The first surprise is the bridge.
Arching above the steel truss of the Queen Street Viaduct are the words “This river I step in is not the river I stand in.” Installed in 1996 by local artist Eldon Garnet and inspired by the philosophy of Heraclitus, it’s a meditation on constant change, and something I’ve missed in my previous visits to the city’s east end, which have always been on the subway. Today, however, I’m walking from Union Station and can see not only the bridge but also my destination just beyond it — the new Broadview Hotel, the latest incarnation of a landmark 19th-century building in the Riverside neighbourhood.
I’m still thinking about Garnet’s installation as I pass beneath the marquee lights of the Broadview’s entrance and into a cool, dimly-lit space that echoes with snippets of conversation from the café and bar on the north side of the lobby. The last time I was in Riverside, in 2013, the Romanesque-style building at the corner of Broadview and Queen still housed a down-at-heel strip club called Jilly’s, which the top Yelp review archived by Google helpfully describes as “the elephant graveyard of the adult entertainment world.”
In the intervening years, the property was purchased by a condo developer, Streetcar Developments, and underwent a restorative facelift to become the Broadview, a 58-room boutique hotel that since opening in July has become a neighbourhood hot spot, in large part thanks to its spectacular rooftop lounge.
“Before this project was even a possibility, this neighbourhood was changing and growing, and amazing things were happening,” says Murray Henderson, the Broadview’s general manager. We’re sitting at a table in the rooftop lounge. To the west, the towers of downtown are hazy silhouettes in the late afternoon sun; to the east, low red-and-brown brick buildings meld with a canopy of green. “It’s stylish, it’s creative, it’s colourful, it’s historic, and we just wanted to be a part of it.”
Built in 1891 by Arthur Dingman, a Toronto entrepreneur and future Alberta oil magnate, the building at 106 Broadview Avenue was always intended to be a showpiece for Riverside. Known as Dingman Hall at the time, it initially housed a vibrant mixture of retail, residential and meeting spaces, including the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Bicycle Club. As the tallest building east of the Don River, it was both a literal and figurative beacon for visitors to the community.
“It’s stylish, it’s creative, it’s colourful, it’s historic, and we just wanted to be a part of it.”
In that sense, the hotel brings the property full circle, and immense care was taken to both preserve its architectural heritage and infuse the interior with an air of hip timelessness through thoughtful design touches. Each room has a turntable and a selection of vinyl LPs curated by the nearby Tiny Record Shop (I’m delighted to find a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in my room). Mid-century public phones in the hallways still advertise 10-cent local calls but connect directly to the front desk. Potted succulents are everywhere, some hanging in macramé planters that manage to look chic instead of cheesy. And, visitors curious about the Broadview’s long history can simply take the stairs between floors, where murals by local design agency Supermilk provide a visual chronology of the building and the east end, from the Dingman Hall era to the Jilly’s heyday, when a tiger once took the stage as part of a touring “Exotic Circus” act.
“We want locals to be able to come in here and see this as a beautiful, upscale hotel, but still one that is totally for the community,” Henderson says. “At the same time, it’s exciting knowing that there are people from all over the world who are coming and staying in the neighbourhood and experiencing it with a completely fresh set of eyes.”
Fast facts: Broadview Hotel
Price per night: Starting at $309 for a traditional room
Neighbourhood: Riverside, Toronto East
Amenities: Full-service dining room, lobby café and bar, rooftop lounge, business centre, free access to offsite gym, free Wi-Fi
Vibe: Relaxed, artsy, fun