MONTREAL – For a minute I thought I was in the wrong hotel.
I was supposed to be checking into the Renaissance Hotel downtown. But when I opened the doors I was looking at a large grey and charcoal sofa dotted with orange pillows and a brilliant yellow table. Hanging from an overhead beam was a swing done up with a seat in multiple colour stripes.
Over in the corner was a sleek metallic bookcase fronted by 1960’s-styled grey chairs with more rainbow pillows. Behind that was a wall covered with a series of colourful and evocative photos; Nelson Mandela, a tattooed naked woman and black and white urban streetscapes.
It’s not the sort of image one might conjure up with a Renaissance hotel, part of the Marriott chain that now also includes Starwood Properties and Delta Hotels in Canada. But the Renaissance folks are trying to create a brand image, and the trendy Montreal property is part of the remake. Some might feel they’re trying a bit too hard, but it felt to me like a cross between a W Hotel and the trendy Ace hotels that one finds in New York, Palm Springs and other U.S. destinations. And I give them full marks for trying to spruce up the brand and give it an identity in a crowded marketplace.
The look continued in my room, where I was confronted with a large print that looked like an Andy Warhol treatment of David Bowie, with brilliant orange and red streaks. There was an equally striking print on the neighboring wall, and even a mock graffiti mural inside the closet, which sported a black bathrobe. Over in a corner, on the generously-sized desk, was a cocktail shaker and cool drinking glasses. The bedroom area had a swirling outline of a human head climbing the wall behind the bed and onto the ceiling.
And so it went. Every time I turned around I spotted a bright cushion or some quirky light fixture or some design bit that screamed “Instagram.” Not to mention nice Aveda bath amenities, a fine rain shower and a super comfortable bed.
“Our Renaissance brand recently announced its new global “Fearlessly Chic” design philosophy where indigenous touch points infused into the design of each unique Renaissance hotel capture a spirit of wanderlust to inspire guests to explore the neighbourhood and discover the unexpected, said Michelle Bozoki, VP of Marketing and Digital for Canada, Marriott International. “Whether through the walls of the hotel adorned with art from local graffiti artists, or restaurant reservations made through the services of the hotel’s navigators, the Renaissance Montreal Downtown Hotel allows guests to uncover the soul of Montreal and experience the people, sights, sounds, tastes and art of the local culture that makes this great Canadian city unique.”
The cool theme I found in my room and in the lobby is continued on the roof, where there’s a small seasonal plunge pool, potted palm trees and a series of brilliant outdoor chairs in shades of yellow, orange and vivid pink. The views of downtown are quite nice, and there’s a large bar on the roof that can be partly closed off in winter to shield folks from the cold.
Again, it had a very New York kind of feel to it; something I haven’t seen a great deal of on previous visits to Montreal.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d like the restaurant at the hotel, called East Pan Asiatique. They offer a wide variety of Asian-style dishes, and I’m usually leery of restaurants that try to do too many types of food. But everything I had was lovely, and some of the dishes were exceptional.
The miso soup was hot and comforting, and was served in a beautiful black lacquer bowl. I had Chinese shao mai with immense pieces of lobster and a lemongrass sauce that was lovely and quite different. Some shao mai at Chinese dim sum places can be rubbery and unpleasant, but this was moist and perfect. The black cod was simply out of this world, tender as can be with bok choy, soba, sake, white miso and ginger.
The waiter explained they try to put an Asian spin on their drinks, too. I can attest to the Asian Boulevard, which comes with Glenmorangie 10-year-old Scotch, Campari, Martini Rosso, sake and kumquats. Yum and yum again. Other options include the Shanghai Politain, with Belvedere vodka, sake, dragonfruit, elderflower and raspberry puree, lime and ginseng bitters.
A very cool hotel that’s a short block off Rue Saint-Catherine and walking distance to most major Montreal attractions.