Bravura Barsa

Studio +tongtong was also responsible for Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant Barsa Taberna; an establishment that really captures the energy of the running of the bulls.

Located in downtown Toronto, the mostly-subterranean space evokes the intimacy and vibrancy of Barcelona, where tapas restaurants emerge from the most unexpected places.

In Spain, there’s this way of making things work no matter the conditions,” Tong says. “For instance, you might have to walk under stairs and pass a press kitchen to get to the dining room, the kitchen is half the size it should be, and the washrooms might be located down an alley. However, these seemingly difficult site conditions really contribute to the authentic feel of a tapas bar.”

Backlit Mural
Backlit Mural: art directed by +tongtong

Located in an historic building opposite St. Lawrence Market, the 3,000 sq. foot site was dingy with low ceilings.  In fact, part of the space is under the pavement.   Due to the site’s historic status, Tong and his team had numerous restrictions to work around.  For instance, the windows, stone walls and main door all had to remain untouched.

+tongtong transformed the space by injecting animation while maintaining the site’s historical integrity.  The result is a sleek, edgy interior that balances free-form expression and modernist architectural language.

Vinyl stencil for floor
Vinyl stencil for floor by Maher Sign Products

To capture the essence of Barcelona’s tapas culture, the prep area was moved forward and outwards.  Chefs prepare charcuterie and cheese platters out in the open, surrounded by jars of produce, hanging chili peppers, cast iron pans, and meat slicers.

The bar area is defined by a swirling, vibrant blue graphic floor pattern; a design that was extrapolated from the Gaudí-influenced tile in the main dining room.  A computer-generated adhesive stencil was laid down on the new concrete floors, and then coated with epoxy paint. The design runs up the sides of the kitchen walls and the bar, which integrates a blown-up version of the same pattern.

Cobalt Fabrication
1,400 cut wine bottle mosaic wall by Cobalt Fabrication

Enclosing the two-tone Corian bar, which eventually becomes two-sided, are custom-designed stools made of salvaged, old-growth pine with an oblique powdered coated steel frame.  Dubbed becho mio (little pest) in Spanish, the stool has three variations, all of which look different depending on their orientation.  With tops resembling worn butcher blocks and carved-out handles that riff on the forms of old wine crates, the stools are a nod to the ingenuity featured in traditional tapas eateries, where seats are fashioned out of old wine barrels, wooden crates, or whatever is available.

Above the bar, three custom-designed LED light fixtures hang. With a motif of bullhorns, the armatures resemble a charging bull caught under a strobe light, frozen in a stop motion sequence.

On the other side of the bar area, the red chairs encase custom-designed tables that feature a laminate top with a wooden edge.  Above the banquet seating is a glass wall made of 1,500 coloured wine bottles, all painstakingly hand-cut by the client’s friends, and inspired by the floor tile’s natural forms.

Stone archway and patterned floor tiles
Stone archway and patterned floor tiles

Old stone archways differentiate the grotto-style dining area, a very tight, dark and windowless space with low ceilings and wooden beams. To conserve the limited space, +tongtong knew they needed to integrate a light source into the project spatially. The main light source is a rear-lit mural, a collaboration between local graffiti artist Pascal Paquette and Tong. And like the armatures above the bar, the running of the bulls is the central theme.

The tile running throughout the space is purposefully laid to draw attention to the nonlinear nature of the space. The stone wall that separates the bar area from the rear dining room is in fact angled, something you find in a lot of older, medieval cities in Europe.  The tile pattern itself is a modern take on traditional patterns from the art nouveau and gothic periods.

In the warmer months, a large, 75-seat patio runs the whole length of the restaurant.  As part of the Market Street revitalization, Barsa’s patio will act as an anchor in the rejuvenated thoroughfare.


A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, May 2017.

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