Happy Birthday, Drake
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Happy Birthday, Drake

Silhouettes of Drake-goers at a light installation (including that of its designer, Andre de Pape) on Nuit Blanche, October 2007.

A whole weekend has passed, and the town’s still talking about Thursday night. It was a good party. The Governor Gwas there and probably the entire Globe & Mail Style section and a girl dressed up as Pocahontas or something. Hipster cultists huddled around American cigarettes near a window; through it, you could see Quebecois art collective BGL doing their interactive thing. Kiki, who’s worked there so long she doesn’t need a last name, looked killer in new glasses, almost too big. Kevin Drew looked a little unsteady on the stairs.
If he’d had one too many, who could blame him? Everything was on the hotel: the gin fizz, the all-you-can-eat sushi, the cheese and chorizo and the chocolate buffet where, drunk on antioxidants, guests lingered too long.
It was Gatsby-esque, we thought, balancing a deep glass of red, as Gatsby himself gave his welcome speech. He talked about supporting local artists, about his love of culture, about an all-inclusive spirit of hospitality.
Um. Where were we again?
Oh right.
It was on February 14, 2004, that Jeff Stober’s Drake Hotel—vamped up, ambitious, already mistrusted, like a thrift-shopping bohème with a six-million-dollar trust fund—swung its glass doors wide. Valentine’s. How perfect. It has, after all, been quite the love/hate affair.


At top: overlooking the café patio during Nuit Blanche, October 2007. At bottom: the Sky Yard during TIFF, September 2007.

In just five years, it’s become almost irrelevant to remember West Queen West B.D. (Before Drake). Pre-nu-ravers will tell you they remember dancing in a drug den called the Stardust; others fumble stories about a flophouse. An old local might swear it was better “back then,” when it was still Parkdale (now pushed firmly to the other side of the Dufferin Bridge) and the rents weren’t breakneck and no one parked SUVs on Beaconsfield Avenue.


At top: the Underground during Big Primpin, June 2007. At bottom: Dan Werb of Woodhands in the Underground. August, 2007.

Even locals who’ve become locals long after the Drake’s infiltration resent it. Perhaps it’s the unapologetic ego: “a hotbed of culture” is quite the slogan, and no west-ender wants to have his or her pretensions bested. Perhaps, and more likely, it’s the people who can afford to dwell at the Drake. Condo crowds draw the most hisses, of course, along with financial district emigres. And no one likes the Etobicoke-heads following too closely on the heels of their Docs.
But here’s the thing: where would you rather be in the neighbourhood? The Beaconsfield or the Beaver? A contemporary art opening? Somewhere on Ossington? All of that came in the years A.D. (After Drake). Yes, some grossly misconceived condo developments (the Bohemian Embassy, for example, deserves to be egged) came A.D. too. And the demolition of 48 Abell, once a lively-if-crumbling art factory, is indisputably sad. Then again, we’re not sure how much good all that art could have done without anyone around to buy it.
When Starbucks opened in 2005, someone graffitied it with “Drake, you ho, this is all your fault”; we repeat, knowingly, the apocryphal tag. Fine. But then it must also be the Drake’s “fault” that Luna Cafe, the independent cafe just a block up Dovercourt from said Starbucks, has gotten busier than ever. Its patrons are more plentiful and more smug about their patronage.


At top (from left to right): DJs Dave, Pamm, and Geoff, in the Lounge, June 2007. At bottom: projection on the Drake’s walls as part of Luminato, June 2007.

That’s because—and here’s the point—there are no insiders without outsiders. If the too-well-suited outsiders weren’t running triple-digit tabs on company credit cards, the insiders wouldn’t be getting free bottles of 50 downstairs. That art collective would still be in Quebec. The More Proof crew wouldn’t be adding you to the guestlist. It’s the capitalism of cool, and even in complaining about it—with many a reason, most of them wearing polo shirts—we’re participating.
So have a happy one, Drake. Pleasure doing business with you.
All photos by David Topping.