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Chatham's plentiful pleasures - shops, food and a unique hotel

© By Nick Brune
  Chatham-Kent, a "community of communities," serves as a neat destination for travelers on a quick exploratory jaunt off Highway 401 or as a leisurely vacation for those who wish to remain, enticing each visitor with must-see restaurants and myriad shopping attractions.
     My first stop was in downtown Chatham at 2 King Street West - the artistically renovated RetroSuites, a premier boutique hotel and a wonderful story of "local boy makes good." Rob Myers, president and CEO of RM Auctions, an internationally recognized classic car restoration and auction house in nearby Blenheim, needed suitable accommodation for his up-scale clientele. In 2002, he purchased a rundown, seedy former bar, and then, with his wife, Cathy, designed this artistic marvel. Complementing the original three rooms, there are now twenty-five themed guest suites, all distinctive yet adhering to retro and automotive themes. Striking colours, art deco décor and meticulous attention to detail transform a stay at the RetroSuites into a true delight. You will particularly enjoy the intriguing art of Cathy Van Raay-Myers.

           

     Handily close inside the RetroSuites is the Chilled Cork, just off the impressive hotel lobby where one encounters a tastefully appointed eatery which maintains the art deco theme. Owned and operated by Cheryl and Bruce McInerny, who have been involved in the restaurant business for three decades, the Chilled Cork offers a sensible and varied menu that pleases any palate. Add a varied wine list to their efficient service and you enjoy a wonderful dining experience.

         

     Continuing along King Street, one is greeted with vibrant downtown shopping that magically appears as though derived from a Victorian picture book. Each store reflects a distinctive façade and inviting window display. The attractive street comes alive with shoppers and visitors who systematically check the large variety of items that are tastefully offered. Halfway down King Street, one discovers a multi-level indoor shopping mall, and on the other side of the street, there sits an historic war memorial that serves as both a solemn reminder as well as a gateway to spacious Tecumseh Park.
     Among the stores beyond the downtown area that demand a visit, two should be highlighted. The first is Birdie's Nest. Kathy Barrett's passion, enthusiasm, and knowledge is clearly evident throughout the 7,000 square feet of home décor, imported gifts, and jewelry providing a smorgasbord for the eyes. Kathy's tag line - "we shop the world for you" - is easily verified with observable relationships with artisans from Bali to Mexico.
     The friendly and knowledgeable Van Raay family runs the Glasshouse Nursery and Garden Centre, a large operation that offers a seasonal array of tasteful, practical, and decorative items for the home and garden. Typically distinctive items inhabit their nursery and garden centre, but there are also many other items such as indoor furniture and Crocs that one would not expect.

       

     After shopping, the choices to satisfy one's hunger pains are plentiful, and the quality is first-rate. Brian Machado, an internationally trained chef, runs Chatham's Breakfast House and Grille - Churrascaria. In the process of expanding an already highly successful operation, Brian is friendly and offers a complete and delectable menu. Located almost directly across Grand Avenue from Churrascaria is a relatively new dining lounge called Senses which appropriately appeals to all of one's senses, featuring a considerable amount of local produce from fruits and vegetables to fish. Rare dishes that include elk and venison are also featured on their menu. Both restaurants offer well-prepared food, pleasant ambience and decor and efficient service.
     If your passion involves antiques, flea markets, crafts and one-of-a-kind items, check out the many opportunities in surrounding towns on Chatham-Kent's tourism website (listed below). There are friendly shopkeepers, tradesmen and dealers in Bothwell, Cedar Springs, Erieau, Thamesville, Tilbury, Morpeth, Muirkirk, Wallaceburg and Wheatley, the names alone intriguing enough to spark a visit. And, of course, the other stores and restaurants of Chatham-Kent will be sure to entice you, so indulge yourself in its plentiful pleasures offering a unique experience in southwestern Ontario.

Nick Brune is an historian who has written for a wide group of organizations, including C.B.C. News in Review, The Dominion Institute (The Memory Project, Passages to Canada, etc.), the Hong Kong Commemorative Veterans Association (The Forgotten Heroes), and Elections Canada (The Democracy Project). He has co-authored more than half a dozen history textbooks for elementary and high schools.

Photo Credits
Chatham-Kent Tourism

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Birdie's Nest: www.birdiesnest.on.ca
Chatham Breakfast House and Grille: www.chathambreakfasthouse.ca
Chatham-Kent Tourism: www.visitck.ca
Chilled Cork - 22 William Street, 519-354-7818
Eve Chocolatier: www.evechocolatier.com
The Glasshouse Nursery and Garden Center Ltd: www.glasshousenursery.ca
Historic Chatham Downtown BIA: www.downtownchatham.com
The Retro Suites Hotel: www.retrosuites.com
Cathy Van Raay-Myers (Retro Suites Hotel) is an artist from the Chatham-Kent area. Her interest in art started early when she began drawing from etches and drawings of Rembrandt. She has studied drawing and basic design at Lakehead University, life drawing and sculpture in Montana, drawing with Michel Binette in Ridgetown, drawing and raku classes in Haliburton and is working towards her BFA at the University of Windsor. She combines different techniques to create rich, layered textures and is able to move easily between genres and mediums. Her work hangs in private collections in Canada and the United States.
RM Auctions: www.rmauctions.com
Senses - 526 Grand Avenue East, 519-355-1279

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