In the 1960s, Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood was a cultural commune bursting with music clubs, coffeehouses, art galleries and bohemian boutiques that attracted artistic minds from near and far.
So, it’s only fitting that W Hotels Worldwide, an upscale brand built around music and art, would select this creatively-charged neighbourhood (now a high-end district of luxury retailers, restaurants and residences) to open its second W hotel in Canada (and 64th in the world).
At 11 storeys high, and with 254 guest rooms (including 30 suites – two of which are “Extreme Wow” (presidential) suites), the highly-anticipated W Toronto officially unbolted its doors on Thursday (July 21) after nearly two years of pandemic-related delays.
Replacing a Marriott that once inhabited 90 Bloor St. E., just steps from Yonge and Bloor, the hip hotel aims to inject Toronto’s gridlines with vibrant design, wow-worthy food and beverage, and "whatever/whenever" experiences that boldly unfold both indoors and out.
“You have the best of all worlds here,” Paul Cahill, area vice-president of Marriott Hotels Canada, told PAX at the hotel’s grand opening, where a model on stilts wearing a long, shimmering teal and royal blue dress unveiled a giant street-front “W” monument of natural crystal rock and psychedelic patterns.
Cahill said it’s taken nearly a decade to open a W, which is part of Marriott Bonvoy’s portfolio of 30 brands, in the city of Toronto as a follow-up to Canada’s only other location, the W Montreal, which opened 18 years ago as the first W to operate outside of the U.S.
Finding the right location for a modern-luxury hotel takes time, but Yorkville, with its artistic history and well-to-do clientele, ended up being “the perfect fit,” Cahill said.
As Benoit Racle, vice-president of global brand management for W Hotels Worldwide, also told PAX:
“It was important to be in Toronto, a city that’s so diverse, that has authentic food everywhere. But you also have to be in the right neighbourhood, and Yorkville is where a W makes total sense.”
"Sparkling" is a theme
W hotels are known for ignoring conventions, and the new Toronto location is a testament to that.
Designed by creative agency Sid Lee, and filled with funky art curated by local mixed media artist and gallery director Alan Ganev, the W Toronto is “a juxtaposition of the city’s biophilia, man-made city grid and brutalist architecture,” as the hotel’s press release reads.
The playful, reimagined space is a cranked-up clash of cultures that marries fashion and music with fuel and design (the brand’s four “passion points”).
Guests check in on the sixth floor, where a welcome desk and Living Room (the W’s term for main lobby and lounge) illuminates in tones of ruby, amethyst, and topaz around velvet furniture reminiscent of Toronto’s late ’60s and early ’70s counterculture movement.
“Sparkling” is the theme of the plant-covered Living Room bar, where Champagne, rare bottles and a Perlini corking system allow for unique flight experiences, bubbly by the glass and sparkling cocktails, such as the “Celery Sour” and the “Green Goddess Bloody Mary.”
Served in this space are “Toronto Tapas” – shareable bites that aim to reflect city neighbourhoods, such as barbacoa tacos (Kensington Market), jerk chicken skewers (Little Jamaica), and Fogo Island cod cheeks (Little India).
One standout art piece is “Self-Care” by American painter Sage Barnes, which depicts a woman holding garden shears as her head overgrows with three dimensional flowers – a reminder that self-care is continuous work.
Also look out for mixed-media bear sculptures that are placed in various spots throughout the property. W hotels are all about the details.
On this same floor, there’s a communal “fire” pit and access to The Yard, an outdoor terrace surrounded by a three-story atrium of guest room windows.
There’s also an invitation to embrace inspiration when it strikes.
Situated off the Living Room, behind a one-way tinted window, is the “W Sound Suite,” which is outfitted with professional recording equipment where pro and novice musicians and podcasters can lay down tracks.
Only four other Ws in the world – the ones in Bali, Hollywood, Seattle and Barcelona – have this unique amenity, so the brand obviously saw potential in Toronto’s creative side.
It makes you wonder if superstar artists will use this studio to make edits to their next big hit while on the road.
“Drake, we invite you to come in,” Cahill remarked.
Sky-high boho oasis
When the day winds down, there’s SKYLIGHT, the hotel’s rooftop bar and restaurant that opens at 5 p.m., serving curated cocktails and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.
The sprawling indoor-outdoor “boho oasis” overlooks Toronto’s Bloor Street, offering electric nighttime views of the city, along with nightly DJs.
Here, there’s The Loft (for semi-private events); The Den (an intimate seating, people-watching nook); and The Terrace (with birdcage-style seating).
The space will undoubtedly glow at night, but here's a quick video of what SKYLIGHT looks like during the day:
SKYLIGHT’s menu includes familial-style mezze, salatas and freshly-made maneesh served with tagines.
There’s also a Seafood Tower with oysters, clams, shrimp cocktail, escabeche, tuna and scallop crudos, king crab legs, lobster, and caviar.
Heading up the W Toronto’s culinary program is Executive Chef Keith Pears, who brings a dash of star power to the grounds.
Chef Pears’ resume includes B.C. Chef of the Year, Gold Metal Plates Bocuse d’Or National Selection, and he’s appeared on TV’s Chopped Canada.
But the culinary journey at W Toronto truly begins on ground level where a venue called PUBLIC SCHOOL is located.
This is a street-level, plant-infused coffee house, kitchen and bar – inspired by barista culture by day and modern tonics, elixirs and low or no-alcohol beverages by night.
With ’80s bops playing in the background, the casual earth-tone space serves “plant-forward” menu items, catering to diverse tastes.
Torontonians are known to get giddy over new things (which is a good thing), and the three venues at W Toronto are likely to draw curious crowds who crave new coffee, cocktail and cuisine scenes.
And the experiences in the hotel are aimed at both foreign visitors and locals alike.
“We have always been a social brand where we want people to connect to each other,” Racle said. “We’ve designed it to give people options on what they want to do and when."
Inspired by the theatre
Guests of the hotel have the luxurious option of relaxing in delightfully-chic rooms that are inspired by Toronto’s theatre district – the beds, placed in front of a sapphire-coloured velvet curtain that can be automatically drawn open or shut, are flanked by stage-inspired pendant lights.
This show will be a snoozer – the W, in this writer’s opinion, has some of the coziest beds in the biz.
Design touches include curved banquettes, dressing room-style vanity mirrors, “record”-like tables and hints of Mother Nature, such as abstract floral wallpaper and mushroom-shaped accent lights.
The minibars come stocked with locally-sourced snacks and, as an added touch, the bathrooms use full-sized soap, shampoo and conditioner bottles.
“This hotel is taking the best of the brand’s evolution over the last year to attract a new generation of luxury travellers looking for luxury experiences,” Racle said.
There’s also a conscious effort to keep people curious at W Toronto, where eco-blue carpeting in the hallways embody the tones of lakeview life along the Scarborough Bluffs, and where art installations with neon signs read “life is a party.”
Speaking of: you can bet the team is banking on a solid number of bookings and events this September as Hollywood rolls into town for the Toronto International Film Festival, which is known for its hot-ticket movie premieres and afterparties.
W Toronto has five event spaces encompassing 4,679 square feet, providing options for casual meetings, group presentations or big-budget celebrations.
In the 3,300 square foot “FIT” gym – so spacious it could pass as a Goodlife – there’s “fuel-focused” programming, such as personal training sessions, healthy cuisine and activities powered by the brand’s mantra of “DETOX. RETOX. REPEAT.”
There’s a nod to Snoop Dogg in this space – cursive text made of pink neon lights that reads “Drop it like it’s squat” glowingly hangs on one of the gym’s walls.
The W difference
There’s no telling how post-pandemic guests will respond to hotels as the COVID-19 pandemic takes on new shapes and forms.
The needs and wants of travellers, since early 2020, have changed, and that evolution, arguably, is still under underway.
But hoteliers can guess. The mixing of business with leisure, for example, is a trend that’s “for sure” here to stay, Cahill said, and the W Toronto captures that lifestyle perfectly.
Is there a plan to open a third W hotel in Canada – let’s say, in Eastern or Western Canada? “We’re always looking,” Cahill said. “The W is a special brand that requires the right location.”
The team, for now, is just focused on getting W Toronto off the ground.
“There are options in this city [for luxury travellers], but not in this lifestyle space,” Cahill said. “We think that’s a differentiator. We want to do luxury in the way we think it should be done, and we’re excited about that.”
“We’re thrilled to be in Toronto and we can’t wait to see what this brand can do.”