Behind TIFF’s Social Scene

For those in the hospitality industry, TIFF is the busiest time of year. It doesn’t help that it falls days after the summer tourist season officially ends. The world-class film festival means countless private film parties at the city’s slew of nightclubs, bars, restaurants and lounges, not to mention bustling open-to-the-public hotspots as an influx of local scenesters get in on the action.

For bouncers during TIFF, you must have patience. There is no greasing these security teams or getting in with a smile. For the bartenders, they better be on their game – last call at most of the city’s most popular venues is extended to 4am. By the time the club is officially patron-free, the bartenders have completed their cash out (and filled their wallets with crisp $100 bills) and ventured home, many don’t get to sleep until the sun comes up. They sleep through the day, then do the whole thing again. For event planners, tackling TIFF typically begins well before the start of the festival. Good luck trying to find a red carpet, bartender or available DJ in the thick of the festival. Executing an event requires everything from managing very strict guest lists to event staff, catering, media and the red carpet, among others.

Hanif Harji’s name has become synonymous with Toronto’s restaurant and club scene as one of the owners of young professional favourite party place F-Stop, coveted event venue Storys, new hot restaurant Weslodge, and the yet-to-open Patria, a Spanish restaurant tucked away just down the street from Weslodge. We asked him how he and his team are managing the TIFF craziness across his multiple festival hot spots for celebrity-filled film parties and local partiers alike.

How does TIFF affect you and your establishments?
Well, it’s very busy. I definitely get very little sleep. For TIFF this year, we decided to focus on our event space, Storys, and its AMC Lounge. In total, Storeys booked 22 pre or post film parties for the festival. Although Patria has yet to open, it was thankfully finished enough to accommodate the overflow from Storys. We decided to keep Weslodge open to the public but it has been booked solid every night – most people made reservations weeks in advance. We’ve hosted some cast dinners at Weslodge as well, including Zaytoun with Stephen Dorff. Weslodge has a 4:00am extended license, so does F-Stop.

What’s happens at the AMC Lounge?
The AMC Lounge is an exclusive place for celebrities and film execs to unwind and enjoy an uninterrupted escape from the chaos over a cocktail. It is open from 9-4 for food and drinks.

That’s a lot to manage, how do you and your team prepare for TIFF?
You have to be extremely prepared and organized. This year, we hired two event planners for six weeks pre-festival and two post-festival. They are professionals and we let them handle things like sponsorship, rentals, red carpets, step and repeats and everything else imaginable – all contained neatly in a binder.

How do you accommodate your celebrity guests?
We provide them with side door access and seat them at a quiet table where they won’t be bothered or in everyone’s sight. In general, though, we treat them like we do any of our guests and don’t make them feel singled out or uncomfortable. 

Any advice for non-celeb party-goers?
Well, it may be tough to get a dinner reservation at this point in the game. Typically, those are made weeks before the festival begins. It is recommended that you get some friends together and purchase a booth, or you can take your chances and call earlier for guestlist, but there are no guarantees during TIFF.

Photo courtesy Weslodge