A view of the Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower looming over it all (Photo: Thinkstock)
“I haven’t been up here since I was 12,” a party-goer said as we were shuttling more than 1,800 feet up in the world’s highest elevator with glass panels in the CN Tower.
Looking out from the CN Tower (Photo: Thinkstock)
“I haven’t been up since I was seven,” a man in black tie bested from the corner.
It was one of several elevators — only 58 seconds to the top — that would be carrying such high-fliers as Denzel Washington and Richard Gere. The stars had come at the behest of Armani, who was throwing a bash for the Toronto International Film Festival (aka TIFF). But for locals, the affair had another curiosity-soaked allure: the chance to party in an edifice that looms above everything as the symbol of the city. Like the Eiffel Tower or the Empire State Building, Toronto’s CN Tower is largely the purview of tourists, taken for granted when you live here. Turns out, it’s a pretty swell place to party.
Toronto’s skyline, dominated by the CN Tower (Photo: Thinkstock)
“It’s amazing up here,” Jessica Chastain told me when I bumped into her at the shindig, as DJ Mark Ronson played and the city swirled around us. Listening to the two-time Oscar nominee, I was reminded of the extent to which Toronto becomes a fun-house mirror during the annual circus that is TIFF. For residents, it’s a chance to see the town through the eyes of others, as the city is festooned with hundreds of celebs, execs, producers, tweetholic journalists, corralling flacks, and close-up-ready scenesters.
Toronto’s hottest spots use this opportunity to flaunt themselves, while new haunts also make their debuts. Here are just some of the places that made headlines this year.
WHERE TO STAY
Robert Downey Jr. and Al Pacino at Momofuku, in the Shangri-La Hotel (Photo: Getty Images)
This lustrous 66-story glass tower with East Asian notes has a lobby scene that is particularly buoyant during TIFF. Giving it some extra oomph is that it also houses Momofuku, the epic Canadian offshoot of David Chang’s famous eatery, consisting of three distinct restaurants (steamed buns, anyone?). One of the MVPs of TIFF, Jake Gyllenhaal, was spotted off-duty grabbing noodles there one night. Another night, in the restaurant’s glass cube-like room known as Daisho, I spotted the likes of Al Pacino and Robert Downey Jr.
The Living Room at the Windsor Arms Hotel (Photo: Courtesy of the Windsor Arms Hotel/Facebook)
A classic as far as hotels go and discreetly fancy-fants in tone, the Windsor Arms was the site of the annual InStyle/Hollywood Foreign Press Association party, bringing out such boldface names as Salma Hayek, Naomi Watts, and Ben Stiller. Nestled in a beaux-arts building, it has rooms that lean toward the prim; it’s also a place known for its luxurious afternoon tea, served in a majestic purple room.
WHERE TO DRINK
Keira Knightley at Soho House. (Photo: Getty Images)
The eye of the TIFF storm was Soho House, the two-year-old Toronto chapter of the jet-set-centric club. The cascade of celebs at the pre-parties, post-parties, and in-between-parties, set inside a genteel four-story building from the 1800s, spanned the gamut from Keira Knightley to Reese Witherspoon. One moment I was running into the naughty Cara Delevingne; the next, I was face-to-face with Jon Stewart, who was thunder-struck with the politesse sprung on him. (“Canada, I thought you were being sarcastic with the friendliness. To a New Yorker, it’s almost upsetting,” I heard him quip.)
Benedict Cumberbatch at the Calvin Bar (Photo: Getty Images)
Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum had a bromance bloom at the Calvin Bar, the spiffy lobby watering hole at the Trump Toronto in the Financial District that is know for its classic cocktails. (The theme continued on the same night, where Robert Pattinson and Andrew Garfield were spotted bonding in the hotel’s main restaurant 33 floors up.)
WHERE TO EAT
Campagnolo (Photo: Virginia MacDonald/Courtesy of Campagnolo)
Will Ferrell snuck away from the mayhem of the festival with dinner at this in-the-know spot in the crunchy neighborhood known as “Little Portugal.” (Coincidentally, it’s the same neighborhood where another funnyman, Adam Sandler, was spotted a few nights later at a restaurant down the street called Hudson Kitchen.) Campagnolo chef Craig Harding takes inspiration from his grandmother for artisanal rustic dishes like boar ragu.
Cluny (Photo: Courtesy of Cluny/Facebook)
Tina Fey and the gang — that gang being Jason Bateman, Connie Britton, and Adam Driver, among others) — hit a new, Marais-like bistro called Cluny, away from the wandering eyes of autograph-hounds, and located in a cobblestoned patch of town known as ‘The Distillery.’
Soto Sotto (Photo: Courtesy of Soto Soto/Facebook)
Heck, even Justin Bieber was back home last week, setting Instagram into overdrive when he showed up for dinner at old-school Sotto Sotto, a subterrean restaurant with Anne Rice-like lighting. Juxtapositions being strange at this time of year, this is also where the legendary Martin Scorsese dined a few nights later. Come for the eggplant parmigiano, stay for the eavesdropping.
The roasted chicken at Montecito (Photo: Courtesy of Montecito)
Sigourney Weaver got a personal tour of this restaurant by director Ivan Reitman — who just happens to own this brand-new and seriously buzzy joint. Comfy Californian cuisine is its wheelhouse, and the roasted chicken has many admirers.
Byblos (Photo: Courtesy of Byblos/Facebook)
A parade of stars hit this newish, Lebanese-themed restaurant inside the Storys Building, including indie duo Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Best best: one of the round booths on the second floor. Some swear by the rib eye with Za’atar butter and smoked eggplant puree.
Patria (Photo: Courtesy of Patria/FaceBook)
It’s about the paella in this vast, cosmo-Madrid restaurant, but even that couldn’t compete with the ultimate sighting during the Fest: that of of Bill Murray leading a conga line. It’s where he also engaged in a dance-off — with Kristen Wiig!
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