A brief history of 592 Sherbourne: From Gooderham mansion to Toronto’s newest dining hotspot

A brief history of 592 Sherbourne: From Gooderham mansion to Toronto’s newest dining hotspot

Photo courtesy of Branksome Hall

Toronto’s atwitter about Maison Selby, a French bistro that just opened in a 136-year-old mansion at Bloor and Sherbourne. While foodies have been obsessing over the melt-in-your-mouth boeuf bourguignon, design aficionados have been cooing about the fab interiors. Spread across four rooms, Maison Selby feels like dining in a The Grand Budapest Hotel scene. The antique space is made whimsical with bold, printed wallpapers, gem-coloured velvet chairs, and a secret bar found behind a movable wall.

Maison Selby sits at the bottom of The Selby, Tricon’s recently completed rental building, which offers residents inviting shared spaces, an expansive gym, outdoor pool and terrace, and a custom spa. Its collection of bright, modern suites beautifully juxtaposes the storied mansion below, steeped in Toronto history.

Photography by Rick O'Brien

Built in 1883 by the heir to the Gooderham and Worts whiskey fortune, this impressive red brick mansion has played various roles over the years: it’s been a school, a hotel, a sports bar and a gay club, and now it’s an upscale French restaurant. Given the stunning Queen Anne architectural details, it’s no surprise that this mansion was granted heritage status.

After Charles Horace Gooderham died at the turn of the century, the estate was taken over by the elite girls’ school Branksome Hall (Ms. Eaton of the department store fame studied here during this stint). After only two years, the students left for a larger building. In 1912, the mansion was transformed into the Selby Hotel. During the building’s first year as a hotel, Ernest Hemingway called The Selby home while working as a foreign correspondent at the Toronto Star.

Photo courtesy of Branksome Hall

The Selby has always been an address associated with good times. Many well-loved bars have taken up residence in the building. In the ’40s, the Skyway Lounge, a popular sports bar, operated out of The Selby. The spot then became the watering hole for sports stars. Hockey players Turk Broda and Rocket Richard, as well as boxer Whipper Billy Watson, were all known barflies who’d come by to celebrate their wins and nurse their losses at the Skyway Lounge. Later on, another bar, called The Men’s Beverage Room, replaced the Skyway. William Shatner was a fan of the atmosphere and popped in when visiting Toronto. In 1981, the gay dance club Boots moved in, making this a hot spot for LGBTQ+ events for two decades.

This year, after a multi-year restoration, the mansion has been returned to its Victorian splendour. ERA Architects were tasked with preserving both the exterior and interior. Outside, the brick was starting to crumble, while inside, they needed to restore six fireplaces, the original window shutters, and plaster cornices, among other original details. The laborious process, which also required ERA to oversee the moving of the building—it was moved 14 metres east—took almost seven years to complete.

According to architect Daniel Lewis, “Tricon went above and beyond what the city asked of them.” When working with historically important buildings, Toronto’s heritage department identifies significant elements of the building that need to be preserved. Most developers will go by the letter of the law, spending money only where absolutely necessary. This was not the case with this restoration project.

After painstakingly restoring the building, ERA Architects left interior design firm Solid Design Creative to finish decorating Maison Selby.

Working with a heritage property meant the interior designers had to respect the building’s Victorian flourishes, integrating them into their final designs. Ian Rydberg, principal at Solid Design Creative, wanted to highlight the historic elements, such as the brightly tiled original fireplaces, while still injecting a sense of modern, stylish whimsy into the interiors.

Photography by Rick O'Brien

“I wanted this to be like your crazy rich Parisian aunt’s house,” says Rydberg. “A house that’s made for parties, where each room has its own vibe.” Just as the mansion has lived many lives, each room feels alive with its own distinct energy. The bar has a Parisian art deco feel, with the tarragon velvet chairs echoing the colour of the fireplace. The Parlour, meanwhile, takes you back in time to the Victorian era, where a botanically themed wallpaper looks plucked from the pages of an illustrated textbook. The tone shifts again in the basement, where a secret speakeasy (found behind a movable wall) has a sensual Moulin Rouge appeal.

For the past century, this building has been a place for Torontonians to gather and celebrate. Time had worn away at the grandeur, but 592 Sherbourne Street has always been an address synonymous with hospitality. Now that the restoration is complete, Maison Selby is poised to kick off another hundred years of hosting fêtes fit for the history books.