October 1, 2023


Booking Travel

Checking In: Toronto’s St. Regis Hotel

Steeped in Gilded Age history, 5-star property blends century old traditions with contemporary luxury

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One of the many inspiring aspects of travel is delving into history. Whether it is walking in philosopher’s sandal steps atop the Acropolis, tracing Napoleon’s legendary campaigns through Europe or hopping a train across Canada, packing a suitcase is often the first step on a journey into unpacking the past. And sometimes history reveals itself in the unlikeliest of places.

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That happened to me during a recent stay at the St. Regis Hotel in the heart of Toronto’s bustling business district. The St. Regis brand was founded 119 years ago by John Jacob Astor IV, an accomplished U.S. businessman, real estate developer, writer and lieutenant-colonel in the Spanish-American war. Seven years earlier, in 1897, he built the Astoria Hotel in New York City, then billed as “the world’s most luxurious hotel.” His life was cut short at the age of 47 when he perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Legend has it that after loading his wife into a lifeboat and ordering a mother and child to take the remaining two seats, he was last seen alive on the starboard bridge smoking a cigarette with mystery writer Jacques Futrelle. Ten days following the sinking, his body was found floating in the sea.

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The St. Regis two-bedroom John Jacob Astor Suite is located on the 30th floor and comes with the hotel's butler service.
The St. Regis two-bedroom John Jacob Astor Suite is located on the 30th floor and comes with the hotel’s butler service. Photo by St. Regis Hotel

No, there are not Titanic tributes or memorabilia in the St. Regis paying tribute to its founder, but there are daily hotel rituals established by John’s mother Caroline Astor that date back to the Gilded Age. At 6 p.m. each day in the Astor Lounge guests are invited to watch a sabrage ceremony — the opening of a Champagne bottle with a sabre — then enjoy a complimentary flute of bubbly. Afternoon tea was a hallmark of that first St. Regis back in 1904, and is a mainstay at the Toronto hotel from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. The lounge bar signature cocktail is a Bloody Mary, which was first concocted by barman Fernand Petiot at the St. Regis New York in 1934. And the Midnight Suppers, intimate gatherings that take place only a few times a year at St. Regis hotels around the world, were established by Caroline at the height of the Gilded Age. I didn’t have the rare privilege of the latter, but did watch as a skilled barman uncorked a bottle with a sword, and did, with a toast to John Jacob and all those lost at sea, enjoy a Bloody Mary at the bar.

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Despite these wonderful historic nods to the past, the real tribute to the foundational style, grace and luxury of the St. Regis brand is the hotel and people who operate it. The décor of the 258 guest rooms — including 124 suites — is very tasteful, with a strong sense of tradition but with a distinct contemporary vibe. That luxury suite count is the largest of any hotel in Canada. Then there is the Butler Service, another St. Regis tradition spanning more than 10 decades. If you sign up, it includes morning beverage service, luggage packing and unpacking, garment pressing and shoe shine. Personally, I prefer to unpack and pack my own bag, but who in their right mind would pass up the opportunity of someone else doing your ironing?

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Taking ‘Let them eat cake’ to heart

The St. Regis is located at the corner of Bay Street and Adelaide in the heart of downtown Toronto, so there is no shortage of excellent dining options within easy walking distance. Tell your butler you won’t be requiring your jacket, however, as one of the best restaurants in the city is a simple elevator ride away. Located on the 31st floor with fantastic views of the city, Louix Louis is a favourite of the city’s business elite, but as I discovered during a wonderful dinner in the rich and luxurious room, the nightly clientele also include couples, friends, afterwork groups and even the odd Instagamer (more on that in a second) enjoying the ambiance, extensive dark spirit list — at over 500 the largest in North America, in fact — and the creative and tasty American-French fusion the accomplished kitchen staff prepare.

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Service is first-rate to match the setting, a décor inspired by cocktail parlours of New York and Paris. The signature feature is a 60-foot ceiling mural called ‘Bouquet of Whiskey,’ which according to artist Madison van Rijn, “reflects both the process and the product” of Canadian whisky.

And what would be a French-styled restaurant without the pièce de resistance? In the case of Louix Louis, that’s a slice of cake. But not just any piece of cake. The Signature Kings Cake is a 13-layer, gold-leaf topped chocolate cake featuring 64 per cent Guayaquil ganache, hazelnut chocolate butter cream, vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce (did I mention the 24-hour fitness centre?). At $55 a slice it is meant for sharing, and if you want to take some home, you can always spring for an entire cake, priced at $400.

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Not surprisingly, given the unique and indulgent nature of this item, it has become a darling desert of the Instagram crowd, and sure enough a table nearby was positioning and lighting the cake for that perfect pic and post as we enjoyed our own slice.

Package deals

There are currently two package deals being offered by the St Regis (visit stregistoronto.com).

The House of Celebration deal include two glasses of Champagne, Evening Sabrage passes for 2 adults, a $150 hotel credit per night and a King’s Cake welcome amenity. The 5-Star Spa Retreat comes with a $200 credit to be used at the spa, a bespoke spa gift, an upgrade to next level room (based upon hotel availability) and a late check-out time of 2 p.m.

Visit here for complete details.

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