Dining at The Drake.
Reviewed by Ed Wetschler
THE BACKSTORY: By the 1980s Queen Street West was the pits. Between suburbanization and a mental health facility whose overflow filled the streets with characters who were forlorn, or worse, this east-west thoroughfare was run-down, to say the least. Sure, the neighborhood still had a century-old hotel, but it wasn't a hotel you'd have booked for your parents.
Jeff Stober, a computer guy who bought that hotel in 2001, has not only reinvented the property; he has created a gathering place that's revitalized the entire neighborhood. The Drake's eclectic design, artworks, lounges, restaurants, live music, and star power (yes, including Mick Jagger) attract the young and/or the hip every day, every night.
A Crashpad at The Drake. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
ROOMS: The Drake must be making money in those lounges and restaurants, because it sure isn't charging W rates for its rooms. Besides, it only has 19 rooms. The Crashpads, smallest of the four room categories, really are small, but they're ingeniously designed and stylish. They feature ten-foot ceilings, a brick wall, a little desk, a cloth doll you can purchase for $65 (I declined), and a storage rack accessible by a ladder that evokes bunk-bed fun. The plug-in stuff includes an iPod docking station, free wi-fi, and a TV with DVD player and a mesmerizing Drake-only channel. Sexy semi-see-through shower, too.
MORE REASONS TO STAY: The front desk clerks, cleaning staff, and waiters are the nicest, friendliest, go-the-extra-mile people. Remember those grim men in black who used to staff boutique hotels? Not here.
The Lounge at The Drake.
YOUR NEIGHBORS: The other guests seem to be artists or techies, and the locals in the restaurants, lounges, and the music venues are, too. Like the staff, they always make you feel welcome, even if you're old enough to be their parents.
A goodnight detail in the author's room. Photo by Ed Wetschler.
INSIDER TIP: I don't know how many hotel guests actually order a Pleasure Pack. I am pretty sure it'll goose any relationship. And, as they say of the Sunday New York Times, it's good to know it's all there.
THE DEAL: Doubles from $189 CN (about $176 US). And from December 1-January 30, additional nights cost just $129 CN (about $120US) for any category of room.
A Suite at The Drake.
CAVEATS: You want a room on the third floor, not the second, to muffle the sound of the bands. Also, outpatients from the mental health may ask you for change when you're walking around the neighborhood. But they're not pushy about it; remember, these are Canadian panhandlers.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: The West Queen West Arts & Design District is wonderful for shopping, browsing, gawking. Plenty of affordable galleries, eateries, vintage clothing shops, and surprising exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art.
THE DETAILS: The Drake Hotel, Toronto, 866-DRAKETO.
ED WETSCHLER, Associate Editor of Everett Potter's Travel
Report, has written for The New York Times, Delta Sky and Caribbean Travel &
Life. He is the former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine and consulting
editor for Caribbean Escapes. He is the current president of the New York Travel