Toronto's latest Drake enterprise has a familiar theme
The Drake Commissary in the Junction Triangle, designed by longtime collaborator John Tong, is being promoted as a 'creative culinary hub and production kitchen'
If you've nursed a cocktail in the Lounge of the Drake Hotel in Toronto's West Queen West neighbourhood, you've likely perched on one. If you've made the trek east to Drake Devonshire Inn in Prince Edward County to wine and/or dine , you've likely settled into one. If, and when, you explore the Drake Commissary – set to open this May or June in Toronto's transforming Junction Triangle – you'll likely prop yourself up on a brand-new version of one for a bite or sip.
I'm referring to the iconic One Arm Stool designed by John Tong, founding principal of +tongtong, the Toronto multidisciplinary design studio. Tong and the Drake go way back. It was he who helped make the Drake cool again, in 2004; as the lead designer of 3rd Uncle Design, he oversaw the deteriorating hotel's award-winning renovation (Tong founded +tongtong in 2012). In 2015, he designed the Drake Devonshire Inn, netting more awards for its cool, quirky interiors.
Now he's working on Drake Hotel Properties' latest endeavour, extending a fruitful relationship while also ensuring brand consistency.
The Drake Commissary is an 8,000-square-foot "creative culinary hub and production kitchen" in a former manufacturing building across from the Tower Automotive Building, new home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, on suddenly hip Sterling Road.
"You can really feel things hopping there," says Tong. "It's a new frontier, a pocket of opportunity, 'Queen West' bursting at the seams. Having done two Drakes that are different – one urban, one rural – yet consistent, the challenge was to do something new that still has ties to the original spirit: colourful, dynamic, energetic."
At the Drake Commissary, corporate executive chef Ted Corrado will oversee a team of bakers and chefs using artisanal techniques (baking, fermenting, smoking, preserving and pickling) to produce healthy, high-quality dishes for guests to enjoy in situ or take home; the large-scale production kitchen will supply baked goods and other prepared foods to all Drake locations and wholesale partners, as well as serve as home base for the new Drake Catering. A multipurpose space functioning as a bakery, bar and larder – providing open sightlines to allow guests to watch chefs at work – the Drake Commissary will offer counter and traditional table service. In-house curator Mia Nielsen has been working with local artists to develop custom installations; while Drake General Store's Carlo Colacci has scoured outdoor furniture auctions in the United States for funky furniture and oddities. Tong and his team at +tongtong have also developed custom furniture for the space.
Which brings us back to the One Arm Stool. Its origin?
"I had been travelling around Barcelona," Tong says. "And I was taken by the social interaction around Vespas. Strangers would meet in bars and travel by scooter to other bars. I liked the intimacy of that scooter seat and wanted to recreate it."
The arm, he says, is a merely a perch to foster interaction and communication; two can be placed together for added intimacy. Tong also had in mind airplane seats with a shared arm: "You have to negotiate, through body language, who will use the arm. I like that unspoken communication, provoking a subtle shift in interaction."
He prefers the arm not be used as a backrest – though he laughs that Drake Hotel and Drake Devonshire staff seem to prefer that as the default position, lining them up just so, no matter how many times he reminds them.
Taking his cue from important elements of design for the Drake Commissary – perforated metal panelling, with large round holes, and circular light installations – Tong decided to fashion a new version with a circular industrial metal base at the bottom and a round seat. But the one metal-and-wood arm remains in place, as does the leather upholstery in what he calls "Drake green."
In both its configurations, the One Arm Stool symbolizes the whole Drake vibe – cool but playful, quirky yet comfortable.