The 82-year-old bar, which has hosted many celebrities over the years, is closing during the hotel’s two-year renovation, but developers promise to keep its character intact.
The Park Hyatt is closing its doors for a major renovation, and with it goes the famous Roof Lounge that has hosted both celebrities and locals for decades.
The lounge threw a closing-night party on Wednesday, hosted by Toronto Star columnist Shinan Govani, a sort of “last hurrah” to the classy, wood-panelled establishment, which has been serving since 1936.
“Toronto can be a transient city,” Govani said Thursday. “It’s really been a tentpole. It survived World War II, the Diefenbaker years, the swinging ’60s, the disco years. Once I saw Brad and Angelina huddled in a corner at the bar — my joke was that it outlasted Brangelina.”
We want to preserve the heritage but modernize [it] for the next 100 years.
Tyler Seaman, Oxford Properties
Known as a favourite after-hours watering hole for TIFF celebrities — especially while the film festival was still focused in Yorkville — the 18th-storey bar has seen many famous patrons over the years.
Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Sean Penn, Keira Knightley, Pierce Brosnan, Jessica Alba, Christopher Plummer, Burt Reynolds and Hunter S. Thompson have all made appearances there. Even Hollywood pariah Harvey Weinstein has visited.
The lounge has long been frequented by members of Canada’s cultural and political elite, who could enjoy some degree of privacy in the dimly lit space. Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Lester B. Pearson and Leonard Cohen, among many others, have all enjoyed a drink there.
It’s even been featured in some famous Canadian literary works, such as Atwood’s The Edible Woman, a scene of which is set on that very rooftop.
The Yorkville hotel was sold to the Hyatt Chain in 1999 and then to Oxford Properties in 2014. The renovation is expected to start Dec. 1 and last until late 2019.
The developers are fully restoring and renovating the hotel, but the building will become mixed use, with luxury rental apartments in the south tower and hotel suites in the north tower, said Tyler Seaman, head of hotels and multi-residential at Oxford Properties.
“We’re super excited,” he said. “We know it’s part of the cultural fabric of the city. We want to preserve the heritage but modernize for the next 100 years.”
The construction is being undertaken in partnership with Studio Munge and KPMB Architects. By the time the hotel reopens in two years, it will also have a grand ballroom, a new restaurant, and a new bar in the north tower.
As for the Roof Lounge, Seaman said Oxford Properties got a lot of feedback on how to modernize it, but want to preserve its essence, leaving “lots of places to quietly huddle.”
The firm is going to work on expanding the rooftop’s patio space, along with larger doors and windows, but they stress that they understand its cultural significance.
“We understand it’s been a fixture in Toronto for generations,” Seaman said, adding that the fireplace in the bar will also stay.
The Wednesday night closing party was thrown by Oxford Properties, intended as the last event the Hyatt would host before being shuttered for two years. It was held at the bar and an adjoining event space.
About 200 people attended between 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m., Govani said, and the theme was black and white, which gave the evening a “Capote-esque” feel.
Most of the guests were media members and Toronto socialites, but Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, also made a surprise appearance. Mayor John Tory was there, too, along with jazz singer Molly Johnson, plastic surgeon Dr. Trevor Born, heiress Cleophee Eaton, Munk Debates impresario Rudyard Griffiths, architect Alex Josephson and venture capitalist Scott Paterson.
Andy Donato, the Toronto Sun cartoonist whose celebrity caricatures grace the walls there, created live sketches of guests in attendance.
“It added a lot of charm to the party,” Govani said.
“I understand the hotel needs to be spruced up,” he said, “but when I found out it was being renovated, the first thing I asked was whether the rooftop and bar will maintain the old-world feel.”
Even before it closed, the Hyatt lost a bit of its charm in 2016, when legendary bartender Joe Gomes retired after serving up drinks there for 57 years.
Gomes started at the hotel — then called the Park Plaza — as a busboy in 1959, when John Diefenbaker was still the prime minister of Canada.
He was 17 years old and had stepped off the plane from his native Portugal just nine days prior.
Three years later, a few weeks shy of his 21st birthday, Gomes got a position behind the bar, and spent more than 50 years there, working the 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. shift, watching as the city grew and changed.
“I’ve had a wonderful life, and wonderful guests,” Gomes said in a phone interview Thursday.
His fondest memory at the hotel was meeting John Wayne in 1962, he said. Decades later, the bartender made friends with Russell Crowe, who stayed at the hotel while filming in Toronto.
Gomes has been credited for kicking off Toronto’s now-vibrant cocktail scene. Today, he has realized his dream of owning a bed and breakfast in his hometown of Madeira, Portugal. But he wants to return to Toronto and visit the place where he worked for nearly six decades.
“When I go back I hope it’s as beautiful as ever,” Gomes said. “Let’s hope the hotel, when they reopen, will have the same charisma.”
Photography by George Pimentel
See the article on thestar.com