Blending into the streets of Toronto’s fashion district, the mottled red brick and glass facade of this recently constructed tower belies its true age. In fact, there’s little apart from the curved wooden entrance and a lit sign spelling out “Hotel” to tip you off that you’re passing by the new Ace Hotel. This “blend in rather than stand out” approach is one that the brand has become known for over its 20 plus years in business. Both the brand’s in-house design team and Toronto’s Shim-Sutcliffe Architects (the latter of which led the project) undertook substantial efforts to ensure this new property feels appropriately anchored in its new home on Camden Street, between the very disparate destinations of King West and Queen West.
Even before you pass through the doors into the new hotel, its connection to the area is palpable. Through their glass, you may catch glimpses of massive concrete arches, left raw to convey a utilitarian and industrial feel. “The site location played a significant role in how the Ace Toronto design plan came together,” says lead architect Brigitte Shim. “We’re right in the garment district, and the area has many industrial buildings of another era. Brick with wood interiors, these robust structures are representative of the neighbourhood. We wanted to create real depth with the building. What we left exposed in the interior is real structure, and not a decorative veneer. In essence, the goal was to create an entrance and common space that makes first-time visitors question whether the building is new construction or an older retrofit.”
It’s safe to say that Shim’s vision has been executed flawlessly. Stepping through the doors, visitors face a floating bar, which is suspended from the ceiling with thick steel rods. One’s feet land on charming locally sourced end-cut Douglas fir flooring reminiscent of an old-school butcher’s block. These tile-like slabs, also used throughout the hotel’s 123 guest rooms, were chosen for their longevity and individually laid by hand. Laying the floor, we’re told, has taken the better part of a year. The intention behind this design is to let the wood weather over time, allowing heels and suitcase wheels to give it the appearance of the floors in an aged warehouse.
Though this is the first hotel designed by Shim-Sutcliffe during its illustrious career, wood has been — and remains — a constant in all its designs. Its appreciation for the material is on display on the hotel restaurant’s south wall in the form of an abstract depiction of Toronto’s lakefront built entirely from geometric plywood forms and designed by Howard Sutcliffe himself.
Anyone who’s stayed at an Ace property before will feel a sense of familiarity when they step into one of the hotel’s rooms or suites, albeit with a clear Canadian twist. Brad Wilson, partner and CEO of Ace Hotel and Atelier Ace, has always tried to contextualize each Ace Hotel in its surroundings. “Our hotels need to feel anchored in the destination in which they’re found. The design of Toronto needed to be different and purely Canadian. That said, there’s always a DNA that’s really Ace. We want to create a sense of emotional comfort and, in turn, create spaces that become community hubs that are welcome to everyone.”
The guest room interiors give off a modern Canadian cottage vibe, from the prominent use of wood and copper to the geometric quilts and quirky vintage-styled furniture. Even the millwork in each room has a rustic charm, using high-grade flat Douglas fir plywood rather than the typical modern gloss finishes found in more cookie-cutter properties. As a result of the physical depth of the building’s exterior structure, most guest rooms have cozy seating nooks built into the window frames. For furniture and fixtures, Shim-Sutcliffe worked closely with Atelier Ace, going so far as to custom design many of the lighting fixtures found throughout the property, as well as a signature end table. The latter combines a clay chimney flue with poured-in-place concrete, and is meant to echo the clay brick floor found in the hotel’s restaurant.
Every Ace Hotel’s bar and restaurant, whatever city it’s found in, has become a destination for tourists and locals alike. Toronto will be no exception, thanks to Ace’s partnering with the city’s Alo Food Group to run the restaurant, lobby bar, and rooftop with the goal of serving an upscale, polished, and creative menu steeped in Canadiana. The main restaurant, Alder (opening on August 9th) is located downstairs from the lobby. The 80-seat rooftop bar and lounge, Evangeline, will offer small bites and shareable plates. Keeping Toronto’s frigid winters in mind, the west-facing rooftop bar was designed to be a year-round destination, with outdoor seating (when the weather permits) enclosed and anchored by two large fireplaces on the north and south walls. Situated on the 14th floor, the bar is just high enough to catch views of Lake Ontario. From one corner of the balcony, the CN Tower even peeks into view.
As is often the case, the plan to build Ace Toronto was equal parts strategy and opportunity, says Wilson. “Toronto has always been on our radar as one of the major global capitals. When many people think of Toronto, they tend not to think outside of the concrete tower core. We’re always a bit fearful of being in an area that’s too pristine and polished.”
Perhaps this is a pot-shot at the multitude of luxury hotels sprouting up around Toronto’s Yorkville neighbourhood, but it’s safe to say that Ace Toronto would have seemed out of place in that ritzy neighbourhood. Known as the originators of the boutique hotel scene, the brand’s properties are among very few that can walk the line of refined yet casual, polished yet unpretentious. Setting up shop a block and a half from Queen West is about as good as it gets, and with a recently renovated park and soon-to-open Waterworks Food Hall directly across the street, Ace Toronto guests will be able to get properly immersed into the city it calls home.
Photos by William Jess Laird, courtesy of Ace Hotel