Hello Canada Forum,
I remember when I first visited Toronto in 1998, a few friends of mine were sharing an apartment in Little Italy... and I really enjoyed my visit. But in the 2000s, there was a nagging sense of disappointment each time I'd pass through Toronto. I kept feeling I was seeking some element of that original trip and just wasn't finding it. I attributed it to the passing of time, that Toronto was becoming colder and harder in the new millennium, more about materialism and commerce and less about the heart and creative spirit.
But Toronto, like Montreal (I really should know better, living in Montreal!), is a city of neighborhourhoods with quite distinct characters. The past few trips I'd walked up Yonge, stayed once near Union Station and another time near Sherbourne Metro, all downtown. This time I decided, against my usual instinct to stay centrally within a city, to stay at the Drake Hotel, doing so only since a friend was quite emphatic that I should stay there when next in Toronto (especially since I told her that I'd yet to find a hotel that I enjoyed). The Drake is at 1150 Queen Street West, which is a good number of blocks west of Bathurst, which always seemed to me the western end of downtown.
I ended up LOVING the energy of this far Queen West area and the Drake is such a jewel, an artsy hotel unlike anything I've EVER stayed at in my life. Innovative art-deco room design for the so-called "Crash Pad" I've stayed at, front desk staff were unbelievable (bending over backward with a smile to every request). People of the more prudish variety will probably wish to abstain, as the rooms do offer a sex toy menu; while I didn't partake, I thought it pretty cool... There's a bar upstairs (the rooms seem quite immune to sound from elsewhere), a mess hall downstairs that has Trivia Night and sometimes films or live music, a cafe next door, a sushi bar... all under "the Drake" banner. Ontario wines are available in the room for those who wish to have drinks in a quieter setting. The ambience throughout the Drake complex is upbeat, enthusiastic, smiling and a "can-do" attitude seems to prevail throughout.
So, my advice to visitors is not to judge the city based on the downtown core. The Queen West area generally has such an alive energy at night that is electric and contagious. (Funny enough, this area is just south of the Little Italy & Little Portugal enclaves which had defined that first visit in the late 90s.) Anyhow, I love Toronto again thanks to Queen Street West and....
*The Toronto Islands (coming up)*
Queen West, The Drake and The Islands Have Turned Me Into A Toronto Lover
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