Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Ritz-Carlton Toronto; This is a Ritz?

the original and first Ritz, in Paris, opened over 100 years ago; it is on Place Vendome, and has an 18th century dressed limestone facade; photo SwF the entrance of a slightly later Ritz, the one in Madrid, done in the 18th century style, dressed stone architecture; it is also over 100 years old; the meticulous plantings in profusion, the grand historic revivalist style, and ambiance of luxury are what made the name world famous; others rushed to emulate the distinctive style; photographer unknown the south facade of the new Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Toronto; these rooms face Toronto's iconic CN Tower the main entrance of the Toronto Ritz-Carlton faces north and the massive brackets are also clad in grey resin or enamel panels; the Brutalist aspect of these supports is rather looming as one approaches the front doors; the effect is cool and dark the north facade of the Toronto Ritz-Carlton; the building is in a revival of modern International style, clad almost entirely in glass; the style has been ubiquitous for so long that it has become all but invisible although the hotel is situated in a very dense urban environment, a small sliver of park to the north of it offers much needed natural relief beautiful, 30" large bronze maple leaves set in the Perlato Sicilia marble floor of the lobby another view of the huge bronze leaves detail of a staircase in the lobby, note the different finishes of wood; the lighter wood is a very light, satin finish veneer, the back wall is of rough hewn, dark planks or narrow panels set horizontally; the railing is capped with a highly polished brass or bronze material this sculpture in the lobby is of engineered stone; considering that vast areas of Canada are covered by the Canadian shield, real stone such as rich red Quebec granite would have been more fitting; the art is typical of the lobby in the hotel; it is retiring and unemotional enough to be quickly forgotten this back patio of the Ritz-Carlton has a nice southern exposure but the appointments seem dull, reminiscent of institutional outdoor eating areas of schools and hospitals discreet flower arrangements in the lobby; in a country that has just gone through a long winter, these strike me as autumnal in colour amoeba like fixture in the lobby is strung with rows of crystal orbs; the effect is somewhat like a dazzling cinema marquis or Vegas casino sign detail of lobby decoration; the upholstered chair is very similar to circa 1962 modern ones and arm rests have been dispensed with; large expanses of light wood veneer wall covering, strange juxtapositions of scale and material in the selection of furniture give a random, unharmonised effect bar off the lobby; tubular steel chairs evoke the cheapest, mass produced kitchen sets of the 1960s; for international travellers, red lights have questionable associations and I am puzzled by this selection alcove of the lobby; wood veneer wallcovering, angular modern chairs and an ugly piece of dark brown wall art depicting a row of plants with a cross section of the earth as in an elementary school Science diagram; loose cushions in all chairs prevent one from sitting back and relaxing

Two years ago, I was excited to learn that Toronto would be getting a Ritz-Carlton. I've always been interested in grand luxe hotels and how they welcome people and make them feel pampered away from their everyday lives. I looked forward to having our own Ritz and also to my first viewing of it. Over the past six months, I've tried on several occasions to contact the hotel, in anticipation of the scheduled opening. E-mails to different departments were left unanswered, and I thought perhaps that in the rush to prepare on schedule, they were overlooked. As the opening date drew closer, I contacted management who apologized and said that they would arrange a visit. A date was proposed but unfortunately I did not hear back.

In my experience of over three decades with some average and some great hotels in North America and Europe, this is the worst example of service and communication I've experienced from any hotel, let alone one that is supposed to be five star. In terms of service, I've given up hope on the Toronto Ritz-Carlton, by both their public relations departments and management.

This aside, my intention was to study the design of the hotel rather than the service, but I have been disappointed with both areas. The exterior of the building is clad in glass, in a revival of the International style. There is nothing unattractive about the exterior, but there is nothing unique, special or memorable. The entrance to the hotel is characterized by huge overhanging brackets reminiscent of the Brutalist style of the 1970s. As I approached the entrance, it felt a bit like being in the gloomy, desolate area under a raised freeway. I peeked in the main restaurant and reviewed the menu. The dining area is windowless and has a low ceiling, giving an ambiance or lack of it, which I found unwelcoming. The decor is in a generic, modern style that can be seen in any middle of the road hotel (okay the carpets were wool rather than synthetic), or for that matter in any recently decorated McDonald's.

"Disappointing" is the word I would use to describe this new hotel. Ritz hotels around the world are managed by different companies and have varying arrangements for the use of the Ritz name. The name is synonymous with luxury accommodation, but one can see that in this case, the style is far removed from what made Ritz hotels famous. Cesar Ritz himself selected decor of the Louis XVI period, actually a revival of the style 100 years after the original. He adopted modern principals of hygiene and ventilation, and wooed the greatest chefs, sommeliers, and service people to create an environment reminiscent of a beautifully managed palace.

While these tenets, over a century old may not be entirely applicable to a hotel in 2011, there must be some sort association, even a vague one, to the great name of Cesar Ritz which is known for luxury and taste. I could not see any sort of fleeting acknowledgement to the history, nor the very definite style of Cesar Ritz, and I wondered if the designers and architects have any understanding or awareness of the Ritz heritage. This hotel is clean, new, and understatedly luxurious. It is also entirely forgettable, and lacks any associations or links with the grand style of a classic Ritz Hotel. In a very large city, with many fine hotels, this is not the hotel I would select for accommodations, a special meal, a reception, a drink, or afternoon tea. In Toronto, the closest one would come to classic Ritz style would be the Beaux Arts King Edward Hotel on King Street, managed by Meridien Hotels.

Toronto, a city of over five million people, is long overdue for 5 star luxury hotels. The Toronto Ritz hasn't shown anything extraordinary, however the Shangri-La, the Four Seasons, and the Trump will be opening in the near future, and I haven't given up hope yet of my Toronto dream hotel. In particular, I hold high hopes for the Four Seasons, as any experiences with their hotels have been impressive, and the location of the new building in Yorkville seems to be ideal.

all photos except Ritz Madrid, SwF