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Hudson watering holes hoping for opening

By Nick Zacharias


Closed for most of the pandemic, the legendary Willow Inn in Hudson has launched a re-opening of sorts by hiring Iron Chef Canada winner Danny Smiles and offering a pick-up menu and is hoping to open the pub for the summer season.

It may seem funny to do a roundup of local watering holes during a pandemic when bars have been ordered closed, but while some have unfortunately fallen victim to the times (the venerable Château du Lac comes to mind) others are finding ways to re-invent themselves. And while pandemic restrictions remain in place, there are new establishments popping up whose owners are banking on the hope of brighter and more open days ahead.

Focusing on the food

A Hudson institution for centuries (it turned 200 last year) The Willow Inn has drawn people from near and far for its food and for its pub with a classic atmosphere and impressive views over the Lake of Two Mountains. The pub is closed for now, as has been its kitchen for most of the pandemic, but that’s changed. They’ve hired Iron Chef Canada winner Danny Smiles as executive chef and manager, and have started welcoming customers once again – starting with takeout for now. “It was an absolutely amazing first weekend,” said events co-ordinator Julie Leadbeater. “It was such an incredible turnout for pickups in our parking lot. We’re just hoping that these restrictions are lifted soon – we want to open the pub again, and for the summer we can seat 115 people safely with distance on our terrace – all we’re waiting for is word that we’re allowed to open.”

A newer player in town is the Cameron Public House, located on Cameron just a stone’s throw from Main Road. They actually opened during the pandemic, and have lately had to put the ‘pub’ part of the name on hold while focusing on serving food via takeout and delivery. It’s a strategy many are relying on to get them through while they wait for the green light to fully re-open.


Focusing on the drinks

A different approach has been chosen by the owner of Microbrasserie Cardinal Brewing – a craft brewer and taproom that has so far only been able to sell beer in cans like a retailer. “We were already committed to opening before COVID hit,” said Will Tomkinson who co-owns the establishment with Master Brewer Duncan Cowie, “so we carried on. But with delays on construction and equipment, we were only able to brew 150 litres at a time at first.” Even with a short supply to sell over the counter on weekends, they were embraced by the local community for beers like their Flagship English Special Bitter and their take on a traditional German Kölsch with a bright red ‘Cardinal’ colour. But really what they’re counting on is being able to serve beer in their taproom and terrace, which have yet to be allowed to open. “We’re ready,” says Tomkinson, “we’re just waiting to hear when we can open the rest of the way.”


The soon-to-open Alibi Lounge on Main Road in Hudson is in a similar position. Owner Alex Mate is counting on a change in restrictions to open his sleek new lounge in the heart of town. “We’re really hoping for a mid-June opening,” said Chris Natale of Bar-Ops, who is working with the Alibi Lounge as they prepare to launch. Their focus will be on high-end craft cocktails in a warm and sophisticated setting – a model that will no doubt be welcomed, but will demand a change in restrictions so they can safely serve patrons in person.

Opening soon?

Between staffing up and down and managing supplies as the rules shift, there have been many challenges to local watering holes, yet many are hopeful that things will get better soon. Says Cardinal’s Tomkinson, “We’re up to 1,700 litres at a time now, and we’re placing beer in retailers around the region, but it’s a race against the clock. Our business plan relies on pouring pints. We have a beautiful wide-open taproom and a great terrace, but the longer we’re prohibited from opening the more difficult it will be.” He’s hoping they’ll be able to start serving in person sooner rather than later, and there are no doubt many thirsty (and socially dampened) locals hoping for the same thing.