GLADSTONE HOTEL, TORONTO REVIEW, GET IN BED WITH ART
The Gladstone Hotel is considered one of the five best historic and the oldest continuously operating hotels in Toronto. Surprisingly, it is only a 3*, but given the rave reviews across multiple review sites I wanted to give it a try. I was keen to check out this landmark built in 1889 to see what the commotion was all about. I love the hotel’s tagline, ‘Get in Bed with Art.’
The Gladstone, on Queen Street West in the heart of Parkdale, one of Toronto’s coolest areas with locals now struggling to afford rents due to overwhelming popularity. This trendy area is also home to another one of the five Best Hotels in Toronto, The Drake Hotel, built in 1890. According to USA Today, the Gladstone is No 5 in the ‘Most Romantic’ category, too. It was built in a time when there used to be two railway stations across the street, and the hotel was known for accommodating travelers, artists and exhibitors.
The first thing you notice upon entering is all the wood – wood floors, reception desk, doors and staircase. It has a real warm and inviting, airy reception area. And art is evident everywhere – walls, behind the reception desk, the light fixtures… Just beyond, you see the real gem; this hotel has one of the last hand-operated Victorian Otis elevators, installed in early 1900’s. Only staff are allowed to operate it, and given there are only 4 floors, you should really only request to use it when you have a heavy suitcase.
Check-in went smoothly, as I had emailed reception beforehand. They knew I was under a time crunch to get to a music venue, so they were waiting for me. And overall the hotel staff couldn’t have been more accommodating. I had a strange request for a powerful hairdryer. Medusa needs a hot hairdryer, and while they were honest that their dryers are standard lot, they went out and bought a powerful one, which I paid for, that was waiting in my room. Morgan, at the front desk, was there to take care of my every need and questions. So kudos to him and the rest of the staff.
THE RED ROOM
Since guests aren’t allowed to operate the elevator, a staff member accompanied me to my room with my swollen suitcase. He asked, “So, what room are you in?” I said, “303.” He looked at me and slightly chuckled.
Once we got there, he said, “Welcome to the Red Room.” I still wasn’t putting two and two together, partly due to jet lag and partly because I hadn’t walked in to the room yet. But when I did, I completely understood…. I should have been happy to have scored the ‘Red Room,’ but it was VALENTINE’S DAY, and I was ALONE and it was all RED! I looked at him and burst out laughing.
It was a lovely room with wood-planked floors, and as the room name signifies, the entire room exudes a red hue. The walls cast red over everything. The lampshades are covered in lovely red fabric. Everything is red! I only imagined what this room would look like at night from outside when I had the lights on. There was this luminous glow all around and I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d have little stones thrown at my window to double-check whether this was the red-light district and I was open for business.
Lucky or not, I got the Red Room. On Valentine’s Day. Alone. I’m sure they were feeling sorry for me. Was there not a couple who could have benefited from all that passion? “Will you be needing two keys, Ms. McDermott?” “Umm, no, just one, thanks.”
The room is actually quite lovely. The tall ceilings give it a regal-style airiness and it was well kitted out with quality bed linens, natural Canadian bath products, and a variety of locally sourced snacks. Wifi is free and there were ample plugs for your electronics. The only issue was the bathroom, which was also red, so I had an issue putting makeup on in the evening. You can’t tell when to stop with rouge!
There’s only one Red Room in the hotel, and each of the 37 rooms are individually designed. The Red Room was designed by a duo from Nova Scotia called RUCKUS, Kate Austin and Kristin Ledgett. They are known for their use of bold colors and whimsical patterns using lovely fabrics. “The color red evokes glamour, passion and heat.” If this isn’t your, ‘Get Lucky’ room, nothing is! I was expecting ‘Magda’ from Sex and the City to have left me a Virgin Mary on the nightstand!
The room was warm in freezing February, but the windows are not double-paned, so you can hear the all-night tram to some degree drifting by.
Cool thing is that the hotel is an art gallery as well. The corridors on two floors are dedicated to rotating installations by local artists. This was super because due to jet lag, I was awake in the middle of the night and just decided to go see some art…on my floor…at 3a.m. I was lucky enough to witness a few exhibitions in February and went back again in March – the first was the Love (Actually) Exhibition, which captured real moments at weddings, another was a tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement, another was Being Scene, which was a respectful and realistic understand of those recovering from mental illness and addiction, and finally CounterParts, a photographic display done by 3rd year students of Ryerson University. All exhibitions were impressive for different reasons. The Gladstone Hotel is a juxtaposition of repose and thought provocation.
Moving back to their outlets, on one side of the lobby is the fun Gladstone Café serving up breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night and a weekend brunch. It’s warm and cozy and I enjoyed homemade granola with fruits and Greek yogurt, and besides the obligatory coffee, I slurped one of their Caesar’s – think Bloody Mary, but use Clamato juice instead. Spicy and tasty and appears everyone in Toronto knows what a Caesar is! Someone on the plane told me to try one. The place is packed and you can’t reserve for weekend brunch, but it’s a definite must-try.
In the evening you can enjoy art, karaoke and entertainment in Melody Bar. Again, lots of wood and art hanging all around you and it’s a jovial atmosphere. There are small and sharing plates, beers, cocktails and wine, but beware… I have never found wine to be so expensive as I did in Toronto. I spend a lot time in the South of France, where a Happy Hour glass of wine will cost you €2. In Toronto, a glass at the Gladstone is $12CAD! That’s almost €8/$9USD. Amazingly expensive. There are numerous stories as to why wine and alcohol are expensive in Toronto. The cheapest glass I found was at C’est What Restaurant at $6 CAD ($4.50). The cost of alcohol is over the top and you have to thing twice about whether to splurge.
I was also in Toronto to see the graffiti, or as they call it, ‘Street Art,’ The Gladstone Hotel also has room dedicated to this art form – room 308 – The Queen Suite on Queen Street. It’s such a fun and bright room with exposed brick walls, and the bed’s headboard is in the form of graffiti and the lampshade reflects the street art you find around Toronto. Request Room 308 if you heart is set on discovering Toronto’s street art scene. It’s also much brighter than the red room.
In all, this hotel is a great piece of renaissance and wasn’t a budget killer at $130 a night ($96 USD). And you get more than just a hotel with the art that is around you. Well worth the stay. The Gladstone Hotel is located at 1214 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J 1J6.