Skip to content

Capturing summer’s essence at The Courtyard

Cathy Dobson The Courtyard is an unexpected place. Tucked behind a large downtown building, it’s like sitting in your own backyard, except there’s food and beverage service.
The Courtyard’s operations manager Mia Clarke and owner Mark Woolsey toast the new outdoor venue in downtown Sarnia. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson

The Courtyard is an unexpected place.

Tucked behind a large downtown building, it’s like sitting in your own backyard, except there’s food and beverage service. There’s tunes too, frequently provided by live musicians on a newly-constructed cedar stage.

There’s outdoor lighting but there’s also night breezes and starry skies when the weather is good.

“The vision was always to do this back here,” says owner Mark Woolsey, a local realtor who is redeveloping most of the block.

When Woolsey took possession of 146 and 148 Christina St. in March, he absorbed the liquor licence of the former Ravenous Gastropub and Trinity Lounge that occupied the building for years, making it possible to get his new licenced venue opened asap.

“I always wanted to buy this property. I see a lot of potential here,” said Woolsey.

The Courtyard debuted during Artwalk in June. A fresh layer of green astroturf is surrounded by brick walls, fencing, and enough cedar benches and tables for 150 patrons.

“We’re trying to do something a bit different,” said operations manager Mia Clarke. She built the food menu around shareables like flatbread ($13.50), charcuterie boards (serves 4-6 for $21.50) and giant soft pretzels ($8).

There’s also salads including a Caesar or a Courtyard Summer Salad with beets, onions, farmer’s cheese, dried cranberries and toasted walnuts (each for $12.50).

Customers can order snacks too while they sip on their beverages; anything from chips and gummy bears to peanuts and chocolate almonds are available (2 for $5).

The wine list is “simple,” says Clarke, but she hopes to expand it soon. Instead, The Courtyard concentrates on a full list of Ontario craft beers and cocktails.

The Moscow Mule, a mix of vodka, lime juice and ginger beer for $5.75, is proving to be the summer favourite.

The Courtyard hours were limited in July as it’s entirely outdoors and many nights were rained out. But August has come on strong with warm nights and better crowds.

“We’re currently a great place for after dinner or after theatre drinks,” said Woolsey. “And we’re working toward filling up earlier and eventually offering a full dinner menu.”

That’s led to the recent introduction of “Crafty Hour,” from 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. when craft beers, some shareables and a selection of highballs are discounted.

For now, The Courtyard is open Wednesday to Sunday, 3 p.m. to close, weather permitting.  Live local entertainment is on stage most weekend nights.

“The reality is this is a good way to figure out how things work,” said Woolsey.

He has ambitious plans for the enormous 8,000-square-foot, two-storey building adjacent to The Courtyard, and hopes to begin renovations this fall.

“I wanted to get the (upstairs) club going sooner but we’re doing the main floor pub first,” he said. “The truth is that I love old buildings.  This one was built in either 1890 or 1910, depending on which document you believe.”

It also has a bit of a checkered past, having been a strip joint called Cheri Champagnes’ at one time.

Woolsey and Clarke intend to keep The Courtyard open this fall as long as the season allows.

For more about The Courtyard and live entertainment, search: The Courtyard Sarnia on Facebook or Instagram.

Got a great idea for The Business Journal?  Send it to [email protected].

Join the Community: Receive Our Daily News Email for Free