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While Charlottetown’s new restaurant and inn may look like it’s straight out of the early 1900s, extensive work was put into it to make for a dining experience – both old and new.
Construction started on Slaymaker & Nichols Gastro House, located on the corner of Queen and Fitzroy streets, in December 2018. At one point, co-owner Christine McQuaid could see straight into the building’s basement from the top floor.
“We gutted this whole house down from nothing," she said.
Christine and her husband Steve Murphy also own the Blue Mussel Café – a restaurant in North Rustico popular with locals and tourists. It's been operating seasonally for the past six years, but the couple decided to start something new because they were going stir crazy over the winters.
“Sitting at a beach all winter is not all it’s cracked up to be,” she said. “We were just kind of ready to work while we’re still young."
“Everyone thinks we’re crazy,” Murphy added. “(But) this is what we’d rather do. We enjoy this.”
They were also tired of having to lay off their skilled Blue Mussel staff every winter, Murphy said. “We really wanted to keep people together.”
Slaymaker & Nichols, which opened on Nov. 22, will operate year-round. Rather than seafood and a traditional three-course meal, it features a menu that’s more intended for people to share as groups.
“We find when we eat, it’s more interesting to talk about the food together,” McQuaid said.
This may include a platter of deviled eggs, jalapeno pearls with some bacon for good measure, and soups so flavourful you only need two sips.
Afterall, the word ‘gastro’ stems from gastronomy, which is the practice of cooking and eating good food.
“It becomes an event. It becomes exciting,” Murphy said. “It’s really a foodie destination.”
The name derives from a travelling circus that used to visit P.E.I., most notably in 1864 – when the Fathers of Confederation visited to discuss the idea of forming Canada. At first, they didn’t get along, but the circus festivities may have played a role in banding them together, Murphy said.
The restaurant’s historic building was constructed in 1912 on the same city block where the circus took place. Once Murphy and McQuaid started renovating it, they needed to do something with the second floor.
“We did not want to do a two-storey restaurant,” she said.
Their solution was to turn it into a three-bedroom inn. The idea was inspired from their trips to Europe, where they’d eat at small, tavern-style restaurants, then head upstairs to a cozy and convenient bedroom to spend the night.
“Sort of what it was like in the early 1900s,” he said. “We thought that was ideal for the era of (this) house.”
The bedrooms have a vintage aesthetic, featuring gold and brass fixtures, custom-made draperies, and vinyl record players. The inn is still waiting on some final touches before being officially opened.
Until then, the couple is already getting ready for a busy summer operating one more restaurant than they’re used to, McQuaid said.