Pantages Hotel & Spa
The Pantages Hotel in Toronto is right around the corner from Massey Hall, but passersby might not know that, since an extremely low-key north/south street presence blends it into the back alley streetscape at Victoria and Shuter (the sliding glass entrance doors remind more of nearby St. Michael's Hospital than a hotel). There is a prominent sign you can see if you approach the hotel from directly across the street, as pictured above, which is pretty much never going to happen.
The Pantages is a nice enough hotel, but it's full of inconsistencies. The Pantages & Cosmopolitan brand, with their high(er)-end Shizen spas , complimentary in-room yoga mats, and come-hither martini bars all speak to a desire to be trendy and swank. At the same time, our complimentary spa robes were nowhere to be found, and the bathroom's largest towels didn't do a full body wrap around. The toiletries were of nice quality, but there was just one little "facial" soap for the whole of the bathroom -- use it in the shower, return it to the sink. Repeat.
A dark-brown shag carpet added a bit of personality, but that was negated by a stain of indeterminate origin on our otherwise crisp white sheets (see gallery). There is a small vanity cutaway just inside the door, adjacent to the bathroom, but with one overhead light that didn't lend itself to actual vanity purposes. The ceiling was noticeably low (abutting the top of the door frames). You can try and sample the spa (I did), but they really meant it when they disclaimed "hours subject to change". The times printed in the hotel guide were off by an hour in each direction, meaning it was too late when I tried for an evening appointment (they closed at 7pm, not the listed 8pm), and check out was too early to catch them in the morning (11am on Saturday). Unfortunate.
Like so many Toronto hotels, wi-fi is available but "available" the way a rental car is -- you can have it if you pay for it. (Word to the wise -- if you're going to charge $12 for a day's worth of internet, know that you just look like a bit of a cash-grabber when there's an open wireless connection nearby.)
Boutique-styled hotels, Pantages included, seem to be on a full-size fridge kick. Which seems like a luxury item until you start to run through the logic. As in -- where is the closest place to Yonge & Elm I'd even begin to stock a full size fridge? I live in the city, and I couldn't even tell you the nearest Rabba or Hasty Market.
The fridge would just be an unnecessary luxury until you factor in the geography of the room. In a small suite, you end up sleeping about 8 feet away from the fridge, and all its little fridge noises. Which feels not unlike sleeping in your kitchen. And the floor of my kitchen is not where I go to luxuriate.
Giant fridge aside, our room made excellent use of the available square footage. A console table can serve as a dining or work area (courtesy of two deeply squishy leather stools), or can be rolled over-top of the queen size bed for laptop or breakfast-in-bed action. A closet housed a stacking washer/dryer (dryer sheets and Bounce available in the "mini-bar" -- though the mini-bar price list was looking a little mank (again, see gallery)).
For the most part the staff we dealt with were friendly enough, though everyone seemed tired. There were smiles, but they were wan. The exception was one very helpful and pleasant young man in the bar during (an empty) breakfast service -- who very helpfully and pleasantly explained that our room was one of the few that did not include continental breakfast, and might we like to try Fran's (see Dining).
Pantages is about drinking more than dining. On a Friday night the Pantages Martini Bar (which, btw, does have a prominent street sign) was packed.
The hotel does have a room service menu, though they primarily direct guests to the adjacent 24hr Fran's. While I like me some diner action, and my guest was very happy to have Fran's burger + beer combo, the atmosphere grates against the Pantages/Shizen vibe. Where the Pantages is stylishly dark and under-lit, with splashy punches of neon, Fran's is viciously bright, and features meals like the "Party Havarti".
As mentioned, our breakfast wasn't included with our room. You have to wonder at hotels that do this -- it's not like you're shelling out for steak frites, so spare some melon and a croissant for everyone who stays the night and goodwill will follow. (Instead of dining at Fran's (again), we opted instead to hop the subway north to Lola's Commissary . It was a good call.)
Writing and gallery photographs by Catherine Hayday