The 40 rooms and suites in this hotel (an hour’s drive from Windsor and Detroit) are done up in themes – but tastefully
Often when you stay in a hotel it’s the view outside that has drawn you to book the room. At downtown Chatham’s Retro Suites Hotel, the fun interiors are the obvious highlight.
Chatham is a small town about an hour’s drive from Windsor, Ont., and while it was once a stop on the Underground Railroad and does boast a few attractions – more on that below – it’s probably fair to say it’s not a major tourist destination.
It’s worth trying to come up with an excuse to head to Chatham, however, thanks to the Retro Suites Hotel, a unique, upscale hotel where no two rooms are alike.
There’s the Easy Rider room, for example, a chopper enthusiast’s dream centred around a New Hudson motorcycle (circa 1900) that’s suspended from the ceiling. It’s rumoured that Nicholas Cage and Jay Leno have stayed in this room (not at the same time).
The Log Cabin is almost self-explanatory: It’s all tinder and timber, with a huge chandelier made of horns hanging overhead. The Paris room promises crisp white and black Parisienne décor and a bit of opulence. Room #226, Sports Time, is not only decorated with sporting goods and framed hockey jerseys on the walls, the carpeting looks like a football field.
The Easy Rider suite
And so on. Guests choose from more than 40 of these themed spaces, from rooms with lofts all the way up to the presidential suite. Each room is themed but there’s nothing cheesy here; the décor is upscale, while the furniture, beds, bedding and linens are luxe enough to encourage a good night’s sleep or lingering indoors for a bit.
Log Cabin suite
The hotel offers retro done right – there’s no reproduction fluff, according to the owner, Rob Myers. The hallways and lobby are festooned with vintage (sometimes wacky) memorabilia, from a retro milk-dispensing machine to giant tin soldier statues. Most of the artwork throughout the hotel was created by Myers’s wife, Cathy Van Raay Myers.
Where did all of this stuff come from? Mayers is a huge collector, which made filling the hotel with his found items easy – including a microphone used by the King himself (Elvis, that is).
The building itself maintains the historic elements of Victorian architecture. The hotel occupies space that was once a hardware store, and the front entrance used to face the local market. The main staircase in the lobby dates back to 1895 when the building was home to the Merill Hotel, built in the 1890s. The Merrill opened in the 1890s and was one of the first brick buildings to be constructed on the King Street and William Street block.
Many of the rooms (such as ‘Cottage,’ pictured) have so subdued a theme it’s almost not a theme at all
Rooms for longer stays
The Superior Lofts function like a mini condo within the hotel. They feature two floors with bedrooms and comfy pullout couches a nice distance away from each other, though you’d still be able to hear your travel companions argue over who’s hogging the covers.
Kitchenettes have everything you need to heat up a meal, or refrigerate some of the fresh roadside produce you purchased or a bottle of vino from one of the local wineries. There’s a fridge and a stocked mini Keurig.
Rock and Roll suite
Other hotel features
Just beside the lobby is The Chilled Cork, a well-regarded restaurant in its own right. Staying in Lake Erie territory demands that you order the perch dinner. The voucher options for breakfast are limited to two or three choices but you can certainly order off the menu. Traditional eggs and bacon or a breakfast sandwich will definitely tide you over.
Guests at the Retro Suites are privy to a bunch of benefits, including free WiFi, bottled water, free long distance in North America, use of the GoodLife Fitness, Shakti Yoga – and even 18 holes of golf at Willow Ridge Golf Course (season permitting).
The eye-opening historical site, Buxton National Historic Site and Museum, was a terminus point on the Underground Railroad. Shannon Prince, a sixth-generation descendant of black slave settlers to the area, gives informative tours. The museum has a large collection that shows both the dismal treatment of slaves and also the lives they were able to build for themselves once freed. Inside the last surviving schoolhouse, built by fugitive slaves and oldest home in the settlement (circa 1852), Shannon can even tell you where she sat and even point out schoolhouse photos of her ancestors, her husband and Shannon herself.
If you’ve got more time, take a few moments to learn about more local history at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, located in Dresden (about 28 kilometres away from the hotel). Also part of the Underground Railroad, this historic site marks the life of Reverend Josiah Henson, who inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The five-acre property situates the family’s cabin, smokehouse, sawmill and the Henson family cemetery. The property is part of an original 200-acre (80-hectare) plot that was purchased in 1841 where escaped slaves could find community.
Chatham-Kent’s warm (for Canada) climate attracts lots of rare birds, and the ornithologists who love to spot and photograph them. Even if you aren’t a birder, the areas the birds themselves frequent are nice for hikes. The main areas these passersby frequent include Rondeau and Wheatley Provincial Parks, the Blenheim Lagoon and the St. Clair National Wildlife Area.