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Michele Sponagle
Travel like a local.
Insider takes on the best of the city – by Michele Sponagle

There are more than two dozen amazing new reasons to visit Hamilton in 2020. We've got more great places to eat, fresh experiences to chase and cool new places to hang out with friends and family.

Dive in and start planning a year's worth of daytrips and weekend getaways.

EAT, DRINK, BE MERRY

James Street grabs the spotlight again with a few new restaurant openings.


Uncle Ray’s Food & Liquor welcomed its first diners in mid-December, next door to popular Earth to Table Bread Bar’s second location. The menu boasts Southern classics like chicken and waffles, hush puppies and sauced up pork ribs. Finish up with mini doughnuts, carrot cake or sugar pie. The boozy offerings lean on local craft beer, cider and cocktails, like a “snaquiri,” a small, signature daquiri that changes daily.


Meanwhile Winebar has also taken its place on the James Street North strip. There’s a nice list of sippables here – wines-by-the-glass, craft beer, port and even Japanese whiskey. To accompany those beverages, you’ll find tasty bites like beef tartar, a goat cheese tart and French artisanal cheeses.

Find out why locals are cheering about the return two of their favourite dining spots Rapscallion and Two Black Sheep – reopening as Rapscallion & Co. in spring of 2020. It will be a hybrid of fine dining and lively cocktail bar in the James Street North space that was once home to Ventura’s, a well-loved Portuguese restaurant whose owner recently retired.

True Shot Coffee on James Street South joins Hamilton’s growing list of beautiful coffee shops. Enjoy a clean, modern décor that still feels cozy along with hand-crafted espressos and teas.

Barton Street is also coming on strong on the food front.

  • In January, the team behind the much-loved Pokeh is launching their latest project called Maipai, a combination of tiki bar (a first for the city!) and a Detroit-style pizza joint. Their classic tiki cocktails will be made with spirits, like rum, juices made in house daily and handcrafted syrups. Their Detroit-style pizza will be worth the visit alone: rectangular, made from fermented dough, with cheese right to the edge so you get a crust with a crispy edge, then kicked up with hot red sauce.
  • Another opening from an established restaurateur behind One Duke Restaurant & Lounge, diners will bring casual, hearty fare at Duke's Pub, Pasta & Pizzeria, opening in January on Barton Street East.
  • The crew that brought Hamilton the popular and oh-so-Instagramable brunch spot MOTEL is adding to the fun with Stardust a few doors down on Barton Street East. This cocktail and snack bar will host a small brunch on weekends but will mostly be a later day 'dive bar' inspired by 1980s Las Vegas, complete with palm trees, neon lighting and plush fuchsia seating.
  • While you're in the neighbourhood, swing by the first brick-and-mortar location opening in partnership with Bike Locke in spring 2020 for Dawson's Hot Sauce, a local business that has been created wickedly good hot sauces for more than six years.
  • Collective Arts Brewing is expanding its lineup of tasty adult beverages. Last year, it successfully introduced two gins. Early in 2020, expect to see a seasonal winter-focused gin, followed by the launch of a line of canned cocktails in March.

 

Save room for even more delicious new eateries across the city.

  • The east end Crown Point neighbourhood recently welcomed Poke Co to the area, serving up fresh poke bowls, made with Ocean Wise fish - tuna, salmon as well as pork, vegan and vegetarian options.
  • Also in Crown Point, the new beer bar and restaurant Osten Beerhall has opened its doors with a diverse local and European beer menu right next to its also new sister restaurant 1101 Cafebar, serving up a unique European menu and killer brunch.
  • The owner of the popular Caro restaurant on Ottawa Street puts his unique spin on steak and seafood with the arrival of Victoria's in the new year at the corner of King and Locke Streets (the former site of BBQ joint Rolly Rockets). Canadian beef is the star of the menu, alongside a signature seafood tower with crab, shrimp and yellowfin tuna tartar, sure to create a 'wow' moment when it lands on the table.
  • Lovers of craft beer now have a new reason to visit historic Ancaster. Brewers Blackbird Kitchen & Brewery offers great pub grub like burgers and wood-fired pizza, and, of course, tasty beer brewed on site. Some may recognize this historic building as the former site of Rousseau House.

MUST VISIT ATTRACTIONS

  • Royal Botanical Gardens is not just a spring and summer attraction. All year round, there's something to see and savour. Wildlife Rescue is the latest reason to visit. The interactive exhibit focuses on the recovery efforts of people who have dedicated their lives to saving and releasing endangered animals, from African elephants and whooping cranes, to orangutans to sturgeon. It's wild fun for all ages and on from January 18 to April 13.
  • Art Gallery of Hamilton continues to break new ground with high-profile exhibits, including ones focused on iconic Canadian painters Maud Lewis (June), Tom Thomson and multimedia artist Michael Snow (February 8 to May 4). The work of Sylvia Nickerson, a new artist-in-residence on Gallery Level 2, begins April 18.

    The gallery's current show Building Cultural Legacies is also a must-see for anyone interested in learning about the city's rich art history.

  • Treetop Trekking technically opened last summer in Binbrook Conservation Area but 2020 will be this outdoor adventure park's first full season offering thrilling ziplining and courses throughout the forest (from April to the end of October)!
  • There's a lot of fun packed under one roof at Escape Manor. The freshly opened entertainment complex has moved into the downtown core on King Street East. It features five different escape rooms, axe throwing and a lounge ideal for drinks and nibbles with friends and family. The décor pays homage to the Capitol Theatre that was once here and its classic elegance.
  • While strolling our downtown keep your eyes open for tons of new murals as well as 37 new brightly coloured utility boxes wrapped in gorgeous new artwork. Find them all and learn about these commissioned pieces and the artists who created them with this handy map.
  • The popular b Contemporary gallery has re-opened in a new location on Barton Street East. Previously on James Street North for close to a decade, the modern gallery is just latest addition to this flourishing neighbourhood

HANDS ON HISTORY LESSONS

Housed in a 150-year-old waterworks, the Hamilton Museum of Steam Technology captures Canada’s Industrial Revolution with its two 70-ton powered water pumping engines and exhibits that explain how it all worked. New for 2020, visitors will have a chance to witness the art of shaping molten metal during a special Forged in Fire event (June 13). Meanwhile, families can take a flashlight tour and see what working the night shift was like at the Waterworks (April 3 and 4).

HMST Flashlight tour

In 2020, Dundurn Castle will see an expansion of its popular historic cooking workshops, including a Mother’s Day Tea and the family friendly Hunt Bake Plant Eat. Come summer, you’ll get to see Hamilton’s most famous landmark as the sun sets during Dundurn After Dark (look for dates in July and August) when you can sample seasonal dishes from its historic kitchen.

Dundurn workshop

COOL NEW EVENT and MUSIC VENUES

  • Visiting Hamilton for business and looking for a cool new event space to hold a stylish reception, meeting or party? Westinghouse HQ, once the company headquarters for the Westinghouse Company, is open for business. Built in 1917, the refurbished building on Sanford Avenue maintains its original charm with mosaic tiles, steel trusses and ornate crown moldings. Behind the event space with an auditorium are some familiar names from Equal Parts Hospitality - the same folks behind busy local restaurants like The French and Aberdeen Tavern.
  • The team behind Supercrawl and music venue Mills Hardware, are at it again… this time with plans to open a new hub for cultural happenings, including plenty of concerts, including Tokyo Police Club. Coming soon in April at 125 Barton Street.

MUSIC TO OUR EARS

  • In September Canadian Country Music Week makes its seventh appearance in the city giving country fans a chance to soak up the music and connect with their favourite country artists in various venues. The event will wrap up with the Canadian Country Music Awards broadcast live at FirstOntario Centre.
  • More big acts coming to Hamilton in 2020 include legendary Ozzy Osborne and Nickelodeon and Youtube Star Jojo Siwa.

IT'S GAME TIME

Hamilton and Dundas will split hosting duties as the Allan Cup, one of the oldest national championships in the world, swings into the area from April 6 to 11. The competition dates back to 1909 and brings top senior men's AAA hockey teams to do battle on the ice. It's the first time Hamilton has hosted and the third for Dundas. For hockey fans, this is a definite save-the-dates event.

STAY the Night

The number of hotels serving the city continues to grow with more big names coming soon.

Downtown will have a sparkling new Hampton Inn by Hilton at the corner of King and Queen Streets soon while Upper James will add TownePlace by Marriott during the first half of the year. It will have 125 rooms, an indoor pool and gym. Looking ahead to 2021, visitors to the city can bed down for the night at the Hyatt Hotel near McMaster Innovation Park or Holiday Inn Express, also on Upper James.

Explore all of Hamilton's leading accommodations.

LIGHTS, CAMERA… HAMILTON!

Hamilton is playing a starring role in many TV and films, thanks to a growing roster of productions shooting in the city. Coming next summer, we'll see the first phase of a massive film hub in central Hamilton on the Barton-Tiffany Lands. Aeon Studio Group is planning to build the Hamilton Studio District, a live-work-play development that will have a production campus, studios for post-production, visual effects and animation. Welcome to Hollywood Southwest!

In the meantime, catch up with what's been shooting here recently.

TAKING OFF FROM YHM?

Looks like Hamilton's International Airport is hitting new heights with a busy slate of flights heading to the U.S. (including Las Vegas and hot spots in Florida), Dominican Republic, Jamaica and points all across Canada. The latest destination to be added to the roster is Cayo Coco, Cuba.

Fuel your travels at the newly opened Detour YHM, which highlights Made-in-Hamilton fare with offerings from Collective Arts Brewing, Detour Coffee Roasters and Dear Grain Bakery. There are two locations, each housed in a shipping container.

 


 

Michele SponagleMichele Sponagle is a prolific journalist born and raised in Hamilton. Her work has appeared in top media outlets across Canada. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Michele’s blog takes a fresh look at some Hamilton classics, from iconic eateries to the quirky stories behind its most beloved and well-known attractions.