Vintage Toronto Ads: Where Else Would You Eat?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 22, 2009.

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Bravo, November/December 1982.

Yes, your friends were happy that the iambic pentameter flowing out of your mouth finally sounded naturalistic and not an exercise in word fumbling. For that, you deserved a night on the town!

Your friends also had deep pockets, as a meal at Chiaro’s (pronounced key-arro) wasn’t in the typical actor’s price range, especially if they treated you to the exclusive wine room. Two people who were denied the latter were Globe and Mail restaurant critic Joanne Kates and her dining companion:

We mere mortals, and two females to boot, are not invited into the wine room. We are not even offered a wine list. We are offered a table by the door and, having reserved earlier, we begin to wonder: Would the waiter chide a male customer for asking to see the label on a bottle of house wine before it was poured?

Chiaro’s was part of the multi-million-dollar renovation of the King Edward Hotel in the early 1980s. Kates compared the décor to both ends of the hospitality spectrum owned by new operators Trusthouse Forte: the Plaza Athénée in Paris and your average roadside Travelodge. “The lobby is splendid and subtle,” she noted, “an Edwardian triumph of massive marble columns and Oriental rugs lit from above by a glass roof. But in the women’s room the soap is that horrible green stuff (what, no Pears?) and Muzak plays.“

Kates felt the pasta dishes were worth the money while most of the mains were boring. Her summary of the Chiaro’s experience expressed disappointment:

Neither the $20,000 peacock mirrors nor the grey walls and ceiling are glorious. The food is good, but it is attention to detail that makes a restaurant great: Salada tea and banal desserts give Chiaro’s a mass-produced air; waiters who seat and serve diners according to their Dun and Bradstreet rating do not belong. A restaurant that charges $105 for dinner had better treat everyone like a queen.

Additional material from The Joanne Kates Toronto Restaurant Guide (Toronto: Methuen, 1984).

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Someday Your Prince Hotel Will Come

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2008.

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Toronto Life, February 1975.

Today’s ad offers an ideal 1970s entertainment lineup for upper middle class patrons on business, vacation, or a wild night in the suburbs. The Royal Box offered dinner theatre twice a night. The “merely posh” Le Continental filled the decade’s appetite for romantic meals loaded with soft jazz and slabs of meat (chateaubriand for two, ma belle amie?). Katsura supplied a then-exotic Japanese dining experience. The Brandy Tree offered fancy drinks and a piano bar. The Coffee Garden catered to those for whom none of the above appealed to (or were affordable for) and to those with an appreciation for macrame walls.

Opened on July 10, 1974, this luxury hotel was the first foray by Prince Hotels International into North America and its second outside of its Japanese base (the first was in Guam). In an article published shortly after the hotel opened, the Toronto Star noted that:

A recurring theme of conversation with the hotel executives was a determination from the outset not simply to transplant a Japanese hotel to Canada but to fit it in with the environment (even the dead trees on the property have been left standing) and with Canadians (domestic materials, almost exclusively, Canadian architects, local people comprising almost all the operating staff).

Another way the owners ingratiated themselves to nearby residents was through minor hockey sponsorship a year before the hotel opened. The team won their division and Prince executive Kikuo Yamazaki treated them to a party at his home.

The Prince experienced growing pains, tearing through three operations managers and four PR firms by the time Christmas of ’75 rolled around. By March 1976, the hotel was one of three the Star marked as the emptiest luxury spots in Toronto, along with the Harbour Castle and the Plaza II (now the Marriott in the Hudson’s Bay Centre). The paper felt that apart from a few specialty suites and Katsura, the hotel didn’t provide enough Japanese decor and atmosphere. With its average occupancy hovering under 32%, Prince did not move forward with further North American expansion plans. The site was eventually rebranded as a Westin hotel.

Additional material from the August 24, 1974, December 9, 1975 and March 23, 1976 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Sporting Proposition in Muskoka

Originally published on Torontoist on February 26, 2008.

Vintage Ad #500: Skiing to Acapulco Via Huntsville

 Toronto Life, February 1971.

Your reaction to snow depends on the circumstances. The frequency of dumps the city has received so far this year has caused grumbling about blocked streets, dirty mounds higher than the average citizen and many a wish for spring to speed up its arrival. Conversely, as long as the roads outside the city are passable, lovebirds, families and outdoor enthusiasts looking for an escape from the city have headed up to Muskoka resorts like Hidden Valley to enjoy activities made possible by the white stuff.

Perhaps the gala après-ski events offered up sweater-clad singers for the swinging crowd and exciting new cocktail creations from the bar. It is unknown if the children’s events included choreographed snowball fights, piñata smashing (to tie in with the Acapulco promotion) and lessons on how to attract ski bunnies.

Today’s featured resort’s chain affiliations have varied over the years, with Holiday Inn one of the longest-lasting. Note the use of the chain’s classic “Great Sign” logo, a North American roadside icon through the early 1980s.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 1968-12-12 hidden valley opening rates

A sampling of skiing options advertised in the classified section of the December 12, 1968 edition of the Globe and Mail. We’re kind of curious about what the “total après-ski entertainment” at Hidden Valley entailed.

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Globe and Mail, February 21, 1969.

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Globe and Mail, December 18, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

My family stayed at Hidden Valley one summer during the mid-1990s, while my sister attended a jazz camp at Lake Manitouwabing. By that point the hotel was a Best Western, and the restaurant was a Golden Griddle whose menu proudly boasted all the supermarket brands it served (let’s just say I was never thrilled the few times I ever ate at GGs). Little would I have suspected at the time that one of the instructors at the camp would someday be my father-in-law, and that my future partner-in-crime may have been hanging around the campsite.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Hotel Toronto Deserves

Originally published on Torontoist on August 9, 2007.

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Source: Time, April 24, 1972.

All the city deserves is another high-end hotel?

Continuing Torontoist’s periodic look at downtown’s early 1970s hotel boom, it’s time to turn north to Yorkville. During the latter half of the previous decade, developments such as the Hyatt Regency and Hazelton Lanes, along with a growing number of high-end boutiques, began to erase the neighbourhood’s image as the home of coffeehouses and bohemians. One might not have been able to catch as many musical acts in the neighbourhood as before, but visiting businessmen were probably more dazzled by the spectacular meeting rooms and other thoughtful extras.

Hyatt eventually turned its attention across Avenue with the Park Hyatt, with the Regency becoming the Four Seasons.

UPDATE: Over time, the Four Seasons became known as a celebrity hub, especially when TIFF rolled around, which I learned the hard way one year when I was nearly run over by a mob of fans chasing a glimpse of some movie star. After the hotel closed in 2012, part of the site was demolished, while the rest was converted to condos. A new Four Seasons hotel opened at Bay and Yorkville.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Welcome to the Hotel Toronto

Originally published on Torontoist on June 26, 2007.
Source: Toronto Life, November 1975.

Downtown Toronto experienced a hotel boom during the first half of the 1970s as modern skyscrapers and buildings like the new City Hall changed the face of the core. Among those that made their debut: the Sheraton Centre (1972), the Holiday Inn on Chestnut (1972), the Chelsea (1975), the Harbour Castle (1975) and, opening its doors 32-years ago this week, the Hotel Toronto.

Western International Hotels traced its roots to the early 1930s, when two hoteliers in Washington state joined together to form Western Hotels (the “International” portion was added in 1954 after its first Canadian location opened). United Airlines ran the company from 1970 to 1987, changing the name to Westin in 1980. This ad promises the usual amenities for weary 1970s travelers, such as colour TV and temperature control.

As for dining options, Trader Vic’s first claim to fame was its invention of the mai tai in Oakland, California during World War II. Its restaurants helped popularize tiki drinks and “Polynesian” food, though the vogue for both was sliding downhill by the time the hotel opened. Note the stern-looking chef, who may have seen one pineapple-based dish too many. The chain still exists, though most of its current locations are outside of North America.

In 1987, the hotel swapped corporate banners with the Hilton Harbour Castle and remains in business as the Toronto Hilton.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Source: Toronto Star, June 15, 1975. Click on image for larger version.

When the Blue Jays began play in 1977, the Hotel Toronto hosted the visiting teams, except for the New York Yankees, who preferred the Westbury on Yonge Street. In a 1979 guide to meeting guys around the city, the Star’s Lynda Hurst provided tips on how ladies could catch a glimpse (or more) of baseball hunks:

ts 79-04-07 trader vics where boys are

Source: Toronto Star, April 7, 1979.

ktt 1976-08 trader vicsSource: Key to Toronto, August 1976.

As a tourist draw, Trader Vic’s was included in Mary Walpole’s regular advertorial roundup of Toronto restaurants in the Globe and Mail. For decades, Walpole wore out the dot symbol on the presses, employing a style that seems odd today. You’re tempted to wonder if this was done for aesthetic purposes, or if Walpole actually spoke/wrote like an excited telegram. We’re going to encounter a lot more of her advertorials (as well as writers in other papers, like Brett Halliday of the Sun, who employed a similar style) as we revisit these stories. I was often tempted to write a Historicist column about these writers, who carved out a corner in the dailies for decades but, because they were writing hyperbolic ad copy, may not have received much respect.

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Source: Globe and Mail, February 24, 1976.

More legitimate reviews viewed Trader Vic’s with mixed feelings. Categorizing it under “Tourist Trade,” a capsule comment in the Globe and Mail in 1978 observed that:

gm 78-03-08 trader vic review

Source: Globe and Mail, March 8, 1978.

On dreary winter nights, when the scent of sunny islands is the only promise of springtime, this Polynesian hideaway is the ideal refuge. Those whose spirits aren’t raised by bamboo alone can relax in the arms of a giant rattan chair, and let the soft lights and silky Hawaiian music wash over them while sipping the fragrant—and fresh—fruit concoctions for which Trader’s is justifiably famous throughout the world. (A word of warning—the velvet hand of the bartenders with pineapple, mango, coconut and lime gentles liquor to a lethal whisper, but it packs more punch than navy grog.) – Toronto Calendar, in its 3/5 star rating of Trader Vic’s, December 1978.

Trader Vic’s proximity to Simpsons made it easy to participate in promotions such as cooking classes.

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Source: Toronto Star, February 9, 1976.

Finally, a drink suggestion if you’re in a giggly mood during a romantic evening. You don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day!

ts 82-02-07 tv rum giggle for two

Source: Toronto Star, February 7, 1982.