Hotel Review: A King Room at the Renaissance Montreal
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To The Point
The Renaissance Montreal represents a trend-driven departure from the brand’s more staid image. The Pros: Central location, cool décor, knowledgeable staff. The Cons: Loud halls and so-so dining outlets.
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Montreal is one of my favorite North American destinations, thanks to its busy festival calendar, exciting restaurant scene and beautiful outdoor attractions. When I learned I would be spending a weekend there earlier this fall, I started looking around for a new hotel to check out where either my points or elite status would help make my stay memorable. That’s how I settled on the Renaissance Montreal.
A Little Background
The hotel opened in January 2016 and the central location — in the city’s business district, not far from Place Ville Marie, shopping on Rue Ste. Catherine, the Places des Arts entertainment district and a short walk from McGill University — made it ideal for my short visit.
The hotel’s 12-story building dates back to 1951, when it originally belonged to Canada Post and was designed by the architecture firm Archibald, Illsley and Templeton. You can still find original decorative elements on the exterior alluding to that past.
Design firm Groupe Daca kept the bones of the building, including its distinctive Art Deco façade, but added a few touches of flair — and a huge sign bearing the Renaissance name. When it opened last year, the hotel was the first property to represent a departure for the formerly conservative Renaissance brand, which Marriott acquired in 1997. The new ethos is devoted more to experiential travel and creating a unique sense of place rather than the standardized drab of your average business hotel.
Marriott’s press release on the hotel described it this way: “The Renaissance Montreal captures the spirit of Wanderlust, the brand’s new global design philosophy reflecting a contemporary transformation to appeal to the next-gen business traveler who seeks adventure with every business trip.” Translation: you can still come here for work, but they hope you’ll stay to play.
I was particularly curious about the new branding and how it would compare to some of Starwood’s lifestyle-focused labels, specifically W — the W Montreal is just a few blocks away — in light of the developing merger of Marriott and Starwood. How would this new type of Renaissance stack up, and will there be room in the impending hotel behemoth for both brands?
As soon as I figured out my dates for Montreal, I started looking around for hotels where I might be able to take advantage of Starwood or Marriott’s current bonus promotions. The Renaissance Montreal had been on my radar since it opened, specifically because it was so different from any of the other Renaissance properties I’d seen or visited. Plus, it has a rooftop pool and bar, which is always a draw for me.
My stay was toward the end of September, which is a busy time for the city. Prices were running on the high side and the best I could find was $351 CAD (~$284 at the time) per night or 35,000 Marriott Rewards points since this is a Category 7 hotel. Award bookings were also available for all three nights of my stay, which was a pleasant surprise.
I decided to go for the paid rate and booked a standard king guest room in the hopes that my Marriott Rewards Gold elite status — matched from my Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status — might give me a shot at an upgrade to a bigger room. Because I had another (much cheaper) stay coming up at a different Marriott property, the two bookings would earn me a free night at a Category 1-5 property thanks to Marriott’s fall Megabonus promotion.
As a Marriott Gold member, I would earn 12.5 points per dollar for my stay. While I don’t have the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, which would have earned me an additional five points per dollar, I do have both the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, either of which would earn me 2x Starpoints per dollar spent at Marriott properties. It would basically be the equivalent of 6x Marriott Rewards points based on the conversion ratio between the two programs. In the end, I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points — or in this case, 852 Ultimate Rewards points — since hotel stays are part of its broad travel category.
As for my other elite benefits, I was entitled to complimentary daily continental breakfast, light snacks and beverages for me and a guest in the Executive Lounge, or 750-1,000 bonus points if there was no lounge, which apparently is the case at this hotel.
Check-In and Lobby
I arrived around 9:00am and figured (correctly) that my room wouldn’t be ready yet. The agent checking me in was extremely personable and said that he could give me a room on a low floor immediately, but that they’d also set aside a feather-free high-floor room for me per my Marriott Rewards preferences that would be available by noon. I said I wasn’t in a hurry to check in, so the original room assignment would be fine.
The agent stored my bags for me and said he’d put them in the room and call me when it was ready. He also suggested I take the 750-point welcome amenity so I could opt for breakfast instead if I decided I wanted that the following morning — I took his advice. He then asked if I needed any recommendations for things to do that morning, but I politely declined and headed out into the city.
The lobby was interesting in and of itself. It’s not huge, but it feels hip. There were several distinct seating areas — two with swings — while the furniture is colorful and mismatched, which gives the space a nice, casual feel.
To the left of the entrance was the so-called business center, though it was more like a café bar with two computer terminals for guests to use, along a high countertop looking out on the street.
There was a small lounge area called The Library with shelves and books for guests to use.
There are also works by local artist Alexandre Veilleux and graffiti specialist Scaner contributing to the street-art feel.
To the right of the entrance is a permanent raised DJ platform adorned with a red bulldog sculpture, though no one was performing during my stay.
The elevators are just to the left of the check-in area, while the concierge desk is behind the desks. There’s also another small desk next to the main entrance with bottles of water for guests to take.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t been upgraded but I didn’t mind too much since I got a corner room up on the 10th floor.
It was about 400 square feet and felt very spacious. The carpet was gray with a pattern of stripes and intersecting lines.
Having windows on two walls didn’t hurt, though because of a heat wave in the city at the time, it did get hot in the room at certain points and the A/C was not quite able to cope.
The views to either side were of office buildings.
The room contained a king-size bed dressed in white linens with gray diamond accents.
The bed had a curved wooden frame with a worn leather headboard. On the wall behind and over it was a painted squiggly line with several faces in it, meant to evoke graffiti art.
To either side of the bed were attached nightstands with white marble tops.
One side had a telephone, a clock and an outlet with two USB ports.
The other had a USB port and two power sockets.
The wall opposite the bed had a modular sofa that looked sort of like two chaise lounges placed toe to toe with a wooden table attached.
There was also a small round table with a green base and a white wooden top.
Along the far wall was a narrow credenza that served as a work desk with a telephone, a standing lamp with a power outlet and a Bose speaker.
Above that was the 48-inch flatscreen television. While the TV was nice, it did not swivel or turn at all, which made it difficult to watch from the bed.
In addition to regular channels, the TV can stream your Netflix, Hulu or Crackle accounts, though it was sometimes too slow to load and looked low-res over the hotel Wi-Fi. It worked well for normal work purposes and was free for hotel guests. You could also opt for high-speed Wi-Fi for an extra fee.
Back toward the entrance, the wardrobe was paneled in white wood.
One side had a small closet, while the other contained the minibar, safe and a Nespresso machine.
The bathroom was just to the right of the room entrance and had a sliding door that you couldn’t lock, so though it was good privacy-wise on a visual level, you could still hear everything going on in the bathroom from the main part of the room.
It had white tile walls and cement floors. There was a single sink with a large countertop and a lower shelf for storing your toiletries and the hair dryer. I liked the lighted mirror a lot as well as the smaller mirror, which were both great for shaving or doing makeup. The hotel stocks Aveda Rosemary Mint amenities.
There was no bathtub — just a walk-in shower with a rainfall shower head and a wall-mounted one — and the plastic lining was coming off the track of the sliding glass door.
I will say that, accustomed as I am to figuring out hotel showers, this one was a puzzler. The handle controlled both shower heads, the pressure and the temperature so there was a lot of trial and error before I got the exact combo I wanted.
Housekeeping turned down the room my first two nights, but not the third one for some reason. It was a nice touch when it happened, as they pulled the curtains, remade the bed and left fresh bottles of water and maple sugar candies. I’m just not sure why it didn’t happen all three nights of my stay.
The biggest complaint I had for this hotel involved the room doors. You’d figure with a new build like this that they’d install doors that closed quietly, but that was not the case. You could hear everyone coming and going in the halls and it ended up being downright noisy at some points. I’m not sure why this wasn’t a consideration for the designers, but if you are a guest here, I’d suggest bringing earplugs.
Food and Beverage
The hotel is home to a few different dining and drinking outlets — chief among them is its pan-Asian restaurant, EAST, which is adjacent to the lobby. It’s part of a small restaurant group that also includes a Thai eatery and a sushi bar in other Montreal locations.
EAST’s aesthetic was inspired by “Old Shanghai,” which seems to mean moody lighting and bright red walls, though overall, I thought it was an attractive space.
EAST is open all day — generally from 6:30am on, with a short break between breakfast and lunch service — until 10:00pm or 11:00pm depending on the day.
The breakfast menu skews less Asian, with options like continental and American breakfasts, eggs Benedict and pancakes with berries and whipped cream — and maple syrup, of course. The dinner menu draws from all parts of Asia, with items like beef larb salad from Thailand, har gow dim sum from China and nasi goreng from Indonesia, among other dishes.
The cocktail menu was created by locally known mixologist Lawrence Picard. Signature drinks include the EAST, made with Hennessey VS Cognac, saké, lime juice, lemongrass syrup, pomegranate and egg white; and the Asian Boulevard, made with Glenmorangie 10-year scotch, Campari, Dolin Rouge vermouth, saké, and kumquats.
To be honest, Montreal is such an interesting food city with so many great restaurants that I didn’t find the menus at EAST interesting enough to keep me there for lunch or dinner. It did not seem busy in the evenings during my stay, either.
I did opt to have breakfast there as my welcome amenity, and got a voucher from reception each day. Instead of just continental breakfast, I could also order à la carte and enjoy a complimentary water and coffee or tea — espresso drinks and the like cost a little extra.
I was entitled to breakfast for up to two people per day. Items ranged from about $18 CAD (~$14) to $21 CAD (~$17), so it was a nice extra value for my stay.
As I mentioned, one of the main draws of the hotel for me was the fact that it’s the only property in the downtown area with a rooftop pool and bar that’s operated from mid-April to mid-October — the restaurant is open for private events in other months as well.
Dubbed the AIR Rooftop Terrace, it’s open from 12:00pm to 11:00pm daily. The menu includes shared plates like cheese and charcuterie platters; salmon, beef and tuna tartare; a selection of fresh salads; appetizers like pulled-pork poutine, fried calamari with chorizo and piri-piri shrimp; a few different types of sliders; and both lobster grilled cheese and Montreal smoked-meat sandwiches, among other dishes.
The menu also lists a selection of Canadian beers as well as wines by the glass or bottle, red and white sangrias and specialty cocktails like the Palmy & Rosé, made with Bulldog gin, oolong tea syrup, fresh limes, rosé wine, ginger beer, fresh berries and angostura bitters. The Aloe Mojito, made with Hennessy VS Cognac, lemongrass syrup, fresh lime, mint, soda, angostura and aloe vera juice is also a popular option according to the bartender I spoke with.
The terrace had a few different seating areas including a long bar countertop, high-top communal tables, spots with lounge chairs and side tables and semi-private, booth-style areas with colorful pillows and beautiful city views.
I thought I’d come up here for pre-dinner drinks one night, but it ended up being so hot during the heat wave that it was unbearable. There were no fans to circulate the air and on top of that, all the table umbrellas weren’t pulled out for some reason, so it was just sweltering.
The pool is also tiny, and I think it would have felt strange to take a dip and go sit down at a table for cocktails or a bite.
Service and Other Amenities
I thought all the service — from my friendly check-in to the cheerful breakfast and housekeeping teams — was pretty exceptional. Everyone was so pleasant and helpful, it really put a positive spin on the stay overall.
This also had to do specifically with the new Renaissance ethos. As part of its hipper rebranding, the hotel has also introduced what it calls “Navigators” instead of regular old concierge agents. Navigators are supposed to be plugged-in locals with up-to-the-minute tips for things to do, see, eat and drink in the city. You can see 21 of their individual profiles — but not any from Montreal — highlighted on the main Renaissance website, which is a cool touch. There’s also a Navigator City Guide App on the Marriott site that you can download.
A few days before my stay, the Renaissance Montreal’s Lead Navigator, Kate, emailed me to ask if she could help with planning or finding anything like “poutine or farm-to-table dining experiences, drinking crafted cocktails with local spirits in nearby lounges, shopping at an independent boutique for Montreal designers or seeing the Chinese lanterns at the Botanical Garden.”
I know Montreal well and already had some plans mapped out, but I figured I’d see what she could do. I asked a couple of specific questions about where I could rent bikes or take a bicycle tour, if she had trail suggestions for walking/hiking through Parc du Mont-Royal and if she could suggest a cocktail bar in Mile End near where I’d be having dinner one night.
She got back to me the following day with three different bike tour companies, all near the hotel. I’d actually taken a tour with one of them called Ca Roule Montreal, which was her top choice, and it was great, so I thought that was a good suggestion. She said there were plenty of places to explore in Mont-Royal and that I should stop by her desk for a map and some detailed tips about where and when to go, so I put a pin in that one.
Finally, she suggested three Mile End cocktail bars, including one my friend had already honed in on called Bar Kabinet, which she described as “a very sleek bar with an Imperial Russian feel, and they make amazing cocktails.” She also included two other suggestions just in case. Bar Kabinet actually ended up being closed because someone was filming there the night we wanted to go, so we went to one of the other places she’d suggested, Ping Pong Bar, instead and it was fantastic. All in all, I have to rate the service, and Kate specifically, highly.
I already mentioned the rooftop pool, which is small, made of stainless steel and meant more for plunging rather than swimming. The hotel’s subterranean fitness center is small but nice, with a good selection of cardio equipment and free weights as well as stretching and weight balls.
Staying at the Renaissance Montreal represented the opportunity to check in on how Marriott is transitioning one of its major brands while also taking advantage of a current Marriott Rewards promotion and seeing a different side to a city I already know and love. My room and the food outlets felt a little rough around the edges, however my elite benefits really came in handy with the free breakfast. I thought the décor touches throughout the hotel were interesting and very Montreal-specific, and the service was both personable and personalized. I would definitely stay here again, but I would hope to do so at a lower price point.
Have you ever stayed at the Renaissance Montreal? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.
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