24 Wharf St., Wellington, Ont., 1-844-898-3338, drakedevonshire.ca, 11 rooms and two suites, from $229.
There is a lot to catch the eye at the Drake Devonshire, for it was made that way.
The stylish but homey lakeside hotel, a newly opened reimagination of the former Devonshire Inn in the small Prince Edward County town of Wellington, Ont., is the charismatic, season-round, rural outpost of Toronto’s boutique hostelry and hipsterville hot spot, the Drake. There’s a piano art installation outside; inside, there’s a vintage photo booth off the lobby, a cluster of giant fishing lures here and a Ping-Pong table over there.
What stops me in my tracks, though, is a line of poetry scrawled artfully on the wall of Room 103: “Standing on our little point of land,” a fragment from The Last Picture in the World, by the late, great, local poet Al Purdy. It is a civilized, indigenous touch – and a statement, too.
The Drake Devonshire is located at the corner of Wharf Street and Lakeview Avenue. That’s your clue, Columbo. I have no idea how many quadrillion gallons of water Lake Ontario holds, but a bunch of them crash against the outrageously close shore at the back of the hotel. The water was green and waving big during my visit – a windsurfer had all sorts of fun with it. A deck and a beach-set fire pit will get all sorts of action in warmer weather, I bet.
This place is all about style: country chic and rustic Canadiana complemented by eclectic splashes of whimsy, retro-mod nostalgia and high-minded curation. I love the funky mural by the Brooklyn-based art collective Faile in the old-style Pavilion, a screened-in porch. There’s a common room that is uncommon – it’s called the Glass Box, which is what it is.
Whom you’ll meet
The idea of a Queen Street West hotel moving its brand to a pastoral town of 1,700 people is a purposeful clash, one that literally invites a varied clientele. We see grey hairs, wine-loving yuppie couples, hip young families and one bachelor/writer who hasn’t eaten all day.
Eat in or eat out?
There’s a Foodland grocery store right next door – “Limit of two turkeys per family,” says the sign on its door – and a small-town spot like Rock’N Rogers Pizzeria is inevitably on Main Street.
With all due respect to those establishments, however, it’s hard to beat the Devonshire’s own restaurant, a dashing and high-ceilinged room with an eye-popping view of the water and a creative farm-and-lake-to-table menu. Instead of picking the pickerel, I chose (and was not disappointed with) the lamb shoulder. Though the local and international wine list is deep, I wash down my roast and root vegetables with full glasses of Labatt 50, the Queen Street quaffers’ ironic beer of the moment.
Room with a view
The smaller rooms are bright, inspired, inviting and come with nice touches – an artisan doll on the bed? Sure, why not – and the loft space is built for families and foursomes.
But the Owner’s Room is the big kahuna here. It’s wood-panelled, grand and comes with original artwork, a private-deck view of all that water and, just because, a pommel horse.
If I could change one thing
Because of the noise from the restaurant, the two ground-floor creek-side rooms – I slept in one of them – are overpriced. With the hotel in what it calls an “extended preview” until its grand opening in spring 2015, perhaps this is something they could work on.
Professional drinkers will go bat-crazy over the mini-bars. They are equipped with four 200-millilitre bottles, each thoughtfully coupled with the appropriate mix in a small paper bag: Vodka with club soda, gin with tonic water, rum with Coke and Canada Dry for Canadian whisky.
Not since Mantle and Maris and Rooney and Garland have mickies been paired with so successfully.