The Viceroy Hotel
120 W 57th Street, New York City
www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/newyork/

For ten years now I have been writing about hotels for The Gate and for newspaper travel pages, in addition to my last book. I have been in about as many hotels as the Gideon Bible and given that I have formed very definite, almost subconscious ways of determining if I am digging a hotel I am in–and that usually begins immediately with the way I am treated on my first approach to the front desk for check in.

If I am treated like I am approaching an agent at a customs desk or a bank official asking for a loan, it sets a tone for the whole stay, just the way being greeted with a genuine smile and being treated like a friend who is a guest in your home sets a tone as well–a feeling of comfort and relaxation.

Such can be said most emphatically for the new, and boldly ambitious hotel The Viceroy in New York City. A wonderful new hotel, and I do mean ‘new’ as this hotel is barely a year old and was built from scratch in the very middle of Manhattan.

The Viceroy is a tall, elegant looking building squeezed in between the Directors Guild of American building and the famed Russian Tea Room restaurant and it was designed and built in such a way that it appears to have been a part of that block forever.

The rooms and the suites are a combination of the high-tech and the comfortable; wood grain cool and efficiency that you would find in the cabins of luxury yachts (and this is not by accident, by the way). The beds are low to the ground and very comfortable, the windows large, and no matter what the size of your suite I guarantee you will never have had more storage and closet space in a hotel room ever before (also modeled after the way storage space is arranged in yacht cabins).

The bathrooms are big and luxurious with generous full sized amenities (from Neil George) and large walk in showers. Some of the suites even have porthole windows in the bathrooms that subtly add to the nautical feel. And the rooms and suites have one high-tech feature that I really found convenient–the Samsung smart device that acts not just as a telephone but also as an alarm clock, TV remote control and hand-held computer. Of course such devices are commonplace but what makes this particular one worthy of note is it is so easy to use, even by someone such as myself who gets easily frustrated when not being able to quickly figure out how to get the high-tech things working (I have been in new hotels that were so high-tech it took a computer science degree just to turn on the shower). I had this device figured out in seconds, which definitely added to the overall comfort and relaxation of being in the room.

It is often said that a new hotel rises or falls based on location, location, location–well, in the extremely competitive New York City hotel market The Viceroy has managed to secure itself one of the best locations imaginable. When you enter the lobby, before you arrive at the front desk, you will pass under a bronze map of Manhattan and there is a red jewel embedded in the map to indicate the location of where you are standing in The Viceroy, and it is geometrically almost dead centre of Manhattan. If you are a walker (and New York is a wonderfully walker-friendly town) then you could not pick a better place to be based–you are within blocks of Central Park, Fifth Avenue, Times Square, Bryant Park, the New York Public Library, and on and on.

The Viceroy Hotel, Suite 57 - Bathroom

The Viceroy Hotel, Suite 57 – Bathroom

I was particularly interested in the location and the fact that a brand new hotel was able to secure such an ideal one (even though The Viceroy is part of a renowned group of hotels in places like Los Angeles and the Caribbean). I sat down for an interesting chat with Viceroy General Manager in the comfortable Library lounge on the main floor– “In a market like New York City you aren’t really competing with every other hotel in the city, you are competing with the hotels that can be found in a few block radius around you,” explained Gerard Denneny.

“Many hotel guests coming to New York City want to be in a specific part of the city, so it is up to us to provide them with and experience that is everything they want, everything they need, and at a price that is reasonable–while adding in some unique little touches of our own on top of everything.”

Which is where the yacht cabin design scheme comes in. I asked Mr. Denneny if that was something that was incorporated out of practical necessity or was is more of an aesthetic decision. “Well, we had one of the top design firms in the world with us (Roman and Williams) so to answer your question, it was both,” said Gerard Denney. “As you mentioned, the closets and drawers and the arrangement of things in the rooms and suites is unique and practical, the way they are out of necessity on a yacht.”

I asked GM Denneny about the target guest demographic that the Viceroy attracts – “What we have done here is capture a kind of middle area between business travelers, leisure travelers, the artists, so our core demographic would be the 30 to 50s and beyond, the young at heart who are still adventurous and who are still explorers.”

For new hotels today it seems almost essential that your restaurants and clubs are good enough to attract a stand-alone crowd–attract customers well above and beyond those who are guests within the hotel. In less than one year the ground level restaurant, the Kingside, and the lounge and outdoor deck on top of the hotel, The Roof have already established themselves to such a degree that they are both constantly very busy. I visited The Roof at 5:00 on a Thursday afternoon and it was already crowded (you have to check out The Roof–there is something magical about sitting in a comfortable lounge chair outside with a drink and a snack and a spectacular view of Central Park below you).

The Viceroy is a cool, elegant, extremely comfortably addition to the New York City hotel landscape and one worth checking out no matter what your purpose or the duration of your stay in New York. The staff is all first rate, they are genuinely good at their jobs without being patronizing. For example–I asked a Doorman (and that I don’t know his name is my bad) if he could hail me a cab for the trip to LaGuardia Airport. He smiled and got right on it, but this was Friday afternoon in the dead centre of Manhattan so I was expecting a bit of a wait. This fellow disappeared up the block and then from sight. A couple of minutes later a cab pulled up in front of The Viceroy, our Doorman jumped out–he had run a few blocks from the hotel looking for a cab for us, then found one and jumped in himself and had the driver take him to us. At The Viceroy that is not service above and beyond, that is the service that is granted everyone with a nod and one of those cool New York smiles.

Comfortable meets distinguished at The Viceroy Hotel, New York City The Viceroy Hotel 120 W 57th Street, New York City www.viceroyhotelsandresorts.com/en/newyork/ For ten years now I have been writing about hotels for The Gate and for newspaper travel pages, in addition to my last book.

Toronto International Film Festival announces 59 films

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On Tuesday, July 22, the Toronto International Film Festival announced a few of the films that will debut this year, including 13 Galas and 46 Special Presentations.

Piers Handling, the CEO and director of TIFF, with Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the festival, led the press conference at TIFF Bell Lightbox, presenting trailers for some of the films, and answering questions from the media…

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Watch “Rob Ford” in ‘Sharknado 2: The Second One’

Watch “Rob Ford” in ‘Sharknado 2: The Second One’

Space has released a clip of our “favorite” “mayor” “Rob Ford” from his appearance in Sharknado 2: The Second One. No, that’s not the real Rob Ford, of course, but it’s still worth a chuckle.

The video is actually a clip from the exclusive Canadian version of Sharknado 2: The Second One, which splashes down July 30 at 9:00 PM (ET) on Space. Sharknado 2will air on SyFy in the U.S. at the same time.

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Matt Smith, William Shatner, Patrick Stewart to visit Fan Expo 2014

Matt Smith, William Shatner, Patrick Stewart to visit Fan Expo 2014

Whether you’re a fan of Star Trek, The Walking Dead, comic books, horror, video games, or even the classic series Twin Peaks, Fan Expo has some big names in store for you this year, Toronto.

From August 28 to 31, Fan Expo will welcome nerd heroes William Shatner and Patrick Stewart, Stan Lee, Nathan Fillion, Bruce Campbell, Matt Smith, Elijah Wood, Dave Bautista, and a slew of other actors and…

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Toronto was a lot colder back in February when I stepped onto the set of Netflix’s Hemlock Grove to meet nearly the entire cast for season two, plus new showrunner Charles “Chic” Eglee and members of the effects and wardrobe teams. The day was a full one, as set visits go, but it’s hard to complain about a long day when you get the chance to explore a set like Hemlock Grove.

Behind-the-scenes, Hemlock Grove has a space like just about any other set, but a couple of the set pieces are really exceptional. First off, Roman Godfrey’s new home is a stunner, and it’s the perfect way of expressing Roman’s character in a living space that feels cold and just a little alien while also screaming luxury and privilege. Likewise, the other stunning space is Roman’s office at the top of the White Tower. From inside the office, it’s a slick, creepy space, but from outside it, looking in through the windows, the set team has created the massive company name on the other side of the glass, allowing them to create impressive scale that you expect from the top of a tall corporate building.

After the set tour, and after chatting with the behind-the-scenes team, the cast came backstage to talk for about 15 minutes each, and that included newcomer Madeleine Martin (who plays Shelley Godfrey), followed by stars Bill Skarsgård (Roman Godfrey), Dougray Scott (Norman Godfrey), newcomer Madeline Brewer (playing Miranda Cates), Landon Liboiron (Peter Rumancek), Demore Barnes (Michael Chasseur), Joel de la Fuente (Dr. Johann Pryce), and of course Famke Janssen (Olivia Godfrey).

From the interviews, lots of details about the second season emerged, but of course Skarsgård revealed some of the more interesting facts as he chatted about Roman.

“Well, basically, he’s a junkie this year,” Skarsgård said of Roman. “He needs to drink blood and that’s an addiction for him. As opposed to last year, he was figuring out what he was, or who he was, but towards the end of it he becomes this thing and, yeah, he’s an addict.”

Going on, he explained that it’s not that Roman can’t eat anything else, but that he’s addicted to feeding on blood. That might be fairly obvious especially if you’ve seen the second season trailer that has been airing on television.

You’ll have to wait a bit longer though for more details from the set, but not too much longer.

Now that I can share the details from the set visit, and since I have so many audio clips with the cast, I’ve decided that this Friday I’ll be posting a special edition of the Media Box podcast (which has been on hiatus for a while) with clips from all of the interviews. I’m also happy to report that I’ll be sitting down on-camera with Famke Janssen and Chic Eglee next week as well, so you can expect that video later next week.

CBC departs from the usual with six-part sci-fi drama ‘Ascension’

CBC departs from the usual with six-part sci-fi drama ‘Ascension’

This fall the CBC will be shaking things up just a little bit with a series that bears little resemblance to what viewers have come to expect of the Canadian broadcaster. Announced last week, CBC will be airing the six-part Canadian-produced science fiction series Ascension, which was commissioned by Syfy in the U.S.

The new series, which began filming in Quebec just last week, will premier in…

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Photo: Big thanks to FX Canada for the signed copy of The Strain. Series premiers July 13!

Photo: Previewing holiday goodies with Canadian Tire and Christmas in July for press.

Just two years into teenagehood and The GATE is already throwing summer parties. Watch out, parents.

On Thursday June 26, 2014 The GATE celebrated it’s 14th year at the Great Hall with special guests Young Rival & Rival Boys–a rival showdown with no clear victor.   The intimate showcase of two of Ontario’s up and coming indie-rock groups gathered industry and fans alike to mark the occasion. With the generosity of the Government of Canada, The GATE threw an event aligned with the core of their mandate–giving credit and exposure to Canadian (and international) entertainment.

Openers, Rival Boys, (whose name is only mostly true), enticed the crowd to put down their snacks and gather around the stage.

Vocalist Lee Rose showed dimension with her chilling vocals and her skill with the violin, especially apparent in their song, “Young and Old”.

Lee’s brother and fellow band member Graeme Rose is an energetic guitar player with a commanding presence as he played. Hair flying, he threw himself into every song. It was difficult to figure out who to watch on stage.

The impossible to stand still to, “Sober and Single”, blended the Rose siblings’ vocals and gave drummer Sam Sholdice a chance to let loose on the drums.

Having listened to their EP Ice Storm the music was even better live. This band is obviously honing their craft.   Their just released Animal Instincts reflects the tight & captivating performance they gave at The Gate’s show.

Headliners, Young Rival delivered a strong set. Their interaction with the audience, tight arrangements, and energetic style made me little surprised that the Hamilton-based band has garnered a heavy fanbase.

With a sound reminiscent of Montreal darling Sam Roberts, mixed with some occasional Beatles flavour, Young Rival’s music makes you bop your head without even knowing you’re doing it.

Aron D’Alesio (vocals and guitar), John Smith (bass), and Noah Fralick (drums) come across as a BAND. Here’s what I mean by that, on stage no one is pulling focus, no one is doing more work, having more fun, engaging more with the audience. They are all up there, beers in hand, having a good time.

They played a good mix from their previous EPs and the teaser, “Elevator”, is a taste of what’s to come on their new release

“Two Reasons”, though two years old,is still a perfect summer driving-with-the-windows down song. Buy. Play. Repeat.   September will be here before you know it.

But the winner of the night for me was “I Just Can’t Stay Here”. Who knew a song about (I assume) being dumped could sound so fun?

With year fifteen on the horizon, rest assured your friends at The GATE have something up their fantastic sleeves. I hope I am invited.

Photos by Christian Bobak.

Review: Young Rival & Rival Boys at The GATE’s 14th Anniversary Just two years into teenagehood and The GATE is already throwing summer parties. Watch out, parents.

This summer I’ve been trying something new, at least for me. I used to cart around my big, full-frame camera everywhere, but I’m now trying to just take my phone with me everywhere to snap memorable life-moment sort of photos. These are the kinds of photos I take because I like to look back and see random things I did with my family, or other adventures covering events for The GATE.

Don’t get me wrong, there is really no replacing my amazing camera–it’s a wonder–but my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 does a wonderful job for the day-to-day moments that I want to capture, and it goes places I don’t always want to drag my camera. Plus, I can post right to Facebook fro it, and thanks to the apps I use, I also always have backups of those photos and videos that I take right on my desktop and laptop.

The camera on the Galaxy Note 3 is an all-around great option for taking photos in almost every condition. The image stabilization helps a lot, especially for darker conditions, and there are multiple modes depending on what you’re trying to shoot, but the auto mode works well overall. The panorama and surround shot are great for capturing big scenes, and then there are modes for beauty face, best photo, sound with a shot, or HDR for scenes that are both dark and bright.

The camera quality is also great if you’re like me and want to capture a lot of video. You can see my footage of Lorde at the MMVAs for a sample of that.

The Galaxy Note 3 is also handy if I want to snap a photo of something and then made notes on it to send to family or for work, thanks to the S Pen stylus and built-in apps for editing on-the-fly.

Of course, I do have my complaints with the camera on the Note 3. Zooming in does not provide the best image quality, the camera doesn’t always get the best shots in dark conditions (like concerts), and it could be just a notch faster at taking photos, but these are all minor flaws, and they’re fairly universal to camera phones. I still wouldn’t trade in my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 for anything else since I love the huge screen size, Android, and all of Samsung’s built-in features on the device.

Otherwise, you can see some of the photos I take while I’m out covering things for The GATE in the Samsung Snaps category (or over on The GATE’s Instagram or my personal Instagram), but I thought I should share some more shots for a change, since I don’t always post everything from my phone here on the site.

Here are some random personal photos, travel shots, and photos from press events. Let me know what you think of the photos below in the comments, or tweet me a few of your own.

Getting snappy with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 This summer I’ve been trying something new, at least for me. I used to cart around my big, full-frame camera everywhere, but I’m now trying to just take my phone with me everywhere to snap memorable life-moment sort of photos.