There’s something about this once-tired grande dame, that no matter how weather-worn, still turns heads. After a two-and-a-half year intensive renovation, a former 19th century flophouse became the Drake Hotel, an internationally acclaimed cultural landmark. On Valentine’s Day, the hotel that Monocle magazine says is “difficult to imagine Toronto without” celebrates its fifteenth anniversary.
Anyone walking past 1150 Queen Street West in the early 2000s, couldn’t have foretold the changes that were to take place. Parkdale, an area outside of the downtown core, surrounded by galleries and artist studios, was a neighborhood in transition. The area was a natural fit for the Drake Hotel’s CEO Jeff Stober, who says that he and his team have always been attracted to historic architecure. “The notion of repurposing an old building held tremendous appeal,” he explains. “Its roots as a hotel were essential as it was to remain a hotel, as much for locals as for travelers. If only the walls could talk!”
When the property opened in 2004, the city’s denizens clamoured to see what all the buzz was about. From the brass-lined, grand staircase in the lobby, to orange flocked wall coverings, retro furniture and an almost industrial boho-chic, anyone who stepped into the space knew this wasn’t your typical hotel. There was nothing uptight, too precious or formal about the place. The rooms even featured handmade cloth “dolls” alongside local artists’ oils, installations, and mixed media pieces. It was NYC’s Chelsea Hotel meets London speakeasy, and it was an instant hit.
“The notion of repurposing an old building held tremendous appeal. Its roots as a hotel were essential as it was to remain a hotel, as much for locals as for travelers. If only the walls could talk!”
That vibe of always doing something a little different, a little bit cutting edge lives on today where customers range from hip west-enders, uptown mavens, celebs, locals, visitors and everyone in between. Stober says they come for the Drake’s inclusive nature, and around-the-clock programming that can range from a live concert to a pillow fight. “It’s not unusual,” adds Stober, “to see three generations of a family sitting in a booth for brunch on any given Sunday. We love that.”
TripAdvisor has named the Drake on its Top 10 hotels in Toronto every year, with over 5 million guests having visited the hotel since its opening. The Drake brand has grown to include Drake General Store (2008), Drake One Fifty in the city’s financial district (2013), Drake Devonshire in Prince Edward County (2014), Drake Commissary (2017; don’t miss the chamomile lemon meringue pie if it’s on the menu), Drake Catering (2017), and Drake Mini Bar (2018).
The Drake Hotel is considered by most Torontonians to be iconic, and it is successful because it hasn’t strayed from its core mission, says Stober. “We are proud of our West Queen West roots [editor’s note: this neighbourhood is considered the second coolest in the world by Vogue Magazine], we deeply believe in community engagement, arts and culture, original design, inspired food and beverage in a communal setting. A neighborhood hotel that opens hearts and minds; simply put, we believe there is a curious culture seeker in everyone.” That, he claims, has manifested into a “truly Toronto ethos.”
Coming soon to the Drake Hotel is a thirty-two room expansion, scheduled to open mid-2020, as well as an upcoming, new hotel announcement. “We’ve grown up but still retain the fountain of youth,” says Stober, adding, “These hotel add-ons reference our love for the hotel space. After all, it’s the historic relationship between hotels and artists that got this whole thing going.”
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