Hamilton is an exciting place to be right now, especially for those of us attracted to the amazing architecture this city boasts. A few years into my interior design career, I decided to focus on working with historic places and public spaces. I was drawn to the inherent magic of heritage sites and that something special that happens when an old place is sparked with new life.
Obviously, I’m not alone. As developers and local entrepreneurs catch on to this idea, an ever expanding collection of cafes, restaurants, venues, museums, galleries and theatres is growing throughout our city, reviving the architecture we’ve inherited from the past.
Heritage in Hamilton is not just something to be looked at and admired. It’s something that should also be experienced and enjoyed.
Let’s take a look at some of these new places to play around town.
The Aberdeen Tavern opened this past spring, a few blocks over from the bustling neighbourhood corridor of Locke Street in the city’s South-West. The restaurant and bar specializing in premium comfort food and vintage cocktails has been earning rave reviews. But the building it’s housed in deserves equal recognition.
Designed at the height of the Art Deco period in the 1920s, the buff brick building was built in 1941 as a new branch for the Bank of Toronto, one of many commissions granted to architect Walter Blackwell. The classically inspired façade is reminiscent of the Beaux Arts style fashionable in New York City during the time Blackwell trained there. After the bank closed its doors, 432 Aberdeen was adapted into an interior design studio and then a fine dining restaurant called Seven Windows which closed in 2013. Seven Windows took its name from the vast windows that line three of the dining room walls, flooding this space with sunlight to create a light-drenched spot for lunch or weekend brunch. Cozy banquettes, dark woodwork and old-world style oil paintings are a rich contrast to the fresh white tile and paint, creating a cool, transitional vibe.
Upstairs, the former office spaces have been turned into a fully equipped boardroom and lounge with a chef’s table, ideal for parties and corporate events. Evenings see the restaurant aglow with candlelight and sparkling conversation of the stylish dining crowd, making the Aberdeen Tavern a solid choice for a memorable night on the town.
Back downtown, a classic three storey red brick façade overlooking “the Gore” has recently received a contemporary facelift. The former storefront has been rebuilt entirely, pushed back on an angle with a colossal Brazilian hardwood door leading into an exposed brick & concrete venue space.
Mills Hardware started out as just that – a hardware store for farmers. It was built in 1909 by local architect and merchant, Charles Mills. By the 1950s the building went through its first reincarnation as a live music venue, embracing the hot new sound of rock n’ roll. The next decade it was resold and became known as Diamond Jim’s Tavern, an opulent dancing & dining hall resonant of a San Francisco saloon during the gold rush era of the late 19th century. Since then, ‘95 King’ has held many manifestations of bar, tavern, roadhouse, lounge and gentleman’s club until 2008, when purchased by CityHousing, an entity of the City of Hamilton.
The building has been completely renovated to create the new public arts venue and affordable live/work creative studios above. Programming ranges from art shows and music performances to possibly its most popular event: a bumping family dance party held monthly on Sunday afternoons. Look out for great upcoming shows including the Valentine’s Day inspired, JUNO Concert Series Presents the Love Song Edition.
Up the escarpment, The Zoetic Theatre is home to a number of entertainment opportunities for all ages. The former movie house turned Mountain hub for creative arts features an eclectic mix of film screenings, live performance and multimedia studio. Built in 1927 as the Lyceum Theatre, the location on Concession Street near Upper Wentworth was adjacent to the former escarpment trolley platform, which gave it a prominent spot amidst the lively commercial strip.
Hamilton in the 1930s was brimming with movie theatres, as admission prices fell with the stock market and the glamour of Hollywood became an accessible escape from difficult daily life in the Great Depression. The decades since have seen the classic single-screen theatre take on different names including New Mountain, the York and most recently, the Movie Palace, which still adorns the landmark Art Deco-inspired neon sign that glows above the marquee today.
Programming includes great classic and cult favourite films (among them rousing sing-along events); live music, open mic events, and popular Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra Movie Nights featuring pre-screening performances.
The majestic theatre space is available to rent for photo and film shoots.
Here’s a peak into the Zoetic’s transformation:
Ashleigh Bell is a designer and heritage project coordinator at the City of Hamilton’s Tourism & Culture Division. She is an alumnus and faculty associate of Willowbank School for Restoration Arts and has led heritage education seminars for the Hamilton-Burlington Society of Architects. Ashleigh lives and works on James Street North in downtown Hamilton. Follow her on Twitter @AshleighMBell and Instagram @ashleighmbell.
Her blog Heritage Hotspots invites readers to discover the city’s incredible heritage landscape that makes Hamilton unique in the region and the many new heritage projects creating vibrant places to live, work and play.