Initially my excitement about visiting Toronto this weekend was the train ride to get here. It turns out that travel by train isn’t far removed from travel by plane. It is but another example of public transportation. There is still the panic to get to the station on time; the lineup to board; the fuss to find one’s seat (and squeeze around those in the aisle trying to stow their bags in the overhead compartments); the babble about who wants the window seat; the gymnastics to get into the seat; and finally the manipulation of the seat to its best advantage.
Sure, they offer drinks. And lunch. And dessert. And the forks weren’t plastic. And the arm rests are separated from the adjacent seat. But there’s the inescapable race for completion. There’s the wobbly career to the bathroom where the handrail has a purpose. The chatter from the other passengers becomes a blur. It’s a missile in one direction and arrival can’t come soon enough. As well the pronouncement of graffiti became more frequent as we approached the larger urban centres after having done the milk-run stops at Brockville, Kingston, Napanee, Belleville, Coburg and Port Hope.
My passage from the train platform in Toronto to the Royal York hotel was however singular. Thanks to His Lordship’s planning, I was wheeled in a chair by an extremely accommodating VIA Rail employee. He was undeterred and relentless in the face of seething Friday night congestion, passengers and automobiles. He succeeded to get me across Front Street onto a lift from the side entrance of the hotel into the main lobby where we settled up. From there we shot up to the 18th floor for check-in to our suite in Fairmont Gold.
The preliminary target in the hotel after acquainting ourselves with the suite was the steam bath. It was closed for “preventative maintenance”. I had expected as much notwithstanding having been assured by someone at the Front Desk days ago when I telephoned that everything was in order. I shall try again today to see what If anything has changed. Yesterday I substituted the sauna for the steam bath. It wasn’t the heat I prefer but it qualified by inviting a refreshing shower afterwards.
Upon returning to the lounge on the 18th floor I learned that food service had stopped moments earlier at seven o’clock. I hesitatingly descended to the lobby for further investigation. My instinct was right. The place was ablaze with weekend revellers. There was loud music seemingly coming from everywhere. I could see from a distance that Reine, the main dining room, was jammed. So I ascended instead the several stairs nearby the Library Lounge at the west end of the lobby. To my surprise the desk clerk confirmed there was a full dinner menu; and, she directed me to a table between two others.
It was here that things took off! While the menu included oysters Rockefeller, I had by rote asked instead for a dozen oysters on the half-shell. The waiter – curiously I thought at first – said it was not on the menu but that he would see if he could secure the order from the main kitchen. I naturally objected to this extravagance, saying the oysters Rockefeller were fine (which they were not), but he insisted upon trying. And a good thing! The Prince Edward Island oysters were divine! They had been shucked to perfection! With a simple squeeze of fresh lemon juice on all twelve I was off and swooning!
Following this exemplary expedition I moved on to halibut with an exotic concoction. Again superb! Because I was dining alone I asked the waiter whether in view of the anticipated crowds tomorrow we were able to reserve at table for two tomorrow. He hesitated but said he would ask around. After I settled my account (with appropriate gratuity) the waiter advised a table would be prepared for us tomorrow at 6:30 pm sharp. By this time my confederate had returned from his duties on nearby Pembroke Street and located me thanks to my prior text message which I had anxiously sent before my phone died. We reiterated that we would arrive together tomorrow promptly as requested. My speculation is that the place will be busy. Although it might yet be possible to book a table at the Reine restaurant, it is basically a re-run of the former Epic restaurant which we frequented eight years ago when we were last in Toronto. Apparently the hotel renovations were completed in 2019, changes which were as well reflected in the modernized rooms and suites including the Fairmont Gold lounge.
This morning we enjoyed a gratifying breakfast at the Fairmont Gold lounge. The orange juice, coffee, bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs could not have been better. Afterwards I attempted a walk down to the lobby and out the front door onto Front Street which today was remarkably quieter than yesterday’s five o’clock traffic. But my mobility is worsening by the day. By the time I had walked along the full width of the hotel I was pining for somewhere to sit. But I would first have to repeat yesterday’s stretch to the main elevators at the other end of the lobby.
It is now apparent that my tour of Toronto will be of a confined nature. This does not overwhelmingly disturb me because I value the exposure to detail. There is besides nothing in Toronto without which I cannot survive – as lovely as they are, the small passenger ferries going back and forth between the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and The Toronto Islands. This I peered at through a window on the 18th floor of the hotel while drinking my coffee this morning during breakfast in the lounge.
Just a bit of useless information. My father was a steel worker and helped build the Royal York, my mother worked as a waitress when it opened and I could watch people swimming in the pool from my office window in the Royal Trust Tower. I also watched the chef picking vegetables and herbs from the roof top garden. Small world, I met him years later in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia where he was a chef at a restaurant I was at.
It has been 22 years since I walked through the Royal York during lunch hour and your blog has brought back many other memories. Thanks.