Located in the heart of Toronto‘s Little Italy district, the new Bar Raval by local studio Partisans pay homage to the Spanish Art Nouveau design. The brainchild of celebrated Canadian chef Grant van Gameren and wunderkind mixologists Mike Webster and Robin Goodfellow, Raval introduces Toronto to the “pintxo” bar—a tapas-style bar that is a cornerstone of social and gastronomic culture in northern Spain. Grant van Gameren commissioned Partisans to realize “an art piece”—a space that would become an enduring Toronto institution.
The team got to work on a design concept that would transform the rundown commercial space in Little Italy into an almost sentient architectural sculpture. Carefully hewn from what look like unbroken Mobius strips of sinuous mahogany, the interior design is fundamentally corporeal. In a stand-up-only environment, the rippled—and rippling—surfaces encourage patrons to get comfortable, lean into their soft edges, and become a part of the woodwork. Raval’s molten quality fosters fluid circulation and close encounters, honouring the spirit of its Spanish pintxo counterparts. Its sculptural aesthetic is also intended to mirror muscle tissue. In fact, it pays direct homage to the tattooed physicality of the three owners. The team developed a highly detailed digital model of the space in order to develop prefabricated components that could be inserted directly into the building’s existing fabric with minimal disruption.
While Raval is introducing a new culinary genre to Toronto, its other chief objective is to elevate mixology to the heights of a culinary art. Partisans was challenged to re-evaluate the functional aspects of the classic bar and reimagine it as a stage for performance, interaction, and awe.
The result is a marvel. For those who have braved the daily lineups to get into the bar, they describe feeling as though they’ve exited Toronto and entered an entirely different world. Passers-by can also admire the artistry—the handcrafted steel latticework Partisans designed to clad the front and side windows. But like van Gameren’s mouth-watering pinxtos, the filigree only offers a tantalizing taste of what lies within.
all images © JONATHAN FRIEDMAN