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The Hotel That Will Steal the Show at TIFF

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For all the glamour and glitz of the Trump Toronto, it's the simplest gestures that resonate most about a $500-million property that is fully poised to steal the show when TIFF 2012 arrives this week.

Owner Inna Levitan has decorated the hotel with luxury items, as you might expect, but many of them have personal meaning and that works to humanize a building whose very name could be off-putting to some. Her adoration of cherry blossoms -- which she has been fond of since encountering them on a childhood trip with her family -- is expressed throughout the hotel, including in an ornate art piece that will immediately capture your eye when you enter the lobby. Made from crystals found in the Czech Republic, the large, opulent cherry blossom branches serve as a motif for designs in other areas of the hotel, including artwork in the 261 guest rooms, decorations in the Versailles-inspired restaurant and even a cocktail in the lobby bar.

The Chocolate Lab, overseen by pastry chef David Chow, turns out dozens of hand-dipped treats a day that wind up on the chocolate cart in STOCK, the restaurant on the tower's 31st floor. Diners can select their desired pieces, created from Valrhona Grand Cru chocolate, making this dessert cart the most decadent form of dim-sum you can imagine. It's actually a European idea, one Levitan imported from her travels to Italy, where she saw a similar feature in a restaurant.

"I said, 'I have to have that' when we started to talk about the hotel," she told me last month while the Trump was preparing for its first Toronto International Film Festival. When she explains how her life and passions have influenced the hotel, you realize that the building isn't just manufactured from a corporate blueprint. It's got heart in it and that gives it more warmth than I expected.

For TIFF 2012, the Trump will host at least six "A-list celebrities," according to director of marketing John Bullock. In August, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin were among the hockey superstars staying at the hotel during the NHL labour talks that took place in Toronto. Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe recently took up residence in the Trump while in the city to film the comedy The F Word.

"There isn't a more secure hotel in the country, I imagine," Bullock said, pointing out the Trump Toronto has 254 security cameras. "If you're a celebrity, you can stay here worry-free. Someone is always monitoring who's coming in and going. It's a very safe place to be."

The hotel also has a private entranceway that carries celebrities away from the paparazzi and to a second-floor elevator so they can avoid any activity in the lobby. But the Trump is still welcoming to the public. It soon will have the city's highest outdoor patio, when the 18-seat terrace at STOCK opens. During the 37th annual film fest, which runs from September 6-16, it will be one of the venues with an extended liquor licence that will keep it pouring drinks until 4 a.m. each night.

The Trump also has meeting space galore and will be hosting TIFF parties. It will have attractive women selling chocolate on the street and a make-up bar available until 2 a.m. for any last-minute touch-ups guests want before going on the town.

Although Donald Trump is a minority owner in the 65-storey tower and his company manages the building, it was Talon International Development, owned by Alex Shnaider and Levitan and her husband, Val, that built the property that's part hotel/part private residence. While the Trump influence is evident, much of it comes from Ivanka Trump, the billionaire mogul's daughter.

She chose the colour scheme for parts of the hotel and helped create a young, feminine, inviting atmosphere in STOCK's bar/lounge. Stick around late and you'll see an easygoing crowd arrive to enjoy music spun by a DJ, a wine list created by master sommelier John Szabo, the 24-hour restaurant menu, and cocktails that are wonderfully named (Toronto Island Iced Tea) and outrageously priced ($20, and thereabouts).

The nightly rates currently start are $395, which is actually reasonable for a hotel of this calibre. The rooms are a minimum size of 550 square feet. A tray of Chow's chocolate treats greets you when you enter your room (and some of them are dusted with gold powder; the Donald does still have his hand in things).

While there are touches that remind Levitan of her family ties in Austria and her travels to Asia, there's plenty of Ontario in the Trump Toronto, too. The wine list showcases the best of the Niagara Region, the beer selection is decidedly local and an exterior mural is a mosaic of Torontonians' faces. For the Trump's globetrotting clients, it's all an introduction to a city that Levitan believes is gaining a stronger reputation as a destination abroad.

"Toronto is like a great secret still," Levitan said. "When they come to the city, people are amazed. There's so much to do and enjoy here, and TIFF is the best time to visit."

The Trump isn't the only Toronto hotel geared up for TIFF. Vacay.ca recently visited the Hazelton, a boutique property built especially for the film fest. Also, the online travel magazine recently published tips for the celebrities coming to town.