Take a stroll along Dundas St. West, and there are no shortage of cool bars, restaurants or shops — the street is littered with gold. And while those in the ‘hood have their pick for late night drinks and bites, there’s a new spot on the stretch that is sure to attract the kind of line-ups that Torontonians know (and secretly love).Welcome Mahjong Bar, that is, if you can find it.
Mahjong Bar sits just west of Dundas and Dovercourt, behind a small millennial pink bodega. The unassuming spot is filled with classic bodega finds; one wall is lined with after-bar snacks like Cheetos and Kraft Dinner, while the cash desk is filled with old Penthouse Magazines. But to the left, visitors will find an entryway covered by a strip-curtain, which leads to a 2000-square-foot dining and drinking space.
The idea of part bodega, part restaurant/bar came from founders Joshua LeBlanc (former co-owner of Track and Field Bar) and publicist Emily Blake. On past travels, the two had an affinity for the unknown, often seeking out hidden hangouts. “When we went to Paris a couple of years ago, we kept finding these really beautiful spots with interesting entranceways and little layers added to them,” Blake tells me, “We just thought that there was an opportunity to do more of that in Toronto.”
With an idea in the works, the two partnered with Andrew Perry (former GM of Home of the Brave) and Kyle Wong, whose family owns Cosy Restaurant & Tavern in St. Catharines. The Chinese eatery opened in 1964 and is where Wong spent most of his childhood — the kitchen is still run by his grandmother. “We all loved hearing stories about [Kyle’s] family’s restaurant, so when we started talking about wanting to do something different, the ideas started to blend and this concept was born.”
After walking through the strip-curtain, guests enter the Chinese-inspired bar/restaurant through an illuminated keyhole doorway; an exact replica of the one in The Cosy. Adjacent to the entrance is a nook of seating, while booths and tables line the walls. The former sports bar is hardly recognizable in part to a custom 36 foot 60’s Hong Kong mural painted by local artist Gabriella Lo. Made over with the help of interior design duo Jake Bonnetta and Terence Sheard of Grey North, the once-dull watering hole is now a sexy meeting spot, with dim lighting, a golden mesh ceiling and pink marble bar top.
Drinks at Mahjong Bar are given, with 10 taps of beer and cider, a curated wine list, and a thirst-quenching cocktail line-up developed by bartender Danny Tait and GM Andrew Perry.
Salt Bae ($13) is a refreshing infusion of vodka, umeboshi, cucumber, lemon and mint, while the Tame Impala Redux ($13) has smokier hints, mixed with tequila, mezcal, ginger, chai, lime and cucumber.
But before the checkered ground becomes a dance floor that fits up to 96, the dimly lit space is the perfect hangout for those looking to linger over Chinese-inspired bites. The menu, created in collaboration with the team at Ossington’s Soos Restaurant, is short but full of flavour.
With just seven items on offer, choosing just one isn’t easy.
Vegetarian dishes make up more than half the menu, with standout plates including a bowl of Spicy Eggplant ($8), which melts in your mouth and is served with a mantou bun. Smashed Cucumber ($7) is refreshing and light, with the perfect kick provided by chili.
Each item on offer is easily shared, like the Chengdu Wontons ($10); little bites packed with shrimp and pork, and topped with Sichuan chili oil and scallions.
The Mahjong half moons are made with dough reminiscent of youtiao; a Chinese churro traditionally served with congee. The deep fried pockets are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, filled with veggie or meat-eater options. The latter, loaded with pork, onion and ginger, is a stand-out dish that you’ll wish was a full moon.
Mahjong Bar’s food menu is only available Wednesday through Sunday from 5pm to 12am, but the bar is open daily from 5pm to 2pm. Give the new spot a visit at 1276 Dundas St. West.
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