By Mary Gostelow
Look up, and you see architectural delights that others miss.
Looking up as you walk round Vienna is so fruitful you are in danger of being Johnny-Head-In-The-Air and tripping. Looking up in Manhattan you see early 20th century skyscrapers high above. Look up, too, at luxury hotels’ lobbies. Ritz-Carlton Montreal, which reopened May 2012, has a unique rear lobby. It now soars two floors high, its barrel ceiling completely covered in lifesize palm trees with a few little birds. The gal was amazed to hear that this is wallpaper, rather than painted trompe l’oeil.
Up in corner suite 409, the first thing that catches the eye is the central overhead light, flush with the ceiling. From each of its eight appendages hangs a loop of big pearl-look beads. The effect is theatrical but not too feminine. Although this 129-room beauty is Ritz-Carlton, it is managed by its owners, Torriani Hoteliers, who had worked with designer J Lee Rofkind of BUZ, before. I met J Lee at her Hong Kong base. I love her style – simple (like walnut flooring,) and theatrical (alligator-look headboards and cupboard fronts). The hotel’s original owners, way back in 1912, would approve.
When it all started, the legendary César Ritz said the hotel, to be named the Carlton, could also bear his name – for a one-off fee of £25,000, now worth about a million. This, therefore, was the first Ritz-Carlton. Many elements of its history remain. By the two elevators on each of its ten floors, a 1912 mail chute is still ready, though today hardly anyone writes proper letters. Those rooms that had working log fires have the original marble mantelpieces, but the fires within are, today, hidden gas jet, though still equally warming.
The famous ducks who live, summer only, in a duck house in the hotel’s squash court-sized rear garden will be back, as soon as the weather allows. Meanwhile, year round, there is a spectacular new swimming pool up on the tenth floor rooftop. Infinity-edges, and raised some four feet from the ground, it is about 32 ft in length. The surround has another working fireplace. One entire wall of the room slides back (summer only, again) to make the area flow to the sun terrace outside.
There are other new things. An adjacent Residences block opens April 2013, giving 45 astute owners one of the best addresses in town, and access to the pool and basement gym. There is also, on the corner of Sherbrooke and rue de la Montagne, a Tiffany boutique and also, charmingly, a tiny basement boudoir decorated and run by Jean-Pascal Lemire, also know as BouQuet. He does flowers for the hotel, and for weddings and for you, and, visiting him, I think I am taking part in Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Later, M. Le BouQuet glides over to say goodbye, just as I am gazing at the semi-secret gallery, with comfy romantic seating, that looks down into the main lobby (is this where Prince Albert and Princess Charlene watched the goings-on at the hotel’s official opening, October 26th, 2012?).
Stay at this luxury hotel for elegance, for history, and for such lovely people. Denis-the-doorman has been here since 1976 (he shows me the pavement spot where he will be buried). His colleague Fausto, who greets new arrivals, only joined in 1979. Even the GM, Andrew Torriani, has worked here before, in the most junior position. Daniel Boulud, who has a massive Montreal network, is, however, new here. The hotel’s Maison Boulud restaurant, which flows through seven areas to the garden terrace, is packed with lunching ladies, and dining gourmets of all ages, so book your table far ahead. You feel elegant, welcomed, well-fed – and up to date – here at Ritz-Carlton Montreal.