Mark Graham and his wife Cathy came to Strathroy looking to downsize. Instead, they put down stakes as the new owners of the Clock Tower Inn, Bistro, Pub & Catering.
Located in the historic clock tower building where the Strathroy Ale House used to be, the Grahams’ new venture brings upscale dining to the heart of downtown Strathroy and breathes new life into the impressive red brick landmark.
“We bought this almost on a whim,” says Graham, who has been a chef for over 30 years, most recently at the Oakwood Resort in Grand Bend. “It’s every chef’s dream to own their own restaurant,” he says. “I’m 52 and thought if I don’t do it now I’ll never do it. So we decided to take a chance and jump in with both feet.”
Built in 1889 and designed by Thomas Fuller — chief architect for the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa — the building originally housed the Post Office. And, as with many old buildings, remodelling brought both challenges and opportunities. Renovations to the restaurant began in January and continued until the end of May, although the pub area remained open through Easter weekend. Working with designer Cathy Jurjevich from in2space, the Grahams transformed an empty ground floor storage area into a spacious, contemporary dining room that combines the original exposed brick walls and oversized windows with a sleek new wine bar and an open kitchen where a pizza oven takes pride of place.
The room comfortably seats 65, while a second dining area holds around 30. Both are perfect for private events, and Graham says he is already receiving bookings for Christmas parties. As for the pub, it has been stripped of its sports bar past, and is now a more traditional ale house, complete with plenty of beer on tap and a newly-installed tin ceiling.
A self-described “old school chef” whose resume includes lengthy stints at Niagara’s Cherry Hill Club and Queen’s Park, Graham prepares everything at the Clock Tower Bistro and Pub in-house and from scratch, using as many local products as possible. “It’s more work, but a better product. We use Slegers Greens [available year ’round] for our salads, Ralph Bos Meats for our meat, and Hamilton’s Bakery for our breads,” says Graham. “And I walk up the
street to the Front Street farmers’ market every Saturday.”
The Bistro is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and offers seasonal menus as well as daily features.
The day begins with a hearty breakfast menu that goes beyond the usual morning fare with offerings such as Apple Cinnamon French Toast, Cheddar Biscuit Eggs Benedict and a protein-packed Breakfast Charcuterie. Gluten-free pancakes are also available.
Graham says locals and visitors alike particularly enjoy having breakfast on the covered front porch, which originally served as the Post Office’s front entrance. Additional alfresco dining is available on a rear patio.
The mid-day crowd can choose from a tempting selection of appetizers and small plates, or find satisfaction from one of the inspired Market Salads served with a choice of house-made dressings. For those with a larger appetite, the lunch menu also features a creative Sandwich Board, beef, lamb, or vegetable burgers, and hand-made rustic pizzas.
The dinner menu is supplemented by mouth-watering entrées like Apple Whiskey Baby Back Ribs, Grilled Duck Speidini and selection of pasta dishes. That’s in addition to a themed nightly feature. Wednesday is for pizza and wine, while Fridays are for the fish and seafood lover.
“We’ve had great feedback,” notes Graham. “We hear all the time how much Strathroy needed a restaurant like this.”
The Clock Tower is also able to provide custom catering thanks to a large prep kitchen in the newly-renovated basement. “We gutted this space and moved all the storage down here, as well as a walk-in fridge and freezer,” says Graham.
Upstairs, the Clock Tower Inn offers eight uniquely-decorated guest rooms, which the previous owners renovated only a few years ago. With 15-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, elegant furnishings, fireplaces, and sleek ensuite bathrooms, the Clock Tower Inn attracts a steady flow of overnight guests and has recently become a member of Ontario’s Finest Inns.
While the Inn rooms may not have needed extensive upgrades, the tower clock was another story. When Graham purchased the building, it hadn’t worked in years.
It is now ticking away thanks to a mechanically-minded family friend, although it doesn’t keep perfect time. “He will come back later this year to work on the mechanism,” says Graham as he climbs the narrow turret staircase to give the clock a wind.
“This is a labour of love,” Graham says. “I wanted to embrace the history of Strathroy and this building, and make it something special. I love being here, and I love the reaction I get from people when they walk in. They can’t believe the space.”
Monday–Friday: 7:00 am–10:00 pm
(Pub is open to 11 pm)
Saturday & Sunday: 8:00 am–10:00 pm
Nicole Laidler is a London freelance writer and copywriter who has covered the local business and culture beat for more than a decade. Visit her at www.spilledink.ca