There is arguably no hotel in Toronto with better brand savvy than The Drake. And that brand is intrinsically tied to the city itself: When it opened 17 years ago on the former site of a seedy hotel and punk bar (the infamous Stardust) on a then-scrappy part of West Queen West, the boutique hotel drew from the arts scene of its surroundings, both within its restaurants — the Corner Café featured a suspension light made of bicycle frames — and in its live music programming in the Drake Underground.
Almost instantly, The Drake Hotel reshaped the streetscape, becoming what many perceived as the centrifugal force in the area’s gentrification. As it has expanded over the years, the brand has taken root in other nascent hubs, from the Drake Commissary on Sterling Road (now shuttered to the public, a casualty of the ongoing pandemic) to its two properties in Prince Edward County: Drake Devonshire and Drake Motor Inn.
But it all began at the hallowed flophouse–turned–art house. Today, a recently completed expansion by Diamond Schmitt promises to reaffirm the iconic hotel’s influence on both its street and its city. The Modern Wing added to the east side of the original building features 32 new guest rooms inside a handsome brick-clad block that features a barely visible palimpsest of the area’s characteristic Victorian facades and an irregular placement of large and small windows that give it an intriguing rhythm.
Cantilevered on top of this, in a structure that resembles a shipping container clad in mirror-finish stainless steel, is the Rooftop Suite. While, on the outside, the sleek new addition rubs shoulders with the historic building (now referred to as the Classic Wing), the vibe indoors is intimate and cozy. Drawing on the eclectic style expressed by the Classic Wing (by 3rd Uncle Design; former principal John Tong, now of +tongtong, aided with the new interiors), Toronto firm DesignAgency and the Drake’s in-house design team have created a special ambience for this Modern Wing.
“Our interpretation was always creating the space in between the buildings — a jewel box that’s not too precious but definitely retro-luxury,” says Anwar Mekhayech, a DesignAgency principal and co-founder. Nestled into the nook created by the curved glass of the new wing’s ground level, an art deco–inspired bar instantly evokes a luxury train car, nodding to the hotel’s past life as a rail stop.
The voluptuous reception desk — more sculpture than table — by local design studio Odami is made of thermoformed Corian that resembles quarried natural stone; just beyond it is a Mylar mural, Untitled (Wasteland), by New York–based artist Melanie Luna. Facing a white-painted brick wall complete with a fireplace, a semi-angular sofa (which looks like it was salvaged from Grandma’s basement but feels right at home here) is complemented by irregularly formed coffee tables from another local brand, Susan For Susan.
Similarly, the Rooftop Suite has the feeling of a richly appointed home. “The whole space is layer upon layer upon layer of art and design,” explains Joyce Lo, the Drake’s creative director, who worked with Ninth Editions founder Ashley Mulvihill to curate just the right pieces to speak to the hotel’s spirited energy. “We tried to dip into the community and spread the love; that’s part of the role of the Drake — to showcase all that the city has to offer.” The two-bedroom, 93-square-metre suite is fully glazed along its south wall, providing a view of Queen West cropped out by a large terrace that runs the length of the living area.
The layers of detail to which Lo refers encompass both the recurrence of swooping curves — from the millwork and archways to the mirrors — and the balance between vibrant and subdued palettes: a marvelous bar finished in an azure blue wood terrazzo (by Britain’s Foresso), faux velvet drapes in warm terracotta, and graphic marble tiling, at the entrance and in the principal bathroom, patterned with swirls of Bordeaux, olive green and cream (or Rosa Levanto, Rosa Norvegia, Verde and Thassos).
In the two bedrooms, the buttery leather channel-tufted headboards in sunflower yellow are a masculine counterpoint to a painted-board installation by local multidisciplinary artist Jasmine Cardenas, called Broken Telephone, which resembles hand-drawn avian silhouettes. Installed over an optical gridded wallpaper, it’s the most vivid example of the art feeling intrinsic to the decor. If the Modern Wing is meant to feel like a gallery, it certainly does — but rather than a white cube exalting all that is precious and untouchable, the new Drake is a reminder of the neighbourhood’s still-vibrant and gritty creative scene.
The addition of a “Modern Wing” is major brand reinforcement for both the hotel and its evolving neighbourhood.