Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
TORONTO, ONTARIO — My butler was a cheerful, attentive woman named Heather who offered to have my shoes shined, clothes pressed, morning coffee ordered, and airport shuttle reserved. I said yes to all those suggestions, as well as to the considerate idea of having a fridge brought into my suite so the lunch plate she spotted on the table didn’t go to waste while I was attending meetings outside of my hotel room.
A butler, I quickly learned, makes things happen, bringing order to the chaos of travel and reducing the stress of a stay in a hectic city. A good one even finds solutions to the minor problems your busy mind chooses to ignore because it can’t handle any more items to deal with. Those solutions, it turns out, can add immensely to your ability to relax and feel content, even pampered. Although I’ve had the privilege of butler service in other luxury hotels, none ever seemed all that necessary and in some cases were redundant, as other staff filled their functions. The St. Regis Hotel knows how to do butler service, though, and it is the hallmark of the brand that sets it apart among other properties in Toronto.
Before the Four Seasons and Fairmont luxury hotels existed in North America, there was St. Regis. Founded in 1904 by John Jacob Astor IV, St. Regis began with an 18-storey tower in Manhattan that was the tallest building in New York City. Now, there are more than 60 St. Regis properties in the world, with the newest in Toronto. The Astors, one of America’s wealthiest families at the turn of the 20th century, knew luxury, including the benefits of butlers and other assistants.
Debuting in November 2018, the St. Regis Toronto brings top-level service to a city whose hotel scene has witnessed a boost in the past 12 months thanks to brands with roots in the Big Apple. The St. Regis takes over the space formerly occupied by the infamous Trump Toronto, which went into receivership shortly after the most recent U.S. presidential election and the backlash that followed.
Starwood, a Marriott brand that owns St. Regis, took over the property and launched a renovation intended to create a hotel that was evocative of St. Regis’s luxurious history. The results are a success. A lobby-level bar is decorated in warm colours resembling a stately living room. Each evening a staff member sabres a bottle of bubbly in a ceremony that commemorates the end of the work day, a nod to Caroline Astor, the wife of John Jacob and one of the original Manhattan celebrity socialites.
She would no doubt be pleased with the 31st-floor restaurant, Louix Louis. It has been transformed from its predecessor with a magnificent bar that towers like a skyscraper itself. That architectural flourish, complete with dim lights reminiscent of a classic big-city lounge, isn’t just for show either. The bar needs the shelving to hold its more than 500 bottles of dark spirits, which include Macallan’s ‘M’, considered to be among the most sought after scotches in the world, and the 50-year-aged Tesseron Royal Blend Rare Cognac, of which only 1,000 bottles were produced. Not surprisingly, the cocktail menu is exceptional. It features modern takes on decades-old classics without losing the familiarity in flavour that made those drinks popular. Try the fantastic Rum Sazerac, featuring a two-ounce pour from a bottle of 15-year-old El Dorado, and Remember the Maine, which is similar to a Manhattan and features rye whiskey, vermouth, and absinthe. As you might expect you’re not in for your typical bar bites at Louix Louis. Proscuitto croquettes, truffle arancini, and lobster hush puppies are some of the appetizers that will tempt you.
If you’re staying for a meal, you’ll find a menu that includes Dover sole and duck breast accompanied with foie gras — two of the dishes that harken to classic French cuisine.
Once sated, you’ll likely want to be ensconced in your room, where the splendour of the lavish St. Regis experience continues. The rooms are updated with high-tech features like touch lights with multiple dimming options and lots of handy outlets for gadgets. Butler service is included with all rooms, and it’s as charming, sophisticated, and regal as you expect. Business travellers will especially be grateful for the complimentary shoe shine and the pressing of two items of clothing. If you’re coming in for meetings or if your feet are dealing with the slushiness that can permeate Toronto’s streets and sidewalks in winter then you’ll find the service to be a source of relief. The morning beverage order came with the best French-pressed coffee I’ve had at a Canadian hotel and a basket of exceptional croissants and pastries.
Along with the 2018 addition of Hotel X, whose roots are with New York’s Library Group of properties, the St. Regis provides visitors to Toronto — or those Torontonians looking for a staycation – with another luxury destination to call home for a few days. In the St. Regis, guests will be treated to the largest average guest-room size of any hotel in Toronto (all rooms start at 550 square feet and there are also a whopping 124 suites). During its renovation, the hotel needed to add two penthouse suites in order to receive the St. Regis label. It didn’t go small. The John Jacob Astor Suite is 2,035 square feet while the Caroline Astor Suite measures 1,675 square feet.
In so many ways, New York’s old grandeur has migrated north, bringing a little more world class to ever-impressive Toronto, and showing that having a professional helping hand isn’t ostentatious, it’s a vital component to a smooth visit in a big city.
MORE ABOUT VISITING ST. REGIS HOTEL
Location: 325 Bay Street, Toronto, ON (see map below)
Nightly Rates: A recent search on the hotel’s booking engine returned rates for weekend nights in March starting at $349.
Uncorked Niagara Experience: A unique offering of the hotel is the chance to take a helicopter ride to Niagara Falls for a winery tour during the day before returning to the St. Regis for your overnight stay.
St. Regis in Canada: Although the St. Regis Toronto is touted as the first of its kind in Canada, Vancouver has had a St. Regis Hotel for more than a century. That hotel is not affiliated with Marriott or Starwood, but retains the St. Regis name because of a court decision in the 1900s. The St. Regis in Vancouver launched in 1913 after an eventful construction phase that cost $100,000. It followed the Astors’ model for luxury and was one of western Canada’s most luminous hotels, though its stature has diminished since and is considered a three-star property.