Hotel Ocho will soon join the ranks of Toronto's existing boutique hotels come June, but manager Kenneth McElheran tells me it will have a decidedly different vibe. "No one wants to go to that faceless Toronto place," he says as we sip Americanos by the Espresso bar. "I want this to be just like staying at my house," he continues, ABBA playing in the background.
"So, should I expect to hear Dancing Queen if I drop by your place?"
"Yeah," he says with a smile. "That's actually my playlist."
Hotel Ocho's rooms, restaurant, and lounge occupy a 12,000 square-foot former textile factory on Spadina just north of Queen Street. Family owned, daughter Louise Choi decided to ditch her New York finance job five years ago and move to Toronto to transform this space into a boutique hotel.
That's not to say that the building has lost any of its early-1900s charm. The original wood beams still gloat with handsome character, as well as exposed brick on several walls. But the guest rooms, for example, have been created using granite and marble in the bathrooms, as well as flat screen TVs and WiFi ready to go. I don't think that shiny espresso machine was there back when the building served as a cigar factory, but the charm, undoubtedly, is still there.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to check out Hotel Ocho's 12 rooms (interior design company Dialogue 38 has a stranglehold on the keys until the rooms are unveiled in June), McElheran tells me they're charming and comfortable, going for for $175, $225, or $250 per night. "You have everything you need in there," he says. "And Jamal will be there in his Hello Kitty housecoat if you do require anything else," he says of his overnight staffer. And yes, he really does wear a Hello Kitty housecoat.
While the guest rooms are getting their final touches, Hotel Ocho's restaurant and lounge has been open for about four weeks now. It serves an eclectic menu of starters, entrees, and desserts, each item costing under $18. Ocho has also added weekend brunch to the mix, serving the regulation eggs benny ($9), French toast and fruit ($9), and a delicious-sounding smoked salmon and goat cheese omelette ($11).
Word has started to get out about the cafĂŠ/lounge it seems, with a lineup out the door last Friday, according to McElheran. "Everyone loves a secret, I guess," he says. "We haven't done a lick of advertising."
Hm. Well, I guess the secret's out? Ocho hosts live music Wednesday to Saturday nights, with everything from jazz to live mixing. "There's this one pair," McElheran says, "they're just amazing. This guy plays jazz guitar and a woman sings. I think they're scheduled for Wednesdays."
McElheran found the guitarist, believe it or not, busking on Queen Street. "I just heard this music and thought, 'Wow, I need to find where this is coming from.' I found him--and actually, he's doing his PhD in economics--and asked if he would come perform." He agreed of course, and brought along accompaniment.
Live music can be enjoyed with drinks from Ocho's full bar, with several beers on tap, wines, specialty martinis and cocktails. Dress code, of course, is non-existent, so feel free to bust out that Hello Kitty.
Writing by Robyn Urback. Photos by Dennis Marciniak.