Not that Drake Hotel
Not that Drake Hotel.
For one, I was in Toronto, not Chicago, although it was cold and snowing in both of those places this week - between the ankle deep slush and the bitter wind, I could close my eyes and be back on Michigan Avenue in January. But, the Drake in Chicago wouldn't greet you with, Rococo, by Arcade Fire (Canadian band). A sure sign that there is something different about this Drake. Besides, my dad hung at the Drake in Chicago and cool just wasn't his thing. He had awesome qualities, mind you, but he reeked of reserve and old school sensibilities. Wait...do you think my kids are saying the same thing? I reek of old school sensibilities? That's not possible. Right? I'm not cool?
Located on Queen Street in, what I think is the West end neighborhood of Toronto, the Drake is my third hotel winner in a row (Ace NYC and Acme Chicago). I don't actually take sides in these things, as in rate one above the other, but this place was way up there in the cool stratosphere. Whatever they call the neighborhood, it's well worth a visit. National Geographic Traveler magazine put it this way, "Perhaps more than any other neighborhood, Queen West channels Toronto's creative spirit," and "The Drake Hotel keeps the bohemian vibe alive."
Imagine the old flophouse you used to cross the street to avoid, reimagined as a hip hotel. Tiny front desk. Greeted by a redhead with bangs waiting to check you in. I don't know, something in my addled brain says redheads with bangs are a rare and special thing. Just three floors. 19 rooms. The place is probably twice as much restaurant, bar, live music venue, general store, and coffee shop as it is hotel. Okay by me.
This hotel is a widely varying cultural experience. The lobby is small, but decorated to the finest detail - only ten years old, it looks like it's been here since the building went up in about 1890. Back behind the check in desk, is the requisite seating area for guest gathering, but with a photo booth installed for flights of whimsy. I've read reviews where people complain about the lack of an elevator, but it's three floors, for god's sake. I suppose you're too old in a whole lot of ways if that deters you. At the entrance to my floor, was graffiti of James Taylor "Fire & Rain" lyrics left from before the building was rescued and renovated. Seemed apropos to the mood of the place. "But I always thought that I'd see you baby, one more time again." The Lounge was a decorators dream - bookshelves, music, art, craft cocktails, and perfect music. While I was there, the Talking Head's, "This Must be the Place", came on, and I thought, "Yes, it is."
It strikes me that I spend a lot of time on the aesthetic of places I visit. I'm drawn to fine design. But, it's the staff at the Drake that caps off the experience. Each person I encountered during my visit showed an earnestness about the customer and an obvious pride in the hotel. It felt like home.
I certainly didn't need to leave the premises for good food, which I found out over a perfect breakfast in the Drake Cafe the morning of my departure, but I did make a quick trip to Barque on Roncesvalles Avenue for dinner. That alone was an experience to blog about that I'll try to get to later (for the time being let's just say, awesome brisket, dry rubbed baby backs, and sweet potato diced and spiced to perfection). Look for a blurb on Manic Coffee, too. Intelligentsia beans. Enough said.
All of the above, a neighborhood with some of the coolest and most prolific graffiti anywhere, and throw in the Mayor for entertainment - I'm digging Toronto.