Auberge Willows Inn
208 Rue Main/ Rue Leger
Phone: (450) 458-7006
Cost: $ 59.90
Chef Hats: 3
Auberge The Willows Inn situated in the town of Hudson needs no introduction to anyone who lives in the West Island. It has been an iconic landmark for the last century to say the least. Many patrons, young and old have frequented the Inn at some time or another to celebrate a special occasion by dining in the main dining room, pub or on the outdoor terrace perched above overlooking Lake of Two Mountains. Much more than that, it is a piece on Montreal history and heritage.
Let’s start with the history of the Inn. Built circa 1820 as the private home for George Mallette and his family. It was purchased four years later by François Xavier Desjardins, then the only French-speaking member of the community and a great Patriot, who operated a store in the Inn. Monsieur Desjardins believed in helping the Quebec cause by allowing his store to become the local headquarters for Le Mouvement des Patriots, who secretly held illegal gatherings for arms and ammunition for the Patriot revolt.
In 1837, a servant girl named Maud who worked at the Inn, was allegedly murdered because she was caught eavesdropping on a conversation about the Lower Canada Rebellion which went against the British Colonial Power in Quebec at the time. Anyone loves a good ghost story and although this one has lots of contradicting facts and no proof of ever occurring, the Inn with all of its history is not immune. Folklore has it that over the year’s patrons staying at the inn have reported hearing singing in the hallways and seeing apparitions. Spooky!
Over the decades the establishment has changed hands many times. It has operated as a boarding house run by the Brasseur family, then a residential hotel by the Leger family and as a pub, dining room and inn by the Garbutt’s, Jim Ross, John Corker, and eventually by Mike Dobbie and Ron Rozon for 30 years. In 1989 the original property was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt within a year with every effort made to recreate the original building as much as possible.
So, in 2016, when there was talk that the Willows Inn would serve its last meal on November 1st. It was a sad day for many patrons who had many cherished memories of the Inn. Furthermore, we would be losing yet another precious landmark. I, as many, have fond memories and had mixed feelings to see it go. I would always make an annual pit stop there after my visit at Finnegan’s Market to have a light lunch on the terrace with my girlfriends. After my last visit there four years ago I had no plans to return. My experience was not a good one. The pub was outdated and old, it was now dark & dinghy. The former main dining room was gone, the terrace served terrible food not fit for fine ladies. The glory days has dissipated and were gone for good.
Then there was talk that in January 2017, David Ades & Patricia Wenzel had purchased the Inn and had plans to keep it going. After ten months of renovation The Inn re-opened in Fall 2017 to a new and improved British style menu inspired by Chef Shaun Hughes, who has worked across Canada and Montreal’s Joe Beef and Bishop & Bagg. Shaun is a native of Hudson and worked at the Inn as a teenager. It was his dream to return one day and breathe life back into the Inn and the town of Hudson. He did so by updating the kitchen with state-of-the-art equipment, doing the baking & butchery on site and creating a sustainable garden on the premises along with a greenhouse for year-round fresh produce.
This was visible and evident the day we stopped in for a light lunch and drinks on the terrace after our ghostly haunts at the swap meet. We walked in with much trepidation, but were greeted at the pub entrance by a friendly waitress who then escorted us to the terrace.
We took our place in the semi shade and perused the cocktail menu. The service had much improved as our waitress gave us a rundown of the cocktail list and menu. After very little convincing we made our choices and decided to go with the $12.00 cocktails.
I decided to go with Pimm’s Cup a refreshing cocktail made with Pimm alcohol, lemon juice, cucumber, ginger ale. My sidekick opted for a Rose Pose which was made with a light rosé wine, soda and twist of lemon. Both were thirst quenching in the sweltering heat.
We also opted for two salads. I started with a classic Willow’s Salad at $ 8.00, which consisted of locally grown mixed greens, Oka cheese and smoky house dressing. Simple but delicious, served with fresh homemade bread, it was light yet filling.
The second salad was a Cauliflower Salad for $ 14.00. It consisted of pan sheared Cauliflower florets with Indian spices such as turmeric, cilantro and chickpea fritter. This salad was absolutely delicious and a real delicacy and a must if you visit the Inn and they have it on the menu.
After our lunch, we sat for a while to enjoy the view and sunshine. We took a walk around inside to take a closer look at the upgrades. There have been some changes, but the old charm and décor still remain. The décor has definitely been refreshed, and the place repainted. The Pub is still dark, but the large windows bring in some light. The wood bar seemed polished and upgraded. The red Persian carpet a fixture in the old pub was clean. The fireplace at the other end of the room facing the street created a comfortable nook for those private tète a tète and somehow everything old seemed new again.
The front desk and reception area were welcoming and filled with people waiting to celebrate a special occasion in the private room. As we walked out the front door, even the side terrace was filled with revelers drinking cocktails. The Inn definitely was reborn and given new life.
Gone are the ghosts of the past and a new era was in progress. I already cannot wait for next summer to enjoy more good food and drinks in a place that seems timeless.