Old meets new at Explorers Society Hotel

Explorers Society Hotel and Quartermaster Eatery restaurant open in Revelstoke's historic McKinnon Block building.

The exterior of the 105-year-old McKinnon Block was cleaned up to turn it into the Explorers Society Hotel.

The exterior of the 105-year-old McKinnon Block was cleaned up to turn it into the Explorers Society Hotel.

Walking into the Explorers Society Hotel, the first thing that jumped out at me was the exposed concrete wall. The wood slats are visible, as is the outline of the old staircase that used to lead to the apartments upstairs.

It’s a stark contrast to the clean white paneling behind the reception desk.

“It’s a heritage building. To have a new-meets-old design is one of the core things we were trying to do,” explained Stephen Jenkins, who created the Explorers Society with his wife Rebecca. “If we wanted a new building, we wouldn’t have bought this one. This one was so unique, it was worth saving and dumping a whole bunch of time and money into.”

The hotel, and its restaurant the Quartermaster Eatery, opened quietly a couple of weeks ago and last Wednesday, during a quiet mid-week day with only one room booked, Jenkins invited me on a tour of the most significant addition to Revelstoke’s downtown core in quite some time.

Together, and with the help of many tradespeople, they completely transformed the interior of the historic McKinnon Block, which was built in 1911 by Hector McKinnon during Revelstoke’s first boom time. It was originally a pool hall, tobacconist, bowling alley and apartment building, and has since housed a dance hall, mini shopping mall, dentist office, and the Nickelodeon Museum.

Now, its new life has begun.

“It’s fantastic,” said Jenkins. “Getting to shift out of construction to where we’re now serving patrons is super rewarding for us.

Construction began in January 2016 and took 14 months. The main floor was turned into a restaurant and event space, the second story has nine hotel rooms and a lounge was added to the roof. The basement has the kitchen and a small whiskey bar built around the building’s old boiler.

There are three styles of hotel rooms available, with prices starting at $249 per night, including breakfast. The three rooms overlooking First Street are called heritage rooms and feature the original exposed brick along the walls.

Five other rooms are called traveller rooms and are small and basic. “The idea is the room is just what two people need — nothing more, nothing less,” said Jenkins.

The ninth room is the larger “explorers suite,” which also connects to one of the traveller rooms if a group wants extra space.

The rooms all have private bathrooms and two twin beds that can be pushed together to make one king. “Anyone that stays here doesn’t need to spoon unnecessarily,” said Jenkins.

The bed frames were made by local metal worker Lou Brown, while the burnt wood headboards were created by Tomi Supinen.

The colours in the rooms are very black and white — the dark headboards standing out against the white walls and bed sheets. Jenkins called the colour scheme, which was devised by Rebecca, a “forest pallet.”

“You’ll see a lot of green, white and wood and black, and a lot of walnut furniture.”

Upstairs from the rooms is the roof top lounge, which was built on top of the original roof and required some major structural work to make work. Inside there’s a breakfast area, a fire place, a 65″ television and lots of couches to lounge on. Outside there’s two decks and a hot tub.

“This is the part we think will make our property really unique in town,” said Jenkins. “In winter, it’s biased towards indoors and in summer it’s biased towards outdoors.”

The lounge is geared for guests, but will be available for private functions.

The basement features the kitchen, gear room and the Boiler Room Bar — a small “speakeasy” built around the old boiler. It wasn’t quite finished on my visit.

The final stop of the tour was the Quartermaster Eatery, which is being run by Olivier Dutil of La Baguette. I wasn’t able to speak to Dutil during the tour and will save a restaurant review for a future article.

The restaurants seats 72 and includes a bright space on the main floor and a more secluded mezzanine area upstairs. “Urban-cafe meets fine dining in a historical space,” said Jenkins.

Rebecca and Stephen Jenkins sold everything to make the move to Revelstoke from Seattle. They now live here full time and the Explorers Society is their gateway to becoming permanent residents in Canada.

“This is our vocation now,” said Stephen. “This is our definition of the next chapter of our life, to run these two businesses and see where they take us.”

He wouldn’t say how much they spent on the building’s transformation. “Suffice it to say, it was 30 years of our life savings. That’s what we chose to do, is to make an investment instead of just being passive,” he said.

“When you’re doing something like this, one minute it’s thrilling and one minute it’s scary. That’s why it’s thrilling — they’re are related feelings. We had to bet hard to make this go but we think the end product will speak for itself.”