Breathing life and new purpose into The Albion Hotel was not expected to be a small task when Thomas Gofton bought the historic building last year, but he didn’t expect to take as much work, money and time as it has to bring his vision to fruition.
However, he now sees light at the end of the tunnel.
“We’re finally getting to the stage where the surprises are becoming fewer and fewer and it’s becoming more of what it will be,” Gofton said, adding he hopes to have at least part of the building open for business early in the new year.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done. A lot. And it’s all restorative measures.”
Gofton bought The Albion building, which sits prominently on the northeast corner of the intersection at Norfolk and Macdonell streets in Downtown Guelph, in July of 2020 and announced they had a lot of “crazy-assed plans” for the building.
Those plans, which have somewhat changed, were stalled due to pandemic factors, but mostly by the extent or work required, Gofton said, explaining repairs and changes often caused a domino effect that led to other required work.
“I can’t stress enough just how dilapidated the building was,” he said of the three-storey structure built around 1863. “Clearly the location wasn’t given the respect that it deserved in the past decade.”
Efforts are ongoing to create a “roaring ‘20s” feel to the building, harkening back to the American prohibition era, with a west coast-themed cafe on one side of the first floor and an east coast themed bar featuring "quality food with a twist" options on the other side.
The second level will be taken up by a Chicago-style speakeasy offering “top-shelf cocktails” and “100 per cent craft” beverages.
While The Albion name remains, each aspect of the building will have its own identity, Gofton noted.
“It’s still The Albion, but we’re not that restaurant.”
Whether the second floor is ready to open when the first floor is “remains to be seen,” Gofton added.
When it does, he said access will be limited to those who bring one of several hundred tokens to be hidden throughout the city, with clues to their location provided through a “massive” social media campaign.
This is similar to the secretive nature of 1920s speakeasies.
It may not remain so restrictive, but that’s the plan for early on, Gofton noted.
While repairs and renovations have been coming along more slowly than he’d have liked, Gofton feels it’s important to bring in a variety of heritage experts to advise and undertake the work.
“I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pay respect to the oldest commercial building in the city – a building that predates our country,” he said. “My goal is to pay homage to the fact that I’ve got a piece of art in heritage here and it’s my responsibility with my legacy to do whatever I can, at least until I can’t do it anymore, to make this place the best damn place possible in terms of the integrity of the building.”