On Friday morning, the first day of the 2023 Montreal Audiofest, my daughter, Toni, and I were sitting at breakfast in the Hotel Bonaventure’s Le Bisco restaurant. Audiofest has been held in the Hotel Bonaventure for how long—a decade now?
From the moment I walk into the street-level entrance, I feel like I’m participating in some sort of secret-agent TV show. A show from the ’70s. The Hotel Bonaventure is perched on the top few floors of the Place Bonaventure, a large commercial structure, itself perched atop the main rail artery leading into downtown Montreal. Built in 1967, Place Bonaventure is a stunning example of Brutalist architecture. Well, stunning isn’t really the right word—it’s more of a hulking example. All poured concrete with ribbed, textured surface. Place Bonaventure is immediately recognizable as a late-’60s idea of a futuristic building in a bleak future.
And that’s part of the Hotel Bonaventure’s charm. Entrance to the hotel is by an elevator that has only two buttons—up and down. It makes you feel like Will Smith in Men in Black. Enter the elevator at ground level, and a few seconds later, the doors open into a new space that feels like a ground-level single-story complex. The Brutalist architecture continues in the hotel.
Those poured walls are delightfully rough, the solid walnut plank floors look like they’re carved from old-growth trees, and the outdoor areas are wooded, with honest-to-God ponds filled with ducks and vegetation that seems like it’s been there forever. There’s also a fantastic year-round swimming pool that’s partly open to the outside air.
But, as they say, time sits still for no man. Back in 2018, the hotel was given a fairly significant facelift, which included changes to the vintage lighting, the addition of plexiglass cladding over some of the walls, and a hipster-cool wine cellar that’s all glass and chrome. So they removed some of the burnt orange and replaced it with white and burgundy. Very 2020s—but in my opinion, not necessarily a change for the better.
Back to this morning’s breakfast. I was facing the entrance to the restaurant, and over Toni’s shoulder I saw a large cylinder—about 5′ high and 1.5′ wide—moving under its own power. It was nattily turned out, all flat black and pinstriped in blue, peppered with a whole bunch of violet LEDs. It was a robot! As it moved along, it encountered some people in its path. I watched it stop and then logically look around for an alternate path. The robot trilled a little song, sounding like my Samsung dryer announcing the completion of its load, upon which the man and woman obstructing its progress moved out of the way. With its path now clear, it continued on, disappearing into the kitchen.
I was gobsmacked. A number of thoughts flashed through my mind. First off, they have a robot! How cool is that! Second, nobody paid this miracle of modern science the slightest bit of attention. Why wasn’t anyone waving their arms and gesticulating at this thing?
When I queried the restaurant’s manager, she was quite matter-of-fact about the whole thing. “Yes, we have three of them,” she told me. “They move dishes and food from one place to another. We also have one that cleans the carpets.”
I asked if I could take a photo of their robot. “It’s working in the kitchen right now, but it should be out shortly,” she answered. Sure enough, out it came, and I got a few photos. I stood in its path in an attempt to confound it a little, and it politely waited me out before continuing on its way. How cool is that?
To spin this around to the Audiofest, SoundStage! is here in the Hotel Bonaventure right now to evaluate stereo gear. For the most part, that’s two-channel stereo equipment, some of which will be powered by tubes, some playing phonograph records. The platonic ideal of this show would fit in just fine back in the late ’60s, when Place Bonaventure was first built. Oh sure, there’s internet streaming and optical discs, but the basic premise of high-end stereo has been a consistent fixture of our entertainment space for well over a half-century.
So now I’m off to cruise the show. It’s noon on Friday here in the Hotel Bonaventure, and I’m setting out to find some new products and interesting rooms to tell you about. Oh, and if you’re travelling to Montreal, I highly recommend the club sandwich in the Le Kube resto-bar.
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!