WEEKENDER: Hotel Philco

By Rebecca Dumais |

A dream fulfilled and a new destination in Crystal Beach…

Would you like to sleep amid suds, encircled by bicycles, graced with a gardenscape or cozy in a cabin? The draw and excitement of a destination are largely based on the accommodations, and travellers who appreciate a keen eye for design, humorous touches and thoughtful details will feel instantly at ease in Hotel Philco.

The hotel itself is located on the corner of Erie and Derby Roads, just 400 metres from the entrance to Crystal Beach within the historic Derby Square building. Owner and real estate broker Phil Smith bought the building in 2017 with the goal to turn a portion into apartments, shops and services. “I wanted something that was going to move the needle in terms of creating some buzz in Crystal Beach,” Smith says. “There was no commercial activity since the Crystal Beach Amusement park had closed in 1989.  The village was struggling. I just loved all the old buildings and the history.”

The section once known as the Ontario Hotel remained empty for some time. In 2018 he and his now-wife Kendyle went to the Grove Hotel in Kingsville, which was connected to a brewery.  “I needed to see it,” Smith recalls. “And that’s about when I got the idea to do something similar in Crystal Beach.”

Smith says the next four years were spent working, networking, sleepless nights, dreaming, early mornings, Lowes trips, stressing, pandemics, budget shortfalls, permits, and more.

The hotel, which now occupies that once empty section where the Ontario Hotel was, is a contactless boutique experience – guests receive a code for electronic access to the hotel and room. The rooms are located on the second and third floors and overlook historic Derby Road, known locally for generations as Hot Dog Alley.

Each of the seven rooms has a different theme, and Smith has plans to create up to ten more. Current room choices are Nautical, Garden, Cabin, Bicycle, Glam/Pink, Brewery and Crystal Beach, which commemorates the iconic amusement park that operated for 100 years and was located across the street. “I think the themes are what makes it unique and cool,” says Smith. “I tried to put a lot of details into it. It was fun and allowed me to be creative.”

Smith admittedly doesn’t sleep well – amplified by having a newborn at the time – so he’d find himself online for hours perusing Pinterest, Etsy, Wayfair and Amazon. Estate and garage sales were also valuable sources for kitsch and creativity. “Even if I sold a house that had something in it, I’d try to get it,” he says. A unique barrel chair Smith’s mother had made and upholstered many years ago now sits in a corner of the Brewery room as if it was meant to be.

Each room has something to look at, ponder, marvel over, and be fascinated by in its aptness. The Crystal Beach room has a car from the park’s infamous Wild Mouse ride and a locked glass cabinet that displays some park antiques and curiosities. The Comet midway light fixture in the stairwell was custom-made as a replica of the amusement ride. All room light fixtures match accordingly, whether they’re crafted from bicycle parts, nautical ropes or beer taps.

Even the bathroom tub/shower tiles coordinate. The nautical room’s tiles allude to waves, the Brewery room’s tiles look like bubbly suds, and the Glam room’s appear like precious stones. The heated bathroom towel bars are a welcome luxury. Quirky but thought-out details can be found throughout – including the drink holder in the Brewery room’s bathroom, should you wish to shower mid-sip. The drawer and cabinet pulls in the kitchenette are bottle openers.

Each room is equipped with a kitchenette with a mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker and a stovetop, as well as dishes and cutlery.

The hallway itself has stories to tell. Smith hung nearly 200 vintage photos, newspaper clippings, letters and quirky pictures, “hoping to bring a smile to people’s faces.”

Conveniently across the street sits the South Coast Cookhouse, ready to welcome you for lunch or dinner. Smith is also part owner and provides hotel guests with drink tokens towards a beverage of their choice (try the pickle martini – I highly recommend it!). “I’ll be working hard with local businesses to create packages and things. So many possibilities,” Smith says.

The area offers many things to do, whether you want to explore or simply enjoy the beach. “It’s a very walkable, bikeable, social and friendly spot,” he says. Plus, it’s a short drive to Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Fort Erie, and Buffalo, New York.

Smith has plans to open a spa in the final section of the building but in the meantime, there are several spas in nearby Ridgeway.

Crystal Beach is one of the finest sand beaches in Ontario, due to its sandy lake bottom, south-facing direction, and shallow water with no undertow. “And there are numerous bars and restaurants and shops all within a short walk, many in the hotel building,” he says. Rizzo’s House of Parm, which was recently opened by a friend of his, is just a few minutes away.

Smith likens his entire experience to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie he once saw on a flight, and “something clicked,” he says. “A guy inherits a hotel and everything goes wrong, and there are so many hurdles but he tries to reassure his guests (and himself), and he just kept saying ‘Everything will be alright in the end so if it is not alright it is not the end.’ I liked that saying so much so I had it tattooed on my arm!”

Since taking on so many roles and responsibilities – an architect of sorts, an interior designer, a hotelier, a new father and a husband – he’s excited to see the positives the hotel will do for the surrounding businesses and introduce new people to Crystal Beach. “I’m so grateful for everything and I’m so grateful for all the support.” 

I chose the Nautical room to feel as if I was sailing away to somewhere sunny. For someone who doesn’t sleep well either – I had one of the best periods of sleep in over three years.

Which room will you choose?

For more information

visit Hotelphilco.com