a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This hotel bar is zapper in Canada

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Canada – The abundance of summer flowers along the street give rise to a grand early Victorian redbrick hotel in Canada, and they immediately draw me to the door.

It gives way to a richly appointed English-style room with intricately carved mahogany covering every inch of the walls and ceiling in the Prince of Wales Hotel pub in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.

I grab a stool, its seat upholstered in maroon leather, before hearing a loud zap, pop and fizzle behind the bar. From the corner of my right eye, a bright light flashes from a stainless steel wine and beer cooler.

“I’m not touching that,” exclaims the beautiful young female bartender while maintaining an infectious smile. “There is a fire in there.”

A waitress afraid of a shock emerges holding a white linen napkin and uses it to open the refrigerator door, releasing a putrid cloud of smoke and gases. The fire is out but, the room now stinks like burning wire and car tires. She calls for maintenance. A few minutes later, a manager comes to the rescue with a can of air freshener that she sprays around the back bar.

“There, now it smells like apples,” she says, leaving the room with more obnoxious chemicals in the air.

I wonder if I should gulp down a beer and find somewhere else to eat, even though the vegetarian sandwich advertised on the outdoor menu is calling my name.

The air clears so I order the grilled asparagus with Monteforte feta off the Churchill Lounge menu from the still-bubbly bartender. It arrives with roasted red peppers in two wedges of rosemary focaccia spread with basil mayo. A plain salad of just mixed greens equally covered in a white balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil dressing also springs from the plate. Together, they make for a great light lunch on a hot, breezy day in Upper Canada’s wine country, costing $14 in Canadian cash.

This town is understandably where dark-tanned, wealthy white boaters come to play at the juncture of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Niagara-on-the-Lake is commonly called one of the prettiest towns in Canada because of its quaint residential streets and small downtown lined with restaurants, shops and galleries. A half-hour’s drive from Niagara Falls, it’s a fantastic tourist destination filled with pristinely restored Colonial- and Federal-style buildings. The town dates to the 1700s, having been the first capital of Upper Canada, now known as the province of Ontario. But, the village had to be rebuilt after being leveled by American troops during the War of 1812, when the United States tried unsuccessfully to expand its territory into Canada.

The Prince of Wales, with more than 100 luxury rooms, dates to 1864. Leisurely guests can enjoy a traditional afternoon British tea in the frilly drawing room or relax at a spa. Instead, I sample a cold glass of Niagara Pale Ale, a product of the Niagara Falls Brewing Co., before taking a stroll through the downtown, where horse-drawn white carriages compete with slow-moving cars along narrow streets.

“You came at the most exciting time of the day,” the bartender says, giving a nod in the direction of the dead beer cooler.

“It was the highlight of my day,” I tell her.

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