Fairmont Royal York Hosts Grand Reopening of Redesigned, Gatsby-esque Library Bar

Library Bar's interior is dimly lit with leather, velvet, wood and marble textures.
Library Bar’s interior is dimly lit with leather, velvet, wood and marble textures.

Fairmont Royal York resurrected the heyday of cocktail culture in Toronto last night, with the reopening celebration for its redesigned Library Bar.

The Library Bar has a storied history, dating back to 1929 when Fairmont Royal York officially opened its doors. The cozy hangout has been closed since JAN 2020 to undergo a transformation as part of the historic hotel’s multi-year revitalization project, which kicked off in 2019 as part of the property’s 90th anniversary.

Brand new and reimagined dining venues, such as the Clockwork Champagne and Cocktails lobby lounge, contemporary event and meeting spaces, as well as a completely redefined Fairmont Gold concept are meant to make the hotel a destination in itself.

Library Bar’s redesign is part of that evolution.

Edwin Frizzell, Regional Vice President, Central Canada, and General Manager of Fairmont Royal York in front of the portrait of George Locke, chief librarian at the City of Toronto who hand-selected all the books for the hotel's opening in 1929. The painting was specially commissioned by Fairmont for the reopening of Library Bar.
Edwin Frizzell, Regional Vice President, Central Canada, and General Manager of Fairmont Royal York in front of the portrait of George Locke, chief librarian at the City of Toronto who hand-selected all the books for the hotel’s opening in 1929. The painting was specially commissioned by Fairmont for the reopening of Library Bar.

“Anywhere else in the world, people are drawn to hotels, but in North America, people go out of hotels to find the unique spaces the city has to offer. With the transformation, we wanted to draw people back to the hotel by bringing out the personality of each space,” Edwin Frizzell, Regional Vice President, Central Canada, and General Manager of Fairmont Royal York, told Open Jaw at the reopening.

“I’m very proud that we’re connecting the threads of the past generation and creating elements for current generations to connect with. We’ve put in so much care to make sure the details of the space resonate with people who know Fairmont Royal York really well, as well as those who aren’t as familiar with the brand.”

On 03NOV, Fairmont Royal York hosted an intimate evening of hors d’oeuvre, cocktails and martinis to celebrate the transformation and reopening of Library Bar. The night was a throwback to the golden age of cocktail culture in Canada and the high society parties of the 1920s.

As Library Bar’s trademark bevvy, the Birdbath Martini —made with Fairmont Royal York’s new signature vodka and gin, QUILL, created just for the occasion, no less— stole the show. The mixed drink is a reinvention of a decades-old cocktail by the hotel’s Director of Beverage, Rus Yessenov, and features notes of orange bitters and fleur du sel, with stunning presentation.

I opted for the Daydream, a deliciously sweet concoction where the subtle notes of coconut, vanilla, mint and lime seem to reveal themselves in order, as if on cue.

Walking into the Library Bar is like walking into a page of The Great Gatsby. The dimly-lit interior is defined by wood and marble elements, art deco paintings and accents, and leather and velvet textures. It feels like a lived-in, casual hideaway where you could host everything from a business meeting to an intimate date to a classy night out with friends.

Upon entering, you’re faced with a massive portrait of George Locke, the chief librarian for the City of Toronto when Fairmont Royal York was opening in 1929. Locke hand-picked all the books for the hotel’s opening, some of which are still found in the library room just above Library Bar.

“George Locke personifies Library Bar,” Jennifer Séguin, Fairmont Royal York’s Director of Marketing, tells Open Jaw.

Library Bar officially reopens to the public 04NOV, 2021.

Rebound is strong, but recovery still years off

Yesterday’s celebratory vibe didn’t give away that even a hospitality institution and heritage luxury brand like Fairmont Royal York felt the hit—and continues to feel the hit—from the almost-two year pandemic.

Leisure travellers have steadily increased at Fairmont Royal York as government restrictions lifted, even getting to near-full capacity some weekends, Frizzell says. But business and events travel—important revenue drivers for many hotels, and even more so for one located in Toronto’s Financial District, as is Fairmont Royal York—are still down.

Frizzell believes it’ll be another year or two until business and large events help the hotel recover to pre-COVID levels.

“It’s definitely on the rebound, but it will still take a few years to recover,” he says. “The important thing for our industry, and we’re happy to do it, is to make people feel confident with the right measures in place. That’s why for tonight’s event, we’re asking guests to wear masks when they’re not seated, show proof of vaccination status, and we have sanitary measures in place.”

Frizzell is optimistic the worst is behind hotels, saying Fairmont Royal York is poised for a positive 2022.

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