RKS Travel: Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Harbour House

I have stayed twice at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Harbour House during the plague. Perhaps the strongest feature is its location off the dreaded main drag, Queen Street, clogged with day trippers in the summer and fall months eating Hungarian Funnel Cakes and chowing down on ice cream. Yet for tourist gawking, it is a rich gawking ground and you are a 10-minute walk to Queen Street from Harbour House. On Melville Street, where the hotel is located, life is quiet and mostly residential. You face the Yacht Club and are just a two-minute walk to Riverbeach where you can enjoy a walk along the river and see Fort Niagara across the river in the State of New York. If you have a yoga mat it is a tranquil spot to make your moves.

Photo: Robert K. Stephen

A premium room at $340 a night is a fair price given the neighbourhood and a “continental breakfast” is also included and it is more than continental with home baked quiche and bread pudding something to look forward to. Although the mini croissants appear grocery store variety you may luck in with a butter tart! The service is impeccable with friendly locals whether it be at breakfast or throughout your stay. You may not have the mini-bar or an other than breakfast dining room but this is no 5-star Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons in New York, Paris or Madrid. You want wine then take a few minutes drive into wine country and thoughtfully there is a fridge in your room to keep wine chilled or food if you want a simple meal of cheese, bread and olives.

A momentously delicious quiche awaits you at breakfast: Photo Robert K. Stephen

And this is a dog friendly inn charging $25 a day for your dog with water and food bowls, poop bags and a bed at the ready. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a dog friendly town.

A leisurely two-hour drive (non weekend) from Toronto but mostly an ugly one. Get off the QEW at Beamsville and take the country road to Niagara-on-the-Lake as it is more scenic.

Why Niagara-on-the-Lake? A never-ending amount of wineries, Niagara Falls, the botanical gardens, the Butterfly Conservatory, the floral clock, golf, boating, hiking, cycling, The Shaw Festival and decent dining.

As for daily linen and towel service this is a feature that COVID has eliminated for many hotel properties. And one can become accustomed to that but some communication as how to request towels and glassware would have been helpful.

As a plus as this is wine country a shuttle service operates in the evening. Taxis aren’t exactly plentiful.

Not in the mood for dining out or you would like a glass of wine before or after dinner there is a small patio off the main reception area where you can bring your own wine and relax. Speaking of wine between 4 and 5 there is complimentary wine and cheese although the wine served is run of the mill and the cheese is a weird orange cheese ball from 1960’s suburbia!

As for dining many wineries have their own restaurants and patios. You may want to try Two Sister’s Winery restaurant “Kitchen 76” for rather expensive dining. Unfortunately the quality does not match the price. The Truffle Pizza at $36 is steep but worth the price. The Arancini at $20 was mediocre. The grilled octopus at $28 was not tender but rather mushy. Do try their Merlot at $21 a glass!  For Ontario it is a winner. The Lemon Olive Oil Cake at $14 was unremarkable. At $218 for two I would have expected better. Treadwell on Queen Street was a third visit for me. The last meal in October was stellar although the wine list remains surprisingly abbreviated for a “fine dining” restaurant. It was a lobster club with bits of annoying shell still in the lobster meat with a side of fries. The Hidden Bench rosé was pedantic and a very minute pour. If you want some quality baked goods the trip to Willow Cakes and Pastries on 242 Mary Street is worth it. And I hear the golf course a 10-minute walk away has a great food and a patio overlooking the lake.

A low-keyed inn off the beaten path but far from isolated. Not quite a bed and breakfast but definitely not a full-service hotel. Located at 85 Melville Street. The room size is generous.

RKS Travel Hotel Rating 83/100.

Published by Robert K Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden and the University of Toronto. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he has established this publication. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."

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