"...new digits; same romanticism. That’s my verdict, after getting a sneak peek last week."
The first thing that you notice that is different about the old-is-new rooftop bar at the rises again Park Hyatt is that you have to press 17 in the elevator to get there.
Used to be — back when the haunt was a magnet for the beautiful and the damned, a place in Toronto that has drawn everyone from John Wayne to Angelina Jolie over the years, from Hunter S. Thompson to Farley Mowat — that 18 was the magic number.
Because of a change in the way floors are ID’d in the made-over hotel, opening Sept. 15 — a complicated explanation having to do with the 13th floor — the top floor more accurately reflects what it’s always been: a 17-floor edifice.
Anyhow, kiddos: new digits; same romanticism. That’s my verdict, after getting a sneak peek last week. The first one in there since the place went dark in 2017! The way they’ve opened up the space — now dubbed the Writers Room — without quite losing its intimacy, plus having lowered the gaze from its terrace looking south, what you see first is what you see last: the city laid out like a banquet for les yeux.
“Views from every seat,” Bonnie Strome, the GM, tells me. That would be the expanded terrace outside, but also the tables inside.
Sitting down for a nosh with Strome plus the hotel’s charming new chef, Antonio Soriano, who moved here from Buenos Aires and is Argentinian by way of France, I almost felt pre-pandemic pangs of contentment.
"Is it the old bar? So lauded by the Yorkville crowd and society diehards, not to mention the one that Michael Keaton is spotting drinking at in the Oscar-winning “Spotlight”? No, it is not. But it’s not an entirely new bar either. It is not like they took Frette sheets and replaced them with low thread count or something. It still has much of the same aura."
Designed by Studio Munge, the seating is low (Cipriani low, I like to call it) and comes in lipstick red (or should we say Pinot?). The walls are a stained oak, broken up with Lafayette Cordovan velvet. The entrance to the bar, meanwhile, grins with the same caricatures that used to guard the old bar: Andy Donato drawings of Toronto luminaries, dead and not. Margaret Atwood, June Callwood, Mordecai Richler and the gang. Reframed and respruced.
Inside, again, there are all kinds of curiosities: a fabulous black-and-white pic of Margaret Trudeau, for example, not far from a photo of her ex, Pierre; a collection of framed ink bottles on one wall, a myriad of quills in another (more writerly nods, nice!). An eye-catching Douglas Coupland collage, too. The space itself, I should mention, is technically divided into two rooms, split by a spiffy double-sided fireplace: one room, an oval-ish see-and-be-seen; another, a more covert nook, perfect for dubious assignations and corporate plotting.
No reservations. Only evenings after 5. That’s the deal.
Drinks came, during my visit (one called the Missing Piece, named after a Murakami quote, my hosts informed), plus a passing parade of scalable things on the menu (standouts for me included an amazing nori something that was not quite sushi, not quite tartare, and also a Newfoundland snow crab tartlet).
Is it the old bar? So lauded by the Yorkville crowd and society diehards, not to mention the one that Michael Keaton is spotting drinking at in the Oscar-winning “Spotlight”? No, it is not. But it’s not an entirely new bar either. It is not like they took Frette sheets and replaced them with low thread count or something. It still has much of the same aura.
"...it [Writers Room] has more oomph than the atrium-like stylings of the bar... This one feels properly conspiratorial, which is what you want from a traditional hotel bar, after all. At least I do."
Getting the spatial hocus-pocus just right is key to bar design and, in this way, Writers Room succeeds: it feels cosy. With all the tables arranged in a way that they are nodding to each other and a sense of symmetry when it comes to the sightlines — almost like a bar on a high-end sail — it has more oomph than the atrium-like stylings of the bar, say, at the Shangri-La downtown or the boxlike bar at the Hazelton. This one feels properly conspiratorial, which is what you want from a traditional hotel bar, after all. At least I do.
For myself, it was wonderfully full circle being here, considering I actually hosted a swan-song party at the old bar — the last one before it closed — with a flock of usual suspects. John Tory turned up. So did Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. I am still not entirely sure how.
As I said then, for a city that can sometimes feel like a transient place the place had been a true tent-pole. The bar, after all, saw the Second World War come and go. The Diefenbaker years. The swinging ’60s. The disco era. The Gordon Gekko ’80s. The Clintonian years. Atwood even set a delightful scene in the bar in her novel “Cats Eye.”
Burt Reynolds drank here, did I mention? So, too, Jude Law.
Likewise: Brangelina. The night I spotted them here, during the 2000s, they were huddled in a corner and later — because this was a night during the film fest — they wandered into a fete happening in the nearby party room on the same floor where they Dyson-sucked the energy outta everything and everyone else in the room. It was a sight to behold.
The rooftop bar was where politicians horse-traded, ex-wives stewed, journos cornered their sources and writers dreamt up machinations to take back to the page. God willing, they will do so again, here on the 17th.
Read article in the Toronto Star