor private rooftop with its unparalleled 360-degree views promises to be a Hollywood hangout throughout the Toronto International Film Festival.

This Toronto location is the first outside the U.S. (locations in Seoul and London are in the works) and it is the only one that features a residential component. Reached by a separate entrance, the 336 residential units are adjoined to more than 110,000 square feet of hotel space and the entire south side of the complex faces out to Victoria Memorial Park, a stretch of green amid warehouses converted into office spaces and contemporary low-rise condos.

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As a nod to its New York roots, Thompson Toronto features Dean & DeLuca mini-bar snacks and C.O. Bigelow toiletries. But sharply tailored uniforms from Toronto fashion talents Bustle and Jeremy Laing suggest an effort to incorporate some homegrown flair. The Thompson's reputation as a hip hybrid between mainstream and luxury guarantees that the hotel will remain a destination, whether for après-work cocktails, a weekend staycation or a rock star sleepover - just so long as expectations are held in check.


Compared with other Thompson locations, the Toronto hotel leans toward safe rather than shape-shifting. This is not necessarily a slight - Studio Gaia-designed interiors feature the requisite mix of artfully mismatched furniture and stylized industrial lighting, all staged within boxy open-concept spaces. There's a massive bas-relief abstract mural of Toronto in the lobby by Spanish artist Javier Mariscal and patriotic quotes on the walls outside the elevator banks (predictably, Pierre Berton's "A Canadian is someone who knows how to make love in a canoe"). But these come across as token gestures, especially given the city's diverse design community. On the other hand, the approach may actually be strategic; by avoiding a bolder look, the hotel stands less chance of appearing dated two years hence.


For some, access to the rooftop is worth the price of admission. Only hotel guests, condo residents and a select number of Toronto's elite have the luxury of sprawling out over one of the daybeds or dipping into the infinity pool. The spacious and light-filled fitness facility, complete with yoga and steam rooms, features a sufficient number of cardio machines and a wide array of strength-training equipment. There's a cute, closet-size shop proffering gewgaws such as cult-status Cosabella underwear and retro candy. Alas, if you're looking for a business centre, the joke's on you. A single notebook computer is stationed to the side of a reception desk, with no seating or privacy (although printing services are available). Apparently, this is to discourage prolonged use. Bring your laptop and be prepared for a daily $10 charge for Wi-Fi.


For a boutique hotel, the rooms are generously sized and well appointed. Certain elements remain constant: white walls and Sferra linens, dark-stained hardwood floors and custom millwork, marble bathrooms and tomato soup-hued decor accents. But the layouts vary; larger suites boast soaker tubs and open kitchenettes that are conducive for long-term stays. Is no art better than bad art? Perhaps, although some sign of life in the form of a plant or flower arrangement would be nice. Two logistical quibbles: The lighting system is a total head-scratcher and there's no shelf in the shower for shampoo and soap.

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A few senior-level staff accustomed to opening Thompson properties elsewhere have set up shop in Toronto to ensure that operations are up to speed. There is still, pardon the pun, room for improvement; despite an upgrade, my suite was not ready at check-in … at 3:50 p.m. The good news: An off-menu, late-night room service request was accommodated without hesitation and the housekeepers come across as genuinely friendly. But this is not a luxury hotel and accordingly (or at least on this visit) there was no escort to the room, welcome letter from the general manager (never mind fresh fruit or chocolates) or turndown service.


Toronto chowhounds went into drool mode with the news that star chef Scott Conant would be setting up Scarpetta, his signature restaurant that showcases refined rustic Italian cuisine, in a sleek, power-packed space just off the lobby. Deep circular booths floating in the centre of the room are a perfect juxtaposition for delicate seafood starters, handcrafted pastas, and braised meat entrees. World-class in every way. Room service and rooftop noshing are provided by The Counter, the hotel's 24-hour, street-level diner that tries - perhaps a tad too hard - to hit that elusive sweet spot of kitsch and cool. Foot-long hot dogs, mac 'n' cheese and po' boy sandwiches are definitely not what a doctor would order but may prove too tempting to resist at 2 a.m. A third dining option offers trendy sushi rolls and sake cocktails at the Japanese-inspired Wabora, which opened last week.


Worthy of the hype, the Thompson Toronto is a notable addition to the city's hotel scene, particularly if you're looking to see and be seen.

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