Toronto's Yorkville district is where the yellow brick road ends and the Emerald City begins. In Yorkville, you don't orient yourself by street signs but brands. Lettieri. Pet Boutique. Linda Lundtsrom. Roots. Hemingway's. Once a small village of Victorian row and other small houses, Yorkville is now essentially an open air mall for high spending, high fashion types from all over the world.
Walking in the heart of midtown up Bay St. towards the street called Yorkville, one condo stands out like a visual candy cane on a plate of vegetables - 1 St. Thomas .
This white knight condo sits on the corner of St. Thomas one block south of Bloor and one west of Bay. Its white stone and black iron facade are a stark contrast to the dull brownish towers that frame it from Bay. Indeed, its styling strongly evokes medieval Europe as you enter its arching gateway and marvel at the large glass and dark metal lights that hang from its walls like torches.
The tiled blue and gray driveway curves in a gentle L shape towards Carl Tacon's marble sculpture of rippling curtain fabric that runs the length of the driveway, the awesome awning of clear plastic and green steel, Romanesque pillars and the huge dark wooden doors that give this condo the feeling of a European resort or refurbished castle.
Edward, the doorman, stands in the small entrance enclosure which leads to the vestibule with its lounge couch, stuffed chairs and electronic entrance, and past that to the lobby decorated with a Renaissance style painting and a mixture of exquisite stuffed leather chairs and 1920s deco ones. The gold paint on the walls, he says, is made with real gold.
"The pool is like something from a Roman villa," he tells me. "Not really big, but well done."
1 St. Thomas is not quite finished and workers stream in and out on this cold April afternoon, but residents have already bought in. For the price of these condos only the stinking rich, or at least the well-ripened wealthy, should apply. And most of those applicants are older.
Retired couple Doug and Anne Lunau bought in after extensive research into the condo market.
"It's so close to the Bloor Street shops and restaurants, the theatres," Anne gushes. "It's as close to New York style living as you can get in Toronto."
The building was designed by NY architect Robert Stern, she adds, and has a "Madison Avenue feel the way it tiers back, the limestone and wrought iron front. It's a very friendly neighborhood."
1166 Bay Street, just south of Bloor opens with the big electric doors of a high end hotel and sustains that impression with a decorous lobby. Patterned marble floors, Persian rugs, faux ancient Greek urns, warm woods and deep colors give this place a homey, community feeling, like Central Perk for retired, but active, wealthy and conservatively tasteful friends.
A frequent visitor to 1166, Gabriella Saxe owns the language school she founded a few blocks away.
"There's a large variety of people here from all walks of life. Busy people. They're always rushing in and out," she says.
I pose a game show question. If you were to compare living in this building to music, what kind would it be?
She considers this seriously. "Frank Sinatra. It's mellow, easy going and has a wide appeal."
Yorkville is a short street, only about six blocks from end to end, and what was the city's Haight-Ashbury of hippies and folk singers back in the 1960s now preens with haute couture and Wm. Ashley fine china.
The four corners at Yorkville and Bay are marked by Specchio's high end women's shoes, the sidewalk patio of a large Starbucks, Jasmine's fine jewelry and the Pangaea restaurant featuring Canadiana ala mode cuisine from locally sourced produce, an extensive wine rack, environmentally-conscious meats, fish and fowl and stunning architecture and artwork.
110 Bloor casts a stone walkway inside the enclosed lower mall area of this condo that leads to its Yorkville driveway and the Nike logo that sits over the entrance and its semi-circular stone and glass security station that arches like a watch tower over the outside.
The thatch work of steeling tubing under the clear plastic shelter adds a raw feel to the entrance which is softened by the fresh flowers set in a vase inside the lobby. It's a small lobby, about 20 ft x 20 ft, peopled by a doorman and concierge, and some stuffed leather chairs.
The concierge describes 110 as "classical music, like opera."
He compares the 50+ crowd of whites and Asians who live there this way because, "once you reach that standard of wealth you have to listen to that."
But, he adds, the people here are lively and most have made it their home for 25+ years.
As I approach the heart of Yorkville's Tokyo glow of illuminated poster advertisements and stores, past the stone and pine tree garden, rock hill and street vendors, The Hazelton Hotel at 118 Yorkville beckons.
A velvet rope-lined walkway and the friendly Black doorman make walking in feel like a club entrance.
The high ceiling and stainless steel sculpture of stacked luggage bags in the narrow vestibule begins the transition of impressions. Towering doors open automatically leading to a luxurious lobby of dazzling artwork, designer furniture, rugs with gold weaves and a sense of spaciousness in deeply colored enclosure.
The walls of their alcove are lined - floor to ceiling - with real cowhide including the soft hairs.
There are 77 hotel rooms and just 16 condos in this recently opened five star residence.
One resident, Dave, calls it a "gilded soft rock station."
Indeed, beyond its beige and brown stone front is the ONE restaurant with its internationally-known chef, private screening rooms that would have impressed the Warner Brothers, a spa lined with imported Bissaza mosaic tiles and meticulous detailing and design all around.
Hazelton Lane branches off Yorkville like a European street. Its clustering of art galleries makes this the only stretch of a Toronto street that stands with sculptures decorating the tree lined walk and paintings poking provocatively past panes of glass.
One of the older condos in the area, 18 Yorkville is part of the Hazelton Lanes mall and its small doorway opens from a walkway off Hazelton and a walk down stairway of red ceramic tiles.
The tiny lobby is half squeezed by the concierge's post and just beyond this narrow stretch of hallway, elevators are visible.
Alec, the elderly captain of the front tells me people here don't talk to him much "past the usual polite hello. They just rush past."
Yorkville's "what used to be called a Yuppie neighborhood - young people who are doing well and lots of fashionable clothing, fashionable restaurants and fashionable dogs. Nice cars, too."
It's "not really friendly except among the rich. Maybe you'd call it old, cold money. I used to live near here a few years ago. I moved."