WATERLOO, ONTARIO — Sonia Adlys, all five feet of spunk of her, walks around the Huether Hotel near midnight and marvels at the place. She’s been working at the landmark building for 51 years, yet looks around it with the same expression of wonder one of her guests might wear when introduced to the Huether, a delightfully peculiar place with a distinctive sense of comfort and cool.
Adlys, her husband, Bernie, and their three sons and one daughter have turned the property at King and Princess Streets into one of the most eclectic and fun hangouts in Ontario. Like the Gladstone and Drake hotels in Toronto’s funky Queen West West neighbourhood, the Huether is a multi-purpose venue with a music hall, café, restaurant and bustling bar. Unlike those better-known hotels, the Huether has one unique and definitive plus: A family atmosphere that the Adlyses have cultivated.
“Someone in the family is here all the time and when we couldn’t be here, because we were at my son’s wedding, we made sure we had a police officer on duty the entire night so no minors would be served and things wouldn’t get out of hand,” says Sonia as she gives me a tour around the historic hotel in Waterloo’s wonderfully vibrant, surprisingly upscale downtown.
The Huether is the epicentre of nightlife for a range of the city’s residents, who move and mingle and meld in one another’s interests in a 12,000-plus-square-foot space. In the recently opened café, you’ll spot a 20-something working on a laptop while around the corner seniors tap their feet in the month-old Jazz Room. University kids fill the pool hall and beneath them dinner parties occupy the private dining cave that was excavated in 1987. Another adjacent, step-down dining room has tunnels that the Adlyses have boarded up. “I don’t know where those tunnels went, but this building was around during Prohibition and the Seagram’s facility was just nearby,” Adlys said, offering an explanation for one of the Huether’s curiosities.
During the week, Research in Motion executives hold business meetings in the upstairs restaurant called the Barley Works while office workers convene on the spacious patio. At the 2,000-square-foot main restaurant that’s been home to the Lion Brewery for decades, blue-collar workers throw back one of the Huether’s nine microbrews. More than 1,000 patrons can fit into the hotel at a time.
“We have so many different kinds of people who come in here,” Adlys said after I took in a recent Jazz Room performance from Juno Award nominee David Occhipinti. “It’s really part of the neighbourhood here.”
What you won’t find at the circa 1842 building that’s named after its original owners is a hotel guest. The Adlyses rent the property’s 16 rooms to students for a bargain rate of about $400 a month. If you’re thinking the Huether beats living in a residence dorm room, you’re ready to ace an exam on co-ed sociology. The low-brow pool room, which includes retro arcade games, has rudimentary furniture and the kind of industrial flooring that populates so many common areas of a school campus. The Barley Works upstairs is clearly where you go once you’ve graduated and landed a job. It resembles a bistro with a big, airy atmosphere thanks to a vaulted ceiling and a fine-looking bar.
The Adlyses have run the Huether for more than a half-century and continue to re-invent it, as the opening of the Jazz Room proves. Their restoration efforts earned them a civic award in 1984. In 1987, they were able to open the brewery and restaurant, and they’ve established the Lion as one of the best microbreweries in the province (it’s also reputed to have Ontario’s oldest tap lines).
Although the warmth of family is apparent, the Adlyses don’t always agree on what to do with the hotel. “We had a family feud over the café. Some of us wanted it, some of us didn’t, but eventually we won out,” Sonia said, making it clear what side of the argument she was on.
Café 1842 serves baked treats, pizzas, soups and salads, healthier options than the pub fare in the Lion Brewery Restaurant and Barley Works. I didn’t try the food but I did sample most of the nine beers on tap. The best was the smooth, flavourful Adlys Ale and the similar, but sweeter Honey Brown.
Sonia beams with pride when you tell her how much you enjoy her establishment. “This place, and my husband, are the loves of my life,” she said with deep sincerity.
The Huether works so well because the people running it care so much. It’s been in the Adlys family since 1953. A few years after that, Sonia started working as a waitress and met Bernie, the son of the owner. The two of them were married about a year after their blind date and have run the Huether since 1965.
As Sonia proved, even after 51 years the Huether can still take you by surprise. During her tour, she came across a two-wheeled trolley that was behind some old barrels just outside the dining cave. The trolley was clearly not of this century, or perhaps even the last one.
“You see, this is an artifact. They would’ve used this to roll the beer barrels out,” she said while demonstrating the motion of the tiny steel cart with two sharp-edged feet. “We have so many things like this in here.”
Consider that we live in a country where it’s often difficult to find authentic history in commercial places and you’ll understand why the Huether really is a treasure. You can come in here and discover it anew many times, as even the owner does.
DIRECTIONS: From Toronto, take Highway 401 west to Exit 278 (Highway 8), exit onto Highway 7 East/85 North to Bridgeport Road West. Once on Bridgeport Road, turn left onto King Street North and watch for the hotel near Princess Street. Address:59 King Street North, Waterloo, ON; tele: (519) 886-3350.
Cafe 1842 Open Daily from 7am to 1am
Lion Brewery Restaurant Open Daily 11am to 1am And Sat and Sun Breakfast
Open at 10am Barley Works Sports Bar and Gril Open Daily 1130am to 1am
Edelweiss Tavern keeps things hopping in Kitchener