The Gladstone Hotel’s Melody Bar Relaunches

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If you’re in Accordion City and find yourself down West Queen West way, make it a point to stop by the Gladstone Hotel and take a peek inside the Melody Bar, which “relaunches” this week. Starting last night and ending this Sunday, there’ll be an event every night to mark the Melody Bar’s new look and menu. I dropped in yesterday evening to catch the grand re-opening of my favourite recovering dive bar.

Along with its rival-in-reinvention down the street, The Drake Hotel, the Gladstone has become the symbol of the transformation of the neighbourhood from “Crackdale” to “Beaconsfield Village”. As the Gladstone started sprucing up when designer Christina Zeidler took it over a mere six years ago, so did the rest of the neighbourhood. Queen Street between Dufferin and Ossington became a place you went to, rather than through.

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If you’re a long-timer who drank could-be-colder-but-cheap bottles of “50” in the bar’s more, er, aromatic flophouse era, the Melody Bar will still be recognizable. The layout’s still the same, with the bar still along the east wall, the green marbled pillars still roughly bisecting the room and mischief zone in the back. It will seem bigger, thanks to that tried-and-true interior designer trick of making the room lighter in colour. The formerly dark ceiling has been painted white, the brown trim above the bar is now silver, the banquettes have been reupholstered to a lighter colour and the dark parquet on the floor got ripped up to expose the lighter-coloured old-school-hotel terrazzo underneath.

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The end result is that the place looks and feels a good deal loungier. It also looks good during the day, a feat that older incarnations of the Melody Bar would never be able to pull off, especially those prior to 2005. It would be tempting to start waxing nostalgic for the “good old days” of the Melody’s old dive-bar feel, but that torch has been passed to other bars in the zone bookended by and surrounding the Gladstone and Drake. (This tippler recommends the nearby Double Deuce Saloon, which not only does “dive bar” very well, but carries cheap and plentiful cans of Steigl and has one very raucous-yet-friendly karaoke night on Thursdays.)

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I arrived at last night’s party at 7:00 p.m., when the place was packed like cordwood, with barely enough room to move about (I took the photos in this article closer to 9:30, when the crowd had thinned out a bit). The crowd was incredibly varied, from jacketed-and-tied occidental salarymen to women in cocktail party dresses to the usual West Queen West ironic-t-shirt-and-skinny-jeans usual suspects, with many faces I’d never seen before.

“Have I been away that long?” I asked my friend Andrea, who was also there. “The crowd looks…different.”

“It’s the most eclectic crowd I’ve seen here,” she replied, looking about between sips of slightly-too-sweet open-bar white wine.

I had a grand old time with the new faces, striking up a number of conversations – a good number of them accordion-initiated – with complete strangers. It is, to my mind, anyway, half the fun of going to a party.

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Farther back, you’ll find larger wooden tables surrounded by bright red chairs; this is where the Melody goes from “lounge” to “hip charcuterie meets startup boardroom”. That may not be the designer’s intent, but speaking as a guy who works at a startup and loves charcuteries, this is what came to mind when I first saw it.

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At the far end of Melody are the couches for some serious lounging and related mischief. Above one of the couches is a photo of a guy in black tie participating in a classic treatment for a hangover.

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I’m sure that sooner or later, this couch will end up as the scene of a story in this blog. If history and my bizarre luck are any indication, it will probably involve a girl and be high-larious…in retrospect.

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At about 8:30, Jeremy Vendermeij, the Gladstone’s Creative Director (and creator of hotel events such as Tweetgasm) took the stage and introduced hotel President Christine Zeidler. She thanked her crew for a great job on renovating the Melody and presented special awards to two members of her staff for their work on the project.

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Do good work, get a tiara. That sounds fair.

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It’s not a Toronto Urban Event That Matters unless Rannie “Photojunkie” Turingan has been assigned a makeshift photo studio somewhere in the venue. Since this event fell perfectly into that category, Rannie was one room over in the brightly-lit Art Bar, photographing attendees in the convenient corner.

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Now that I’m back in Toronto and working as an even-more-mobile worker than I did during my tenure at The Empire, I’m looking for “third places” in which to work. While my home office is a great workplace, it’s isolated. Sometimes, that’s nice; other times, I want to have some human contact at work, and a mid-workday change of scene is often what I need to stay motivated. The Melody Bar offers free wifi, and it seems that people are encouraged to work and even hold meetings there during the day. I may just have to hold some office hours there.

And now, full disclosure. I was invited to the event by Danielle Iversen, who handle promotions for The Gladstone. But hey, ask anyone who was there: I was having a ball!

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