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Brothers Robby (left) and Mike St. Denis, owners of the Windsor Tavern in Vankleek Hill. The popular Vankleek Hill watering hole has been owned by the St. Denis family since it first opened in 1907. Photo by Reid Masson

Vankleek Hill’s century-old Windsor Tavern expands outdoors after longest shutdown in its history

The Windsor Tavern is back serving customers, after the popular local watering hole’s longest shutdown in more than a century of operation.

The historic tavern – which opened its doors in Vankleek Hill for the first time in 1907 – is serving customers outdoors on a revamped and expanded patio. The space, resplendent with new outdoor furniture and fancy table umbrellas, allows customers at the Windsor to enjoy a bit of sunshine alongside the large outdoor event tent in the tavern’s parking lot.

“We’re outside, so we’re about half of our normal capacity, but we’re open,” said Mike St. Denis, who owns the Windsor with his brother Robby.

The two brothers took over the business from their parents Lynn and Mimi and The Windsor has been owned by the St. Denis family since first opening. Mike says his ancestors could never have envisioned a situation where the bar would have been shut down for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My dad never dreamed of that in his life,” says Mike of his father, who still regularly visits the Windsor for a pint and a chat with friends. “We were always open seven days a week – we shut down only for Christmas and New Year’s Day.”

Although somewhat dependent on weather, the outdoor spaces have been mostly busy since the tavern reopened – thanks to a very dry spring and early summer. When it does rain, the large event tent serves as a haven for guests.

Customers have lined up for the Windsor Tavern’s annual golf tournament, which takes place at La Cite Golf Course this Saturday, July 17. The popular event is sold out and the two brothers are expecting participants will be eager to hit the links this weekend with their fellow Windsor regulars.

“It’s our 33rd annual tournament and we’ve got over 100 golfers – it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Mike said.

The Windsor is also planning a number of activities to be held outside over the summer, including several charity events and musical performances. A fundraiser for the Arbor Gallery with local band 50 PROOF is being held on August 7. A fundraiser is also planned for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in early September, with multiple musicians playing.

Coming up on July 25, fire-brand poet and humourist Brunty is back at the tavern (see separate story).

With Ontario moving to Stage 3 on July 16, the Windsor will once again be open to indoor customers, although with a 25 per cent capacity limit. In the meantime – and afterwards – the owners of the Windsor hope regulars will enjoy the new outdoor patio.

“There’s an extra 200 square feet to allow people to be socially distant and comfortable,” said the tavern’s co-owner. “I can’t see things getting back to normal for at least a few months.”

“We’ve got all new patio tables and chairs and they’re very comfortable. We hope people will come down and enjoy one.”

Reid Masson

Reid Masson is a graduate of Algonquin College's Journalism Program. He has over 20 years of experience as a staff writer and editor for various newspapers across Canada, including The Ottawa Citizen and Brockville Recorder and Times.

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