THE SKY YARD @ THE DRAKE HOTEL (1150 Queen West, at Beaconsfield, 416-531-0429) Complete meals for $35 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $6 imported pint. Average main $15. Patio open daily 4 pm to 2 am. Barbecue from 6 pm. Licensed. Access: 26 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Since the Drake is this season's scene to be seen, its just-launched 120-seat rooftop aerie is even more so. You can get there two ways. Take the art deco marble staircase that leads from the wood-panelled lobby complete with pommel horse. Or, walk through the dimly lit cocktail lounge past the walk-in fireplace and up a second, even grander open stairway next to David Chrystian's dining room.
I arrive an hour past the 4 o'clock opening and find the second-storey spot already half full. On the covered wooden deck, an after-work crowd chill on tall stools at an island-style bar, while opposite, a pillow-strewn banquette sits empty, permanently reserved, it seems, for those more fabulous than you or I.
Out in the sun, slackers slouch on pale blue yoga mats tossed with cushions or kick it Black Bull-style on white-washed picnic tables (aka the cheap seats).
But all eyes are on the pair of 8-foot-square upholstered lounging platforms located at the South Beach-style terrace's centre. There, on one of them, an exhibitionist couple make out as if the rest of us aren't present.
I return to my magazine, enjoying the wind off the lake somewhere to the south whooshing through the potted palms, the quiet only periodically interrupted by the honking horns of happy soccer fans on the street below.
Then someone notices they've forgotten to turn on the sound system. Party hearty, gang, 'cause it's Marley time!
Does every patio in town have to repeatedly play Bob's Greatest Hits once the temperature soars into double digits? Lively up myself? After four decades, I'm bored stiff.
Just then, the Literary Device sweeps in straight from her day gig, her eyes rolling theatrically.
"Do you believe these people?" she stage-whispers. Yes, they're quite the crew. At the next table, the producer of a local live TV show has spent the last 45 minutes on his cell barking orders at an underling while simultaneously knocking back pints of Stella ($5.98).
"Don't sweat it," he finally assures the person on the other end. "Tomorrow's a holiday so no one will be watching anyway."
By now it's almost 6, and the rooftop-exclusive card - different from the dishes served downstairs,with the exception of Chrystian's acclaimed Drake burger ($9 with salad instead of his stellar frites) - comes into effect. We beat the heat with pulpy melon-sweet gazpacho ($7) lashed with horseradish and dolloped with chili-lime relish and purple pansy petals. Four plump scallops swim within its ice-chilled glass.
Presuming her main is named in honour of the 67 Elvis movie and not for the Maritime method of steaming seafood wrapped in seaweed under hot coals, the Device opts for Clambake ($16). From a foil-wrapped packet she unleashes a luxurious cherrystone clam as well as a large lobster tail and pre-cracked leg alongside a link of spicy chorizo, halves of new potato and corn on the cob. It's a shame there's no bread on the table to sop up its gorgeous lemony liquor.
Perhaps to his consternation, Chrystian is renowned as the chef who elevated poutine from junk food to culinary art, even if it was done in fun. In the same spirit, he's now deconstructed tuna casserole ($17) - two barely seared slabs of blood-red sushi-grade tuna from the raw bar plated on a mayo-dressed pasta salad of al dente wheat macaroni, red onion and radicchio leaves dressed with a slender slaw of tart Matsu apple and orange nasturtium.
Pastry chef Heather Pollock doesn't quite pull off another clever conceit, s'mores ($5). The graham wafer sandwich stuffed with Marshmallow Fluff drizzled in chocolate sauce melts more into the checkered paper wrapper it's served in than the mouth.
Before you leave the building, stock up on her awesome tarts, sold only in the Drake's first-floor coffee shop - pyramids of layered chocolate mousse built on cracker-thin shortbread squares, densely sweet coconut 'n' lime in pâte brisée, and summer berries - blueberries, raspberries and sour red currants still on the vine - over custard flan (all $3.50).
Though the rooftop repertoire is less adventurous than its more formal downstairs setting, and the hipsterisms often ring hollow, the Drake delivers a dynamite package. And its staff are consummate professionals. Walk in off the street for a quick lookie-loo and you're likely to get the full guided tour. Forget Heather Graham - they smile no matter who you are.
Like the sign once advised the queue out front, "Everyone's famous - join the line."