“I don’t remember anything else being around there,” recalls Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene of his first visit to the Drake Hotel in 1991. “It was the new venue. It was not slick by any measure and you could eat $4 Chinese food next door.”
The Chinese food remains, but little else from that era has survived. Jeff Stober bought the building in 2001 and after three years of renovations, the Drake re-emerged as a hip, boutique hotel in 2014.
Its transformation paved the way for the remaking of the Queen West area it calls home.
“It really changed the complexion of the neighbourhood,” says Canning. “There was no sign of bohemian lofts.” This week, the Drake celebrates its 10th birthday, paying homage to its local, cultural roots with a series of events.
Housed in a building that’s more than 120 years old, the Drake has seen a lot of change during its lifetime.
It was hit particularly hard in the downturn, experienced in many urban centres during the 1970s and ’80s, yet by the end of the ’90s, things were starting to turn around.
“There was already a real interesting vibe when Jeff bought the building,” remembers Bill Simpson, the hotel’s general manager. A number of art galleries had opened on the strip and musicians were flocking to the area, drawn by cheap rent and the basement venue known as “1150 Queen, under the Drake.”
Sloan was one of many bands who played their first Toronto gig in the space. “He saw the Drake as a convergence of communities, a cultural hub.”
Today the neighbourhood reflects that vision, blending art, food, drink and music with the local residential community. The hotel’s symbiotic relationship with local businesses is what’s allowed the Drake to become “somewhat institutionalized,” says Simpson.
“It’s almost like we were always here.”