Flavour of the Week: Mahjong Bar

Behind an unassuming pink-hued convenience store lies Toronto's newest hidden watering hole inspired by classic mahjong parlours

Flavour of the Week: Mahjong Bar

What’s the vibe

Mahjong Bar is an ultra hip, Asian-influenced bar hidden behind a modest shop. While the concept of a “secret” bar could easily feel contrived, Mahjong Bar’s execution is effortlessly cool. The sign for the Portuguese sports bar that previously occupied the site still hangs over the entrance. It leads to a small bodega with a consciously sparse selection of drinks and snacks. To the left of the cash register, a vinyl curtain shifts to reveal a second room illuminated in glowing red light, luring visitors back into to the not-so-secret bar.

Beyond the curtain lies a 2,000-square-foot space with a stylish, 1960s Hong Kong aesthetic. The inspiration for the design comes from co-founder Kyle Wong’s family restaurant, Cosy Restaurant & Tavern, in St. Catharines, which opened in 1964 – the bar’s name is a reference to the games of mahjong his family would often play in the restaurant’s back room after hours. A 36-foot mural by Toronto artist Gabriella Lo dominates one wall, set across from an equally eye-catching bar topped with pink marble. There’s space on the black-and-white checkered floor for dancing and DJs perform on weekend nights but, in true Dundas West style, the vibe is low-key and chilled out.

What to drink

The drink menu is anchored by a selection of Asian-inspired cocktails, which range from a simple Japanese Highball made from Suntory Toki whisky and soda to the subtly sweet Tropic Thunder, which features coconut soaked rum, lime, pineapple and pandan.

Bottled and tap beers include Asian favs Tiger and Yanjing, along with offerings from local brewers like Blood Brothers and Bellwoods. The wine menu branches beyond Asia, with around a half dozen French, Italian, South African and Ontario wines offered by the glass and bottle. Whisky is also available in 1 or 2 oz pours, with an emphasis on Scottish and Japanese varieties.

What to eat

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With its red trim and winged script, Mahjong Bar’s menu is playfully reminiscent of an old-school Chinese takeout menu. Featuring a brief selection of Asian small plates, the menu was developed with the help of the team behind Malaysian restaurant, Soos.

Dishes have the freshly-fried satisfaction of Chinese takeout, but with more thoughtful ingredients and presentation. Plate sizes are better suited to nibbling alongside cocktails rather than a full dinner, although the Shanghai noodle bowl topped with melt-in-your-mouth tender braised beef is certainly large enough to order as a main. Other must-trys include the Mahjong Half Moons, deep fried pastries wrapped around well-seasoned meat or veggie fillings; and the savoury bowl of eggplant, preserved veggies and crispy pork, which comes with a side of sweet, fluffy mantou buns.

Dinner and drinks for two: around $75

1276 Dundas St. W., 647-291-6097,