Just like home — if you have a ter­rific loft, eclec­tic art and vin­tage vinyl on turntable

Montreal Gazette - - TRAVEL - ROCHELLE LASH

Hip­sters have a new home. The An­nex is an in­ti­mate, in­die ex­pe­ri­ence in Toronto, now the fourth-largest city in North Amer­ica and grow­ing ex­po­nen­tially. This just-opened bou­tique prop­erty has a cool, re­laxed de­sign and a do-it-your­self par­a­digm that’s plugged in and pro­gres­sive. The look re­flects edgy el­e­gance in an in­dus­trial blue­print, a back­drop to a post-mil­len­nium hospi­tal­ity style. The An­nex opened last month with 24 light-filled, loft-in­spired rooms and a lounge that’s the per­fect place to chill, from morn­ing cap­puc­cino to evening cock­tails, with en­light­ened ca­sual cui­sine through­out. The ho­tel rep­re­sents vi­brant new life in a funky Vic­to­rian-era neigh­bour­hood also called The An­nex. The en­trance is in a laneway pop­ping with hip-hop street art, so there’s an air of ur­ban ad­ven­ture as you ar­rive, but a sur­pris­ingly smooth sce­nario once you’re in­side. The scene: “Big brands now are do­ing small ho­tels, too,” said Justin Fong, one of The An­nex’s three owners. “But they’re still do­ing bright lights and neon signs. “We know our clients bet­ter. Young cre­atives are look­ing for real ex­pe­ri­ences, not mega-tourist attractions. “The An­nex rep­re­sents au­then­tic­ity in an au­then­tic neigh­bour­hood. And our play­book is filled with lo­cal partners.” All good, but The An­nex is un­con­ven­tional, too. There are no el­e­va­tors, no phones and no tele­vi­sions. But, no wor­ries. You are meant to text your re­quests, and the staff will call an Uber or de­liver a bot­tle of Pinot Noir. And each room has free Net­flix stream­ing on a 13-inch iPad Pro (cleaned daily with a spe­cial so­lu­tion). Plus, guests can help them­selves to tow­els and tis­sues from self-serve clos­ets. The An­nex is young in spirit and there­fore tech. Typ­i­cally guests book on­line, re­ceive a key­pad code by email and head to their rooms in­de­pen­dently. There is no front desk, but gen­eral man­ager Michael Shea, for­merly of Four Sea­sons Ho­tels & Re­sorts, head host Jes­sika Du­four, who is from Mon­treal, or an­other team mem­ber is al­ways on site. The ho­tel’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Alexan­der Lynn, has or­ches­trated a gallery-like feel­ing through­out the ho­tel, with strik­ing con­tem­po­rary prints and pho­to­graphs by Toron­to­ni­ans in­clud­ing Max Rosen­stein and Melody Hansen, and Marwa Belo­ufa of Mon­treal. Re­laxed rooms: Stu­dio AC of Toronto (Stu­dio for Ar­chi­tec­ture & Col­lab­o­ra­tion) white­washed the 100-year-old brick walls and in­stalled min­i­mal­ist ply­wood shelv­ing and cab­i­nets. The bath­rooms are to­tally to­day, with glass show­ers, high-qual­ity fix­tures and Malin + Goetz toi­letries. The rooms all are dif­fer­ent but each has lots of space and large win­dows. They’re just like home — if you have a ter­rific loft with daily house­keep­ing, eclec­tic art and a turntable spin­ning vin­tage vinyl. The beds are mas­ter­works. The thick, lux­u­ri­ous mat­tresses are from Stearns & Foster, which sup­plies many five-star ho­tels; the fine sheets are by Sferra of Italy; and the beau­ti­ful du­vets and pil­lows come from Marie l’Oie of Mon­treal. Even the mini-bars are cut­ting edge. The bev­er­ages in­clude Thirsty Bud­dha co­conut pineap­ple wa­ter, Forty Creek Whisky and craft beer from Col­lec­tive Arts Brew­ing. Food and drink: The An­nex Lobby Bar has a sen­sual, 1930s look cre­ated by the Gauley Broth­ers of Mon­treal. The chairs are draped in cham­pagne vel­vet and pot­ted plants flour­ish around a curved white mar­ble bar. This lounge is tiny, but Brooke De No­bile, food and bev­er­age gen­eral man­ager, cov­ers a lot of ground, chang­ing mood and menus through the day. Morn­ings are healthy, trendy and yummy, with baked goods like a pis­ta­chio-rasp­berry dan­ish, an elk-ched­dar-egg break­fast sand­wich, or a turmeric-banana muf­fin, plus liq­uid nu­tri­tion like bone broth, su­per-food co­conut cups or dark-roast cof­fee. The mid­day menu in­cludes mush­room toast, grilled cheese or smoked trout; and for evening there are steak tartare, niçoise salad, and char­cu­terie and cheese platters. Sig­na­ture cock­tails in­clude the Partners in Crime, with te­quila; Coin­treau and juices; and the Lock, Stock and Smoke, with Dil­lon’s Rye, Laphroaig sin­gle malt and orange and cho­co­late bit­ters. The care­fully cho­sen wines — spark­ing, white, red and orange — are mostly or­ganic and bio­dy­namic and from such bou­tique pro­duc­ers as Pearl Moris­sette from Ni­a­gara. The An­nex’s Com­mons, an­other culi­nary cor­ner open­ing in Jan­uary, will give fast food a good name. Big Trou­ble Pizza is known for the un­ex­pected like the But­ter Jam Jam with rasp­berry jam, but­ter cream and cheese; or the Kung-Funghi with enoki and Por­to­bello, spiced with truf­fle, chili and chives. And Seven Lives Tacos will do its own take on chicken, fish, shrimp and corn tacos, topped with salsa and cheese.

The stylish An­nex Lobby Bar op­er­ates from morn­ing cof­fee to evening cock­tails.

The An­nex’s rooms all are dif­fer­ent but each has lots of space.

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