Multi-disciplinary studio +tongtong recently completed Barsa Taberna, a Spanish-inspired tapas restaurant in downtown Toronto. The mostly-subterranean space evokes the intimacy and vibrancy of Barcelona, where tapas restaurants emerge from the most unexpected places. +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.
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. 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. The design runs up the sides of the kitchen walls and the bar, which integrates a blown-up version of the same pattern.
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.
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. 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.
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.
all images © LISA PETROLE PHOTOGRAPHY