A new Ace Hotel becomes part of Toronto’s ‘hotel aissance’

It’s the summer of a hotel aissance.

Last week saw the opening of the highly anticipated Ace Hotel Toronto, all sinewy designed, courtesy of Shim-Sutcliffe, and peekaboo panache thanks to a tucked-away address on Camden Street. It happened just days after an official christening of the equally highly anticipated W Hotel Toronto, complete with a cloud-gazing Skylight Bar and a more striking arrival thanks to Bloor Street coordinates.

Unknown to many? A man has his fingerprints on the history of both hotel brands and that man was on the phone to me recently.

“Ahead of its time,” Brad Wilson said, recalling W’s early days during that first wave of “boutique hotels” (when that concept had just entered the vernacular and would inevitably be corrupted as a term).

He was originally recruited by billionaire investor Barry Sternlicht, who started the hotel chain, a brand-within-a-brand within the wider Starwood hotel groups. Wilson, who is in charge of operations, recalls the opening of the very first W Hotel – the W New York – in 1998, which incidentally was the first hotel ever designed by design maestro David Rockwell (whose fame has grown ever since. and whose portfolio has no shortage of high-profile hotels, restaurants and theater projects around the world).

“It was a small business within a big business, and we saw it get bigger and bigger,” the hotelier continued, his voice steeped in honey and nostalgia. Another time, obviously: a time when trends were much slower than they are today (not the fast metabolism that social media offers) and style wasn’t quite so democratized.

After opening more than 20 W properties and then bouncing around to other gigs when he finally left, in 2011, Wilson ended up with another fast-growing brand, the Ace Hotel group. to be footprint, he became the face — and president — of that company when its founder, Alexander Calderwood, died in 2013.

“We grow and we change, and every ace is an opportunity to evolve. That’s always been Alex’s mind,” Wilson said, reflecting on his old boss’s legacy as he pondered the individuality of each of their hotels. The mountain hipsterdom of the famous Ace in Palm Springs for example. The art deco brio of the newer Ace in New Orleans. Ditto: the Ace’s East-meets-West naturalism in Kyoto (their first outpost in Asia, which opened in the midst of the pandemic).

“We want to be places of discovery,” Wilson added.

Wilson’s own foray into hospitality came early on through his caterer mother, who grew up in Chicago. He called her the sort of “Martha Stewart type” – the kind of woman who would throw a party and “change the wallpaper in the room” – what he learned from her was “how events create memories … bring people together.”

He followed the muse further by studying hotel administration at Cornell and followed that up by taking a job overseeing the famous Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, which he says at the time still struck him with the “spirit of Truman Capote.” . It is there where he further absorbed the magic of hotels. Somewhere in there, he also spent several years developing Nikko Hotels, an auxiliary brand of Japan Airlines.

“We focus on international diverse capitals. Toronto was always on our list,” Wilson said, returning to his newest Ace baby.

For their first hotel in Canada, they enticed famed local architects Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe, the team behind Integral House – the most talked-about house in the city in recent years – who had never worked on a hotel project before.

The brief: to collaborate with Atelier Ace by “emphasizing craft and locating space.” Mainly by embracing the St. Andrews Playground Park, which the 123-room hotel overlooks through a series of sturdy, outsized windows, and also by embracing a kind of timelessness. Indeed, although the building is new, it almost feels like it has always been there.

Good design is modified design: an idea Wilson returns to time and again. Looking back at the original boutique hotels: the Royalton, for example, was created by Ian Schrager, the impresario transformed into a hotelier by impresario. What it offered was “new and great, but it was a show. You were either there or you felt rejected. There wasn’t much room for humanity.” While “the Royalton was designed with ultimate perfection…to me what’s interesting now are the imperfections.”

In terms of the history of hotels over the past 25 years or so, people talk about the Schrager effect (his reimagining of hotels as theater, as fashion, exemplified by places like the Royalton but also the Delano in Miami). But, just as valid, there has been an Ace effect – especially when you consider the ‘third room’ lobbying action that emerged at the Ace in mid-Manhattan at the time, which was home to early gig economy types. felt. A hotel so influential that the area it is in was not commonly known as NoMad (north of Madison) until it became a mainstay there.

Coming out of the pandemic, Wilson sees hotels as social hubs more than ever. “People are people,” he said, talking about the pent-up demand for both travel and connection. The Toronto Ace comes on the heels of another big opening in the hotel portfolio; their new Brooklyn location also opened this summer.

With an on-site restaurant opening on August 9 in our new Ace – called Alder, courtesy of Alo chef Patrick Kriss – and a 14th floor bar called Evangeline, also in the works (I recently had a taster and it seems pretty cool), I was curious: is there a part of the new Toronto hotel that Wilson is most excited about?

Oh, definitely the entrance, he said promptly. “The slap, the bend… the round door, it’s amazing,” he gushed, adding, “We’re really excited to be in Toronto.”

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance columnist on culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinanovani

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