When Toronto's Drake Hotel asked executive chef Anthony Rose for ideas for a new restaurant, he scored an instant hit: Drake BBQ opened on Oct. 22 to raves for its menu of North Carolina-style pulled-pork sandwiches, Texas brisket, slaw, pickles, peanuts, retro glass bottles of Coke and, for dessert, Whoopie pie, a concoction of chocolate cake slabs glued together with vanilla icing.
By next spring, or possibly summer, all the classic American road food will probably be gone. And that's okay with chef Rose, because as a temporary restaurant, a "pop-up," Drake BBQ was never meant to last.
"That's the beauty of the pop-up," says Mr. Rose, who trained in San Francisco and at tony Centro and North 44 in Toronto. "Barbecue has always been a passion of mine, but I'd never considered opening up a store. But I figured we could absolutely try this if it's just for a season."
Pop-up shops are the trendiest thing in retail, and they're catching on with hipster hotels - from Ace Hotel New York to London's Bermondsey Square Hotel - as a means of establishing their fashion-forward cred.
The Drake Hotel, which owns storefronts, has the flexibility to open actual restaurants as pop-ups. More often, though, they're simple affairs run out of hotel suites that tend to sell up-and-coming designer fashions, jewellery, housewares or gifts.
Unlike a trunk show, which a designer attends, pop-ups are essentially time-limited retail outlets. Promotion is done guerrilla-style, through e-mail blasts, Twitter, postings to fashion and design blogs, or to the travel-themed social networking site FourSquare. And customers need to get to the sale fast since it may last for only a few days, or even hours.
New York City is the current hotbed for pop-ups which, for at least the past five years, have taken over vacant storefronts as well as hotel suites. Some of the biggest brands - Gap, Target, Urban Outfitters and Mark Jacobs - are creating these temporary stores to drum up "anticipation and a sense of urgency around something that has a perception of being new and trendy," says Toronto-based retail consultant Joanne Balles.
The signature element is exquisite curation of merchandise, according to Ms. Balles, who has worked with Loblaw Cos. Ltd., Winners and Mendocino.
For instance, from early November until Jan. 2, Gap has partnered with the trend-watching website Cool Hunting to create a "Cool Hunting for Gap" pop-up in New York City. Among the unusual gifts and locally made stocking stuffers are limited-edition Mast Brothers chocolate and jars from The Brooklyn Salsa Company, along with cookbooks, housewares and artisanal clothing. The 5th Avenue storefront was styled with reclaimed wood from upstate New York barns, paintings by New York artists and a playlist of local bands.
It's an unanticipated departure from people's expectations of Gap that "takes the brand into a deeper connection with customers; it says, 'We understand what's meaningful to you in life,' " Ms. Balles explains.
Hotels that host pop-ups can claim similar bragging rights as cultural arbiters. "They become less places to stay; more places to get in touch with a city authentically, with what's hot and happening," Ms. Balles says.
Palm Springs' Ace Hotel & Swim Club had goods from Andrea Zittel's The Group Formerly Known as Smockshop design consortium, plus vintage art at its last pop-up. In Toronto, the Hazelton Hotel teamed with Ukamaku, an online community of young Canadian fashion designers, to organize a recent holiday-themed sale. And travel agency Indagare.com brought internationally focused brands Irvine & Fine, Romyda Keth, Same Sky and Panchachuli Weavers to its holiday souk at the Taj Pierre New York, in November.
"There's no downside to staging a pop-up" for the hotel, since it fills a suite that might otherwise have gone unbooked, and is less risky than signing a long-term lease with a traditional gift shop, says Gabor Forgacs, a professor at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, in Toronto.
Hotels are also now playing up the transitory excitement of pop-ups by offering Tweeted coupons that entitle the bearer to a free latte or discount off merchandise, Prof. Forgacs says.
But Mr. Rose, the Drake Hotel's chef, deems them more of an opportunity to be freely creative and spontaneous, while "plugging into what's happening culturally in your neighbourhood."
"Someone suggested barbecue, and I said, 'Okay!' You're trying out new things; always thinking, 'So what would the neighbourhood get a kick out of?' Then you just kind of go from there."
Find a pop-up shop
Time your next trip to New York to coincide with a pop-up shop. Surf Cool Hunting for details of the holiday sale on until Jan. 2; Toronto's BlogTO and en.wordpress.com/tag/pop-up-sale/; Three Inch Heels; and Apartment Therapy, which recently listed holiday-themed pop-ups in U.S. cities from Portland to Los Angeles.
Special to The Globe and Mail