Posts tagged ‘bill simpson’

June 25, 2011

Drake’s Dining Roadshow takes you to school

Malcolm Travis and Cumbrae steak from the Drake

Server (and sax player) Malcolm Travis parades Cumbrae steaks around the newly opened Dining Roadshow.

General manager Bill Simpson and the Drake Hotel staff never stop looking for new ways to introduce their sense of retro fun to the city. Case in point, the overhauled dining room, a space that always seemed a little imposing anyhow — was it part of the lounge or not? — is now called the Drake Dining Roadshow and its décor has been completely revamped.

On Wednesday, Simpson, executive chef Anthony Rose and his team introduced the new concept, which will feature a rotating menu, to invited guests and media. The Drake is billing it as a pop-up restaurant, although that’s not quite accurate. Its physical location will remain in the dining room but the restaurant’s theme and cuisine will change every two or three months. Pop-up restaurants got their name because they moved about, often using social media to tell people where and when the next dinner would take place. In the Drake’s scheme, it’s the cuisine and theme that alters.

The first few months, until September 4, the dining room will be themed around “Summer School,” with menus that arrive in red duotangs (never thought you’d see one of those again, eh), juice boxes with spiked lemonade (very Bart Simpson), and bookshelves with sports trophies and black-and-white class photos. After “Summer School” is out, the Roadshow will take a couple of days to transform again into 1940’s California Chinatown, just in time for TIFF.

“The Drake is very much a never-ending story,” Simpson told me a few months back when I interviewed him. “We call it an ecosystem because we carry out so many aspects of hospitality, and the cultural aspects whether it’s art or music or reading or dining, keep evolving.”

DRAKE HOTEL TRIVIA NIGHT A HIT

As with most things the Drake does, the Dining Roadshow is thick with kitsch. Salt dispensers are shaped like Rubik’s cubes, one cocktail (the $16 Nurse’s Office) is squeezed into your glass through a frightening metallic syringe and a “glee club” (the eight members of Retrocity) appear midway through dinner to sing a cappella tunes from the ’80s.

Such style usually works at the Drake (1150 Queen Street West) in part because the quality of the food and experience is satisfying, so you buy into an aesthetic that somewhere else might make you groan at the campyness. To keep your patrons going along with your vision takes a fine balance, and my impression of the “Summer School” restaurant is that it’s a little hit and miss.

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May 20, 2011

The Drake spins out more fun – Lemonade Stand, Summer School and Trivia

Lemonade Stand at the DrakeThe Drake Hotel is a favourite spot for a lot of us in Toronto — not least of all because it never stands still. For the May long weekend they’ve debuted their Lemonade Stand on the always-fun Sky Yard patio. You can order up a Lavender Lemonade ($11), which includes Sobieski vodka, lavender syrup and lemonade, as part of the “Summer School” program that encourages the sort of behaviour that might have landed you in summer school back in the day. With the weather warming up, sort of, things will be packed up on the second deck as usual. Catch you there over the weekend.

Lavender Lemonade from the Drake

Lavender Lemonade from the Drake

And here’s my story that ran in the Toronto Star a couple of weeks back about the Drake Trivia Night on Wednesdays.

DRAKE TRIVIA – WHERE NERDS AND HIPSTERS MEET

What stumps Toronto’s trivia guy is a question that most pertains to him: How big will his competition grow?

Each Wednesday since August, Terrance Balazo has set up his laptop in a booth at the Drake Hotel reserved for DJs and prepared to unleash 30 or so questions on a suspecting audience. Within the past eight weeks, Trivia Night at the Drake has been sold out three times, with close to 200 people filling the hotel’s lounge restaurant to capacity. A March edition in the middle of Canadian Music Fest brought in the largest audience yet, according to the host. Participants pay $2 each and most play in teams of two to four, answering questions that range from the obscure (what country’s flag is entirely green?) to Balazo’s version of Name That Tune, which will test your sanity as well as your recall, and queries tied to hilarious visual clips (watching William Shatner speaking in Esperanto in a scene from “Incubus” was better comedy than Charlie Sheen provided in Toronto recently).

“I’m surprised how full it is every week,” says Balazo, who is also an actor and the artistic director of Cow Over Moon Children’s Theatre. “I don’t think the kind of night it is is what people go to the Drake for traditionally.”

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