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Siteseeing: Toronto

Rebecca Lo • Photography by Worker Bee Supply and Joel Levy and renderings courtesy of Sun & Associates and Studio Munge • February 28, 2018

Photos: Recent Projects

Toronto has always been a city of tight-knit communities. Greeks on the Danforth, Polish in Roncesvalles, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Cabbagetown, where Irish immigrants first settled—all of these neighborhoods make up the cultural fabric of a thriving metropolis. It’s no wonder that the city’s recent spate of hospitality development is community centric and entrepreneur driven. Many small developers are taking matters into their own hands by putting up a bevy of district-focused properties to cater to local inclinations. At the same time, golden opportunities are finally coming to (and being realized in) Canada’s most densely populated megacity. “Our incredible Canadian landscapes, inclusive social policies, stable banking system, and more all contribute to making Toronto an attractive option for urban migration and developers,” explains designer Alessandro Munge, founder of local firm Studio Munge.

Case in point: the Union Station Revitalization Project, which has been ongoing since 2010. Currently seeing 290,000 people pass through its nexus of train and bus nodes, it was not until Union Chicken and Amano Pasta opened in late December that the commuter hub (Canada’s busiest) offered anything beyond Starbucks for F&B. The 1927 Beaux Arts-style structure is undergoing a major expansion, with a basement floor being dug for further retail, and a former horse and buggy carriage house being transformed into a heated, canopied dining area.

This could not happen sooner for Adam Teolis, one of four partners behind Union Chicken and Amano Pasta. Teolis named his business after the station, yet opened its first branch in a suburban mall while he waited for space to be ready. Both Union Chicken branches and Amano come courtesy of local firm DesignAgency. Union Chicken has an easygoing vibe with stained-glass windows and a long bar, while Amano boasts a glass-fronted open kitchen, U-shaped chef’s table, clean white subway tile surrounds, and the essential grab-and-go counter for hungry folks rushing to catch their connection.

DesignAgency was also responsible for the interiors of the 58-room Broadview Hotel (local adaptive reuse specialist architect ERA restored the 1891-era red brick heritage structure), including the recently opened Civic restaurant. Clad with red leather-tufted banquette seating at the corner of Broadview and Queen East, it’s situated in the very space where neon depictions of pole dancers used to grace former strip club Jilly’s. “We incorporated many subtle references to Jilly’s in our design,” explains Matt Davis, one of DesignAgency’s three founders, Anwar Mekhayech and Allen Chan being the other two. “The floor lamp in guestrooms was inspired by poles. In the back staircases, graffiti showing colorful silhouetted women allude to what used to go on there.” The highlight is the rooftop bar, complete with a pyramidal skylight, indoor-outdoor terrace, and private dining room housed in the tower of the original building with historic arched windows and a vaulted ceiling.
And that’s just one of the many projects the prolific firm is working on in its hometown. Still to come: the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Lounge for Air Canada; a revamp of the former Trump Hotel into a St. Regis; an expansion of the Drake Hotel to include an annex; a top-floor renovation of Momofuku (which the firm originally designed); and an upgrade to the downtown Sheraton.

Besides dreaming up the interiors for two Hiltons and renovating the Park Hyatt in Yorkville, Studio Munge recently completed boutique lifestyle hotel Bisha for INK Entertainment’s Charles Khabouth, and is now concentrating on Nobu’s first integrated hotel, restaurant, and residences with more than 630,000 square feet across two towers by Teeple Architects, slated to open in 2020. This year, the firm will unveil F&B venues for Silver Hotel Group’s portfolio of downtown boutique hotels following the January opening of the company’s Anndore House, with 113 guestrooms designed by local firm Cecconi Simone. “Focusing on the youthful neighborhood and hotel demographic, we designed the sense of arrival—the ground-floor F&B and event spaces—as inviting hubs for locals and travelers to mingle in,” notes Munge.

Last summer, architects Ralph Giannone and Pina Petricone of Giannone Petricone put the final touches on Sud Forno on Yonge Street, Cosimo Mammoliti’s latest southern Italian venue with a casual bakery and food hall on the lower level, and an upscale dining area with private rooms on the upper. The architects—who have worked with Mammoliti since the early ’90s—intentionally wanted to highlight the heritage building’s architecture with rough and smooth surfaces, creating an unfinished basilica-like atmosphere on the ground floor with mosaic floor tiles and pendants peeking through a light well from the floor above.

New York’s Andi Pepper Interior Design and Stephen B. Jacobs Group (along with executive architect Norr) are the masterminds behind the upcoming 404-room, 27-story lakefront Hotel X, the newest offering from the Library Hotel Collection, which, when it opens this spring, has a lofty goal: to redefine the lifestyle hotel concept by introducing, among its many amenities, a 60,000-square-foot membership sports club and a three-story rooftop bar open to the public with an indoor-outdoor pool. “What was really exciting about the project is that its size made it possible to bring the lifestyle hotel to a scale never before attempted,” says Jacobs, who has known Library Collection president Henry Kallan for nearly 20 years and worked with him on the original Library and Giraffe hotels in Manhattan. The contemporary design of the glass and metal tower continues inside, where the team mixed old and new—but with a twist, Jacobs says. For instance, “The classical floor pattern that leads you to the reception desk at the rear of the triple-height lobby is deconstructed as it interfaces with the polished concrete look of the rest of the floor.”

The multicultural Yorkville neighborhood will welcome a Kimpton in mid-2018 and a 188-room Canopy by Hilton in early 2020. In addition, the multimillion-dollar renovation of the Fairmont Royal York refreshed 910 rooms across 11 floors. Further ahead, Hariri Pontarini Architects is leading the design on the massive downtown mixed-use project Pinnacle One Yonge Street, which covers two city blocks and features three soaring towers with a hotel component in the works, while Vancouver firm CHIL Interior Design is behind the upcoming 120-room Qube from Shanghai’s Greenland Group. Scheduled for a 2019 launch, with a façade preserved by ERA, it will be housed in the historic 1927 Westinghouse Canada Building in the theater district, part of Greenland’s larger mixed-use development plan that includes two 40-plus-story condo towers and a theater museum. For the 4-Star hotel, expect an elegant, yet urban look, a mix of natural materials, warm metals, and pops of vibrant fabrics.

Yet one of the most exciting developments is in the works from Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation unit of Google parent company Alphabet: a Smart City development on the city’s east end by the lakeshore. In addition to self-driving vehicles and a connected digital infrastructure, there will also be sustainable and environmental solutions, including walkable neighborhoods.