Teen queens, tree-huggers and wannabe rockers are bunking down on West Queen West, along with prudish Victorians, bikers and fans of faux fur. Following a major revamp, the themed rooms of the Gladstone Hotel cover every fetish. And the city's oldest hotel, a landmark Toronto property, has been transformed from a flophouse to a fashionable destination.
Named after the English prime minister William Gladstone (1809-98), the hotel opened in 1889 across from a busy rail junction. Its design, in Richardsonian Romanesque style, is grand, characterised by red brick, rough cut stone and dramatic arches. But its past is less salubrious: in the old days, it was the last place thirsty travellers could obtain hard liquor before reaching Hamilton, an hour to the west, and one of the few risqué hotels in town where patrons could drink while playing shuffleboard. During the late 20th century, the Gladstone declined into seediness.
In restoring the hotel in 2006, visual artist Christina Zeidler and her father, architect Eberhard (who created the Eaton Centre and Ontario Place) kept many of the original details intact, including plaster mouldings and faux marble pillars. The last remaining hand-operated elevator in the city rises up through a grand staircase like a gilded cage.
To reflect the artsy neighbourhood, Christina commissioned local artists to design the 37 guest rooms. You can preview each room on the hotel's website, so you don't end up in the Faux Naturelle Room - where 'lesbian separatist commune meets Storybook Gardens' - when you're in the mood for the Trading Post, a masculine room with a four-poster bed anchored by tree trunks. Hank, a Gladstone veteran from its flophouse days, is now the elevator operator; he may direct you to room 414, The Walls Are Speaking. Here, artists Day Milman and Bruno Billio pay homage to the Gladstone's past residents in toile wallpaper scenes.
All the eccentricity and eclecticism of West Queen West come together at the Gladstone, with cabaret and burlesque shows, magazine and CD launch parties, indie bands performing in the ballroom and, on the weekends, karaoke night in the Melody Bar. The second floor is devoted to art exhibits and festivals such as Come Up to My Room, the funky alternative interior-design fair held in February. The Art Bar continues to hold weekly figure-drawing classes begun in 1957.