Barsa Taberna

Tapas Totonto-style

Barsa Taberna
The intimate interior of Barsa Taberna, Toronto

Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant Barsa Taberna has utilised the unique aesthetic of ceramic tiles to help capture the energy of the running of the bulls.  The design of this striking new eatery in downtown Toronto, Canada, was undertaken by multi-disciplinary studio +tongtong.

The bar area
The bar area

The mostly-subterranean space evokes the intimacy and vibrancy of Barcelona, where tapas restaurants inhabit the most unexpected places.  Both the client and the designer John Tong have spent a considerable amount of time in Gaudí’s city, and shared the excitement of capturing that energy in the creation of Barsa.

Custom light fitting
Custom light fitting

In Spain, there’s this way of making things work no matter the conditions,” says Tong. “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.”

The edgy interior
The edgy interior

The Toronto site offered many challenges.  Located in an historic building across from St. Lawrence Market, the 3,000 sq. foot site was dingy with low ceilings, and very dark.  In fact, part of the space is under the pavement.  And, because of the site’s age, Tong and his team had numerous restrictions to work around.  For instance, the windows, stone walls and main door all had to remain untouched.

The glass bottle wall
The glass bottle wall

Designing within these parameters, +tongtong transformed the derelict space by injecting animation while maintaining the site’s historical integrity.  The result is a sleek, edgy interior that balances freeform expression and modernist architectural language.

Contemporary furniture
Contemporary furniture

To capture the essence of Barcelona’s tapas culture, where patrons can often pick their own tapas straight from the kitchen, the prep area was moved forward and outwards.  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.

the stone wall
The stone wall was retained as a dominant feature

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 the “little pest,” or in Spanish “becho mio” 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. They appear especially unruly when positioned across the room from the straight and proper red chairs.  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.

The butcher’s block stools.

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 and inspired by the floor tile’s natural forms. Old stone archways differentiate the grotto-style dining area, a very tight, dark and windowless space with low ceilings and wooden beams.  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 ceramic tiles used throughout the space were 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: “a kind of character you find in a lot of older, medieval cities in Europe,” explains Tong. “We wanted to accentuate that by installing the tile off-square from the main space.” Meanwhile, 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, a project that restored designated heritage buildings and reanimated the neglected street, Barsa’s patio will act as an anchor in the rejuvenated thoroughfare.


Bicho Mio Stools: Designed by +tongtong; woodwork Canadian Salvaged Timber

Bottle Wall: 1400 cut wine bottle mosaic wall. Designed by +tongtong; installation: Cobalt Fabrication

Light Fixture over bar: designed by +tongtong

Backlit Mural – art directed by +tongtong

Art: cut vinyl art by Pascal Paquette

Red Dining Chairs: Magis Steelwood chair supplier: Herman Miller

Custom Floor – designed by +tongtong;vinyl stencil for floor coating – produced and installed by Maher Sign Products

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s