Drake One Fifty officially opens its doors today. It's the first off-shoot of West Queen West icon The Drake Hotel. After nine consistently successful years in business, with a brand that is a far cry from the Financial District's mainstream mentality, it's hard not to wonder ? why here? Why now?
At Drake One Fifty's recent media preview, Eater spoke with Jeff Stober, CEO of Drake Hotel Properties, about the new digs and why you can't confine cool to one neighbourhood.
Stober and his team have been working on this expansion for over two years. Staying true to the Drake's signature style has brought him (many) delays, but in the end, the York and Adelaide restaurant, taking over from a former bank, looks exactly like what you'd expect: cool. Installation art like Eleanor King's Cuppa Cups, Douglas Coupland's Universal Luggage Bar Code Sunset: Vancouver to Toronto, Garry Neil Kennedy's Quid Pro Quo and restroom videos by Guy Maddin all add to the overall effect, and that's equal parts brains and balls.
"When in the city's history have we seen this many important restaurants opening so close to one another in the downtown core?" Stober asks. "Getting this kind of real estate in New York would be unheard of."
And it's true; look at how the soulless city centre has come alive with culinary and architectural destinations like Momofuku's three storey, four establishment cube, the Shangri-la, Four Seasons Centre. It's a resurgence that Toronto hasn't seen for a decade, back when Canoe was the epitome of a fine dining experience.
Times have changed.
Are restaurants like Canoe, or for that matter, North 44 and Jamie Kennedy Kitchens, still relevant?
Stober says yes. "They may not be at the forefront today, but chefs like Jamie Kennedy and Mark McEwan are our forefathers."
It's a lot easier to succeed when you stand on the shoulders of giants.
The culinary movement in Toronto (as well as Montreal and Vancouver) has shifted away from stuffy, white tablecloths in the dining room and heavily hidden chaos in the kitchen ? to embrace what can only be described as a 'raw' approach to cooking. Today, kitchens are left open; patrons want to see that chaos. They want to be a part of its energy. Tattoos have replaced toques and hip hop blasts where violins whispered. It's a wave of transition, caught up in today's digital age and immediacy, that started, arguably, in the once derelict West Queen West with the Drake Hotel.
"You can't expect [trends] to stay in one neighbourhood," says Stober. "You can't tell someone, 'Oh you can't open a cool place outside the west end.' If you want to really feel like you're in a city, sit on a patio downtown and look out at the skyline. This is the economic centre of Canada, and one of the most architecturally-important areas in Toronto."
No, you can't confine cool. But those who stop evolving can't sustain it either. The brand needed this new location. It's one thing to remain constant when you're a classic, but nine years is a enough time for a trend-setter to grow stale. Drake needed to break down another wall and do what it does best: lead by example.
Stober and his team are currently in "serious talks" to expand to the US.
In the meantime, outside the city, the Drake is focused on Prince Edward County's Devonshire Inn, headed up by Innkeeper Chris Loane. Set on a lakefront property in the sleepy village of Wellington, it's a calculated risk. Everyone keeps talking about the County, its wineries and fromageries and terroir, calling it the next Niagara-on-the-Lake. They've said it's about to explode for years.