The Drake Hotel has never been afraid of a little shtick, and pop-up and quasi pop-up operations have long been a part of that. There’s the Drake General Store (and its two sister locations across the city), the now-defunct Scoops and Tees and its successor the Drake BBQ, a pop-up shop that, in true pop-up fashion, will serve its last pulled pork sandwiches and whoopie pies this Saturday. This summer, the Drake is launching the Dining Roadshow, a sort of in situ pop-up program that GM Bill Simpson told us is “meant to be an exploration over the next year as we plan to expand The Drake.” The roadshow will feature a series of thematically changing restaurant concepts that will be highly theatrical, whimsical and, yes, pretty darn kitschy. The first stop: Summer School Dining Hall.
Open now through Sept. 4, the Dining Hall is a space completely set apart from the main area (past the sushi bar and stairs going up towards the bathroom) and was redesigned in just three days. Here, communal tables made from old bowling alley wood give the feel of an upscale mess hall, complete with a nostalgia-inducing centerpiece featuring vintage lunch boxes, Rubik’s cube salt grinders (on sale for $28) and daily specials served, yes, on cafeteria trays.
On the back wall, you’ll find black and white team and class photos as well as barn wood shelves of old exercise notebooks, science textbooks, lab equipment, rulers, clocks and the like. Prints by illustrator Gary Taxali brighten up the space with his trademark cartoonish yet complex ideas. New to the space is a mini open kitchen, a concept that The Drake is testing for its expansion next year. Servers don white shirts with school crests and kerchiefs, like a cross between preppy school outfits and scouts’ uniforms. The menus, meanwhile, sit in three-ring binders and Duo-Tangs (yes, Duo-Tangs) and are adorned with textbook figures and notes. During dinner service, you might hear announcements on the P.A. or catch an “impromptu” glee club performance.
On the menu, chef Anthony Rose gets nostalgic with his favourite childhood classics, playing on memories of summer, summer school and comfort cuisine with dishes like the pork ’n’ beans ($26 for a family-style shared plate). “Pork ’n’ beans would always be the first thing we’d eat on the first night when we went camping in the summer,” Rose told us. “You could smell and hear the beans sizzling away over the fire.”
Same goes for the tomato alphabet soup ($9), made with local tomatoes from Cookstown Greens and served tableside from a thermos; the buttermilk fried chicken ($24); and the foot-long (veal) cheese dogs ($17) that Rose hopes will bring you back to baseball games and the Ex. To finish it off, there are lunchbox dessert faves: salted butterscotch pudding ($8) or a homemade passion fruit “passion flaky” ($7).
Next up on the Dining Roadshow circuit, from Sept. 8 to Nov. 19 (just in time for TIFF), will be L.A. Chinatown circa 1940s (we couldn’t help but be reminded of Grant Achatz’s Next restaurant in Chicago, where the current theme is Escoffier’s Paris 1906). We’ll be on the lookout for Chinese lanterns, fortune cookies and cocked fedoras.
The Drake, 1150 Queen St. W., 416-531-5042, thedrakehotel.ca