For this week’s edition of #ThrowbackThursday we go back a full decade to the day we wandered around inside the final stage of renovation/restoration of East Hastings’ now 73 year-old Waldorf Hotel…
Ten years ago to the day I toured the mayhem that was the then imminent second coming of the Waldorf. The iconic building, together with its legendary Tiki Bar, would reopen as a ‘cultural incubator’ in just a few days under the management of Nuba restaurateur Ernesto Gomez, musician Thomas Anselmi and – for a brief period – chef Ned Bell and sommelier Kurtis Kolt. “There’s so much going on at this address that it’s hard to fathom fully in its as-yet-unfinished state,” read my notes from the day. “But all the pieces seem to be fitting together nicely, down to the analog speakers, rooms, cafe, salon, bar, gift shop and refreshingly left-field tiki vibe.”
Digging around Scout’s archive I found a copy of the new group’s creative brief, which I’ve excerpted below:
In 1955, capitalizing on an emerging interest in Tiki Culture, the complex was transformed into a “tiki” themed hotel. Original architects Mercer and Mercer restyled the existing decor, replacing the minimalist features of their original design with an exotic motif influenced by tribal cultures of the Polynesian islands. The newly renovated Waldorf quickly became known for providing a unique dining and entertaining experience that included authentic Polynesian cuisine, art, music and dancing. Catering to an affluent clientele of executives, citizens, visitors and guests, the hotel was an immediate success. This prosperity continued up until the 70s when, as the neighbourhood found itself in decline and its clientele began to shift down market. Several attempts to revive the hotel in the subsequent years have not been successful at restoring its iconic status […] The group see potential to re-enter the market as a boutique hotel, targeting a different clientele. A dominant trend in the hospitality industry over the past ten years, boutique hotels have emerged as a popular option for smaller sized properties looking to appeal to customers who wish to have a unique experience when visiting a hotel. In the local economy there are high-end hotels that have a “boutique” strategy but none that cater to a mid-range customer. In many other markets this positioning has proved very successful, examples include: The Drake in Toronto, The Ace in Seattle, The Jupiter in Portland. The Waldorf aims to offer the same type of cultural experience for a midrange price creating a totally unique positioning for itself in the local economy.
A falling out with the landlord would cause the new management group to exit after just two years, resulting in a lot of public anxiety about the possibility of the hotel being demolished to make way for condos — a dark day that has thankfully not yet come to pass.