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Tradition meets trendy outdoor dining at Toronto's historic National Club

A $2-million renovation gives 1907 building a more youthful spin, while maintaining heritage features

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The National Club’s current headquarters, at 303 Bay St. in Toronto, opened on Dec. 17, 1907. The cost was $300,000 for both land and construction. The alleyway to the left of the clubhouse was once used to deliver blocks of ice for then-state-of-the-art wooden refrigerators.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

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History and tradition hang on the walls throughout the National Club, such as this portrait of one of the club’s founding members, Sir Oliver Mowat, who served as the third premier of Ontario for a record 24 years, and was one of the Fathers of Confederation.

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A stained glass window on the fourth floor that once let in direct sunlight from above. Now, with the patio built above it on the roof, the lighting is solely artificial. A few years back the window had to be repaired after a wheel crane crashed through it during the building of the Trump Tower next door. No one was hurt.

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National Club president Sean Hoehn steps out onto the Bay Street side of the new patio, completed last year at a cost of just under $2-million. “We were fortunate that financially we had the money to pay for it, and the space to do it,” says club general manager and chief operating officer Bill Morari. “We created something out of nothing.”

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

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Of the downtown Toronto clubs, the National Club’s patio is the biggest, for now. Competition between the clubs is nothing new for the likes of the National Club, Toronto Club, Albany Club and University Club. “I would go so far as to say they were almost trying to outdo each other,” says Toronto historian Bruce Bell. “It really defined who you were by the club that you went to.”

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The patio, built on specially crafted lightweight girders on top of the original roof, is in many ways an extension of the lively social scene at the National Club. It’s what attracts a lot of members to the place, and encourages them to bring clients and friends out, too. “You just expand your circle of contacts and that’s really why the National Club’s succeeded for over 140 years,” chief operating officer Mr. Morari says.

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The National Club’s rooftop patio has a capacity of 45 indoors and 90 outside on the front and rear patio spaces. “In the summer people want to be outdoors generally,” says incoming National Club president Sean Hoehn. “So in the summer traditionally the club wasn’t as busy.”

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One of the National Club’s most appealing assets is its wine cellar, one of the largest in Canada with approximately 46,000 bottles. Chief among them is this 1906 bottle of Chateau Gruaud-Larose, presented to the club by a former president on the 100th anniversary of the clubhouse in 2007, and valued at about $30,000. Read the full story at the link below: Rooftop patio puts new spin on National Club.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

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