Toronto has grand and historical hotels (the Royal York and The King Edward are particular stand out beauties). We also have many funky art-centred spots – ranging from the sublime gallery filled Gladstone (still feels weird to say that about a place I remember so well as a welfare hotel), to the enduringly (charmingly) seedy and underground sound staging Cameron House.

But while I would never advance its merits aesthetical, I think our most central and action-packed downtown hotel is without question the Sheraton Centre.

It sits right across the street from City Hall, facing the open square before it. On the next corner, our fairly new opera house (factory-ugly but sounds great – a much better result than Roy Thompson Hall, where they went the other way ’round – looks gorgeous, but sounds like a toilet bowl).

It is also connected to the vast underground passageway PATH system – which, for pedestrians in a winter city, is an awesome way to get around downtown while staying dry and safe. One warning though – you do NOT want to be walking the path south, against the Union station office tower flow – at eight-fifteen in the morning with any sort of a hangover from the night before. Trust me, it’s absolute Kafka-stuff – near-traumatizing and certainly surreal – mindless waves of oncoming humanity, threatening either to trample you flat without even noticing, or worse yet – make you join-in their cold-blooded fish-school progress!

This building also long hosted a Christian Science reading room – where I used to buy ‘The Monitor’ regularly (a truly fantastic standard of compassionate internationalist journalism, back when that was hard stuff to find). Mind you I read the Workers Vanguard back then, too – and the Wall Street Journal – (balance, always).

Interestingly – the transmitter for CIRR, the world’s very first true-commercial LGBT radio station (eleven years old now) is also located atop the main tower – studios nearby. Like I said – right in the middle.

Sweet geometry

This shot reminds me of a very technical doodle that you might make with the help of your little tin box of geometry instruments and your new pencils, in the workbook where you were supposed to be plotting algebraic solution curves.  ;o)

In the foreground, the aforementioned plain box (with excellent acoustics) opera house – behind it, the main tower of the Sheraton Centre.

Opened in 1972, the main tower has Forty-three floors containing fourteen hundred and fifty hotel rooms – but I’ve never actually stayed there, nor have I ever even gone there to meet anyone who was.

But somehow, almost everybody seems to stage an event of some sort there, given a long enough arc of time – whether it’s a private do, a corporate shindig, shared-interest group meeting or a more wide open bacchanal, which means people with brains humour and agency, all share in common that we have enjoyed the fun of sneaking out of a weird or tedious party at a conference room in the Sheraton (when they start giving away gag-prizes, I’m definitely outta there!), and this seems to be when the place is at it’s absolute most fun – because we aren’t just sneaking out of tedium, but also into almost anything the city has to offer, within a ten minute walk. All you have to do is cross the gauntlet of the muted, soft carpeted jungle-gym for strolling inebriates and the bored silly, who ‘can’t’ yet leave.  (A pox on passive-aggressive faux pas, anyhow!)

There are many levels and interesting open spaces to wander, within. Several fine restaurants (several fewer now, sadly, but one hopes for revival), A Shopsy’s! (local deli), and a few quiet and eccentrically populated bars that were once very popular with extremely intellectual alcoholics of my acquaintance.

The service I’ve observed has always been superb – but nicest of all, it’s always had that curious quality of non-paranoid-vigilance – a certain stood-back easy class.

I’m not much of a drinker myself, but more than once I’ve feared a tipsy friend was about to be hassled by staff, only to see them kindly helped instead. Same too for the infirm, or elderly – very patient and low-key. Nice stuff.

Urban Sanctuary

But despite years of using the main entrance (top photo) to dive into the underground tunnels and get to work – many memories of great movies in the subterranean basement theatre, socially horrendous corporate parties (so vivid in their putrescence, as to still yield creative fuel to this day), and truly epic tirades of brilliance in the bar, I still haven’t mentioned my absolute favourite thing about the place.

This multiple level garden space – right in the middle of the hotel – designed by J. Austin Floyd – not only illuminates the whole central building all year round with REAL light, it is always full of extremely happy looking birds – one almost gets the feeling that one sees the avian cognoscenti congregating – having passed-down the location of the secret oasis to generations of migrating relatives of adequate social standing – and perhaps even to those who have since adapted to be too lazy to bother migrating at all anymore. True epicurean urbanites (have they any less right to this confluence of decadence than we?) ;o)

This spot is a particularly juicy architectural treat, considering the stark seventies brutalist exterior (though I must say, to be clear, the interior of the whole is also quite nicely done – space, light and marble are featured – no hideous beige concrete facings in sight!).

I also like it as an early reminder that we need more gardens of every type – everywhere – there’s just no question about it anymore. Inside buildings, on top of them, on our porches, in the windows of our rooms. (Pretty-much everyplace where we don’t put a solar-panel). And while I’m at it – food is just as pretty as flowers! (more exciting, too).

It is looking increasingly likely that we are going to be micro-gardening a fair proportion of our own vittles at some point. Probably worth working on these skills and greening up our thumbs a ways, while we have the leisure to laugh when we make huge mistakes.

Would mean more sweet oxygen at very least – and more daily contact with the natural world – very good stuff for us city-folk, hunkered down in all this brutalist concrete!

Still waiting for our signature “Raffles” in a literary sense, really – sigh. Perhaps Gehry will finally be induced to give his birth-city a fantastical central masterpiece, to knock the Sheraton off its perch. Pretty-please?   For a bar like that, I might even start drinking!

Previous Story

Spartan composition

Next Story

Inverted Diner

Latest from Muddy York Notebook

Repeat As Needed

Fear not – I just took this photo today, the old place has not being demolished.

A Good Walk

Spectacular weather today – a bit chilly for the time of year, but clear and fresh

Switch to mobile version