Homo away from Home: The Gladstone Hotel
The Gladstone has consistently maintained a strong community orientation. In the process, it has become a central meeting place for Toronto’s West End Queer community.
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It has continuously operated in Toronto for over 120 years. Its renovation helped spur the redevelopment of a neighbourhood. But for years, the Gladstone Hotel was falling apart in Toronto’s formerly dodgy west end neighbourhood, slowly decaying among the empty lots and car washes. Many of Toronto’s other Victorian grand hotels – like the recently destroyed Empress Hotel – have been lost. Without intervention, the Gladstone Hotel would have soon been one of them.
Enter Christina Zeidler. Christina is an openly queer, award-winning filmmaker. Owning the Gladstone was never really part of the plan; she has said she became “an accidental hotelier.” Her family brought the property in 2003, and she was inspired by its potential. “Every town has an old hotel like this that you think, if I could just get my hands on it, it could be so cool,” she has said. “Well, I got my wish, and I had the chance to turn this place around.”
While it had been decaying, the Gladstone still had some architecturally beautiful features left. This included its hand-operated elevator: only two of which remain in Toronto. From these good bones, Zeidler added an eclectic touch by bringing in thirty-seven different local artists to individually decorate each of the hotel’s rooms. In 2005, the hotel reopened to general acclaim. Since then, it and the nearby Drake Hotel have become the centrepieces of the transformation of Toronto’s West End from industrial wasteland to cultural hotspot.
But while the Drake became a sort of see-and-be-seen place among the glitterati, the Gladstone has consistently maintained a much stronger community orientation. In the process, it has become a central meeting place for Toronto’s West End Queer community. The Gladstone regularly throws events ranging from Granny Boots – a queer cabaret night/curated performance event – to art exhibitions such as artist Sholem Krishtalka’s Pride 2011 That’s So Gay exhibition. The hotel also hosted the memorial for Will Munro, one of Toronto’s biggest queer community builders. And it has become a local favourite for same-sex wedding receptions.
Its location is smack dab in the centre of the Queer West community: it is two doors down from Queen West’s other major queer bar/restaurant, the Beaver. And it’s a short jaunt down the street from the West End’s lesbian bar, the Hen House. Aside from the owner, many of the Gladstone’s employees are queer, including the Gladstone’s creative director, Jeremy Vandermeij, and bartender, unofficial “mayor” of Queer West, and all-around nice person, Sandy De Almeida. Jeremy says Queen West’s Queer scene and the Gladstone offer something unique for the queer visitor or resident: “a community of creative people who often have very diverse politics, beliefs, gender identities and sexualities.” As Christina herself has said, “It is ‘for real’ gay here. We do not have just a policy of acceptance, but one of true diversity, where staff is openly gay if they want to be and interact in an authentic way with guests.”
For those looking to visit, it should be noted that the Melody Bar is being spruced up this summer. Some events may be cancelled, or not running regularly. Vandermeij says that they should – depending on the situation with the contractors – be fully open in September, with a fresh batch of queer event programming. But if you are thinking of visiting, you are advised to phone ahead to make sure you are aware of the renovation situation at this jewel of a gay-friendly hotel.
Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto 416.531.4635