It’s Toronto season at Viewport Magazine this month after we used up a BA voucher to fly over there for a few days during their version of Open House weekend, locally known as Doors Open Toronto. The first door to open for us was at the Drake Hotel in the not-so-snappily titled but very cool West Queen West part of town. The hotel has been around (in its new guise) for over a decade, although it originally dates back to the late nineteenth century when the neighbourhood was a railway hub. One rumour off Wikipedia is that the assassin of Martin Luther King, James Earl Ray hung out in the bar while he was on the run from the US police in the late sixties. Today you’re more likely to bump into an up and coming rock star heading down to the Underground music venue, or a late twenties hipster couple heading up to the open air Sky Yard bar. And that’s part of the fun of the place – it’s more of a gathering place for the coolest neighbourhood folk than it is a hotel. In fact it’s only 19 rooms so you might need to book well in advance to secure that Crash Pad, as the standard rooms are called. And they are named very well – the room really is not much more than just a decent sized double bed, facing a shower, sink and toilet. But to be honest, there is everything you need (great bathroom products, dressing gowns, free popcorn and an ipod dock / clock radio), all very neatly organised into about 13 square metres, and a few things in the room that I did not need (such as the scary cuddly toy), including the list of items available from reception that you might have left at home such as handcuffs and vibrators.
The idea for the hotel appears not to be a million miles from the thinking behind the Ace Hotel Group – taking over a delapidated hotel in a trendy neighbourhood and giving it a suitable makeover for the creative industries crowd with a strong emphasis on great music, top notch food and drink, and links to the local community. And a few quick words with the development director Bill in the lobby suggests they have some expansion plans coming up: a new country hotel opening around the Lake Ontario shoreline in Prince Edward County, there is already another restaurant in town and they are expanding sideways to take over the two next door buildings. All the staff are super friendly and helpful, and keen to give tips on which of the shows to check out at the local galleries. If you ask for a map, you don’t just get a tourist map, it’s the city cycling map, which is great if you borrow one of the hotel’s bikes to get around town. But if that is too energetic, outside the door run the trams straight into the city centre. A few local folk I met up with, also of my advanced age, were curious to know how well I had slept, because the hotel has a bit of a rep for noise, but I slept pretty soundly in the comfortable bed and heard nothing.
Best bits: great location in the hippest part of town, but with easy access to the centre; the food and service in the bars and cafe; and the Drake General Store next door.
Worst bits: the service was a bit dozy at breakfast and the room was a bit dark.