New downtown bar, brewery and restaurant about to open

Mark Woolsey raises a glass of River Run craft beer at the new Tin Fiddler pub. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

A local businessman is just days away from realizing a lifelong dream to rejuvenate an historic building for his own restaurant, bar and craft brewery.

Realtor Mark Woolsey anticipates the new Tin Fiddler pub will be ready to open its doors Friday, July 5.

“I’ve basically done a new build inside an old building,” he said as a seamstress stitched the bench seat upholstery and chef Mike Cooper went over the menu at the copper-top bar.

“I’ve done commercial renovations before,” said Woolsey.  “But this building was in rough shape and definitely more work than I thought it would be.”

He said he’s grateful to family and friends who pitched in to help renovate the 120-year-old building.

The decor of the new pub is industrial chic, with lots of corrugated steel. Woolsey incorporated historic features from the building throughout, using an antique safe for his reception desk and placing draft taps in an old pump organ behind the bar.

“I like repurposing and I like to do it right,” he said. “I am not a corner-cutter.”

On opening day, the 70-seat pub on the north side of the building will be in full use. A party room on the south side awaits licensing.

Woolsey bought the 12,000-square-foot building at 146/148 Christina St. more than a year ago after overhauling a building at the other end of the block, where the Downtown Market now operates.

Last summer, he got his first taste of restaurant/bar life when he opened The Courtyard, an outdoor patio wedged between his building and the Bayside Centre.

It proved to be a popular spot for drinks, appetizers and live music under the stars. The courtyard has had some upgrades and is reopening as part of The Tin Fiddler.

Nine months ago, Woolsey began major renovations indoors, stripping the building back to its original hollow clay blocks and ripping up linoleum to expose the terrazzo flooring.

In the refurbished basement, he and beer-making buddy John Tidball installed fermenters and enough equipment to begin production of a new Sarnia craft beer they call River Run Brew.

The third storey, where the Trinity Lounge operated for years, will have to wait, said Woolsey.

The Tin Fiddler will be the first to serve River Run draft, starting with four staples: a blonde, a red, a coffee stout and a pale ale.  There will be a couple of rotating taps as well.

River Run is brewing six times a week in preparation for the opening, Woolsey said.

“John and I are all about quality control. We won’t sell anything we don’t like.”

Upstairs, The Tin Fiddler will serve what Woolsey calls high-end pub food. Chef Cooper is from Nova Scotia so fish and chips and fish tacos are on the menu. He cooked for years in the GTA and at a vegan restaurant in Guelph before coming to Sarnia to work at Sawmill Creek.

He’ll have several signature dishes at The Tin Fiddler, including onion rings breaded with puffed quinoa and lamb tacos.

“I’ve always been told Sarnia is a meat and potatoes town but it’s not,” said Cooper. “Everything we serve will be made from scratch with our own sauces and dressings.”

Shareables will be priced around $5 and full meals about $20.

The Tin Fiddler has created jobs for about 25 bartenders and servers, and another 10 kitchen staff.

The Business Journal welcomes your ideas.  Send them to cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.