The invitation read: Watch the throne. The Queen, is back. The restaurants are gold and glorious. The drinks will be as cold as the Pacific ice floes. You will be the first to see all this. You’re invited to the grand opening of the newly restored Fairmont Empress. Dress code: Ball gown fabulous.
What would you do if you received an invite like this? If you’re anything like me, you twirl around for a few minutes before quickly texting your girlfriends to see if anyone has an appropriate dress you can borrow. Then you book your tickets and psych yourself up for Victoria’s party of the year.
The Fairmont Empress, named in honour of Queen Victoria, recently celebrated their official Grand Opening following a stunning $60 million restoration. It is in a word: swish, and elevates the historical property into a new era of luxury.
Q At The Empress
Phase One of the restoration actually launched a year ago with the grand opening of Q At The Empress – a sleek new restaurant and bar. According to the poster I spotted in the hotel elevator, Q stands for queen and country and a smashing good time. It is here I hied myself to immediately after checking in.
Settling into a regal jewel toned settee, I note that the Empress has got the modern royal ethos down pat. Above your head is this intricate coffered ceiling, while below, Warhol-esque canvases of Queen Victoria line the walls. It’s a sophisticated space, yet unpretentious. Kind of like a cheeky royal sibling who doesn’t have the weight of being heir to the throne.
Grand as it all is, it’s the gin I’m there for. Empress Gin. Made exclusively for them by Victoria Distillers. Better still, it’s purple! I opt for Q 1908 – a nod to the year the grand dame opened. It’s an intoxicating concoction of Empress gin, egg whites, lemon, simple syrup and butterfly blue pea flower. Here’s the fun part – when Empress Gin interacts with something acidic it changes colour.
After a quick drink or two (but really, who’s counting?) it’s off to my room to get ready for the ball. Guest rooms are dressed in muted tones and luxurious textures, making it feel as though you’re bedding down in a sumptuous jewelry box – though not as cramped.
Fairmont Empress Grand Reopening
With hair by Melissa and a dress by Michelle, I swept down to the Crystal Ballroom, where flutes of Veuve Clicquot floated by at an alarming rate. Hors d’oeuvres were offered, but I was too excited to eat. I slipped outside just as the sun threw her last rays upon the Inner Harbour. That’s where I received my biggest shock of the night: Her Majesty’s been shaved! The exterior of the Empress, with its famous ivy snaking up its side is no more.
Back inside, I shift into party gear. I mean celebratory gear. That sounds much more posh, doesn’t it? My champagne glass is continuously refilled, making it hard to keep count. I try to counterbalance by diving into the impressive spread. I find the chocolate station, the seafood station and unfortunately for me, the cheese and duck pate station. I also found the scotch station, but wisely avoided that one. One station that naturally receives a lot of attention from our squad is the Step and Repeat, as evidenced below.
It quickly becomes one of those evenings where you lose all track of time. Have I been here an hour or three? The party moves onto Q, but by then, I’ve had it with high heels and Spanx. I dash back to my room to change into my strapless denim jumpsuit and rejoin the party. The DJ is excellent, and we are all on our feet. All too soon I glance at my phone and realize I’m about to turn into a pumpkin. I’m filming a TV segment in the morning, and have to leave for the airport in three hours. So like Cinderella, I slip away from the ball before the clock strikes midnight. It is way too soon, but at least I got to be part of the fairytale for awhile.
Have you ever stayed at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria? Have you wanted to?