June 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Hotels

Like most Torontonians, my experience with Queen Street’s hot hotels has been limited to late night buffoonery and early morning brunch. And so, while I consider myself quite familiar with both The Gladstone and The Drake – I’ve never actually climbed the stairs of either of these ever trendy hotels. During last month's Doors Open Toronto (one of my favourite Toronto summer events) I was able to take a peak inside these local landmarks and check out the rooms without checking in. Inspired by the boutique hotels of lower Manhattan, these historic heritage buildings have been beautifully restored in recent years – transformed from seedy rooming houses into hipster hangouts and spurring on the wave of gentrification in the west end.

Built in 1889 the Gladstone hotel, with its iconic red sign and dramatic arched windows, is the city’s oldest continuously operating hotel. Whether you drop by for weekly karaoke in the Melody Bar or sample fresh fare in the café, there is always something going on inside this architecturally stunning space. Rotating and permanent art exhibitions showcase local artists and a beautifully restored Victorian hand-operated elevator transports guests from their artist inspired rooms to the lower level gallery spaces and bustling bars. The hotel holds a special place in my heart as my parents met in a lovely old Victorian on Gladstone Avenue just down the street.

Just a couple blocks east the Drake Hotel, a self-proclaimed “hotbed for culture” draws sleek nightlife lovers and scruffy urban artists alike. Inside the funky hotel a refurbished 1950s art deco grand staircase leads guests up to the nineteen stylish bedrooms. The suites are chic yet artfully retro with a candy heavy snack bar and in-house Starving Artist wine on offer. The rooftop skyard features sun soaked cabanas under colourful muraled walls – the perfect spot for an early morning Caesar or a late night cocktail. The Drake’s corner café boasts the city’s best scones (blueberry...try the blueberry!) and its quirky gift shop lures foot traffic westward with plenty of Canadiana themed trinkets on offer. The hotel continues to expand along the Queen Street strip between Beaconsfield and Lisgar with a new ice cream/t-shirt shop opening this month appropriately named Scoops and Tees. And of course, Katie and I have both forced our boyfriends to jump in the old fashioned photo booth with us.

Both of these unique hotels feature creative touches that give back to the art communities living and working in the neighbourhood. The Gladstone has thirty-seven distinct artist-designed bedrooms while the Drake’s artist in residence program provides short-term living arrangements for budding artists looking for a space to create. Showcasing the best in local culture, art and cuisine these funky west-end accommodations offer so much more than your average downtown hotel. I only wish I could justify a staycation at one of these lovely hotels...but since I'm only a 10 minute walk away I guess I'll just have to settle for the ice cream and cocktails.

p.s. You can also read a (slightly edited) version of this over here.


  1. yay! you're back! - JenB

  2. I was unaware that you could brunch at both of these places!!!!! We have to go!

  3. fun we should stay there one night! kh

  4. mmmm the drake...im pretty sure you could post some more interesting stories about that place