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New Chinatown Bar, Meo, Set to Officially Open March 13th

Meo, the highly anticipated cocktail bar brought to us by the team behind Bao Bei and Kissa Tanto (Tannis Ling, Joël Watanabe and Alain Chow) is on track to open doors next week.

Inspections are done, papers are in order, staff are all trained up, and the kitchen is ready. Official opening day is set for Wednesday, March 13th – but if you wander by prior to this date, I wouldn’t be surprised to find the doors already open, with a ‘soft’ service going on inside.

Located at 265 E Pender (right below Kissa Tanto), Meo’s 1970s love motel inspired decor creates a low-key and super sexy lounge vibe. I had the good fortune to be invited to the Friends & Family event this week, and here is what I walked away with…

Meo’s drink menu offers a blend of revamped classics and inventive originals, all of which frequently include the unexpected or unconventional use of fruit and vegetable flavours aiming to astonish. At this week’s Friends & Family service, our table sampled a Citrus Crush (not very citrusy); a Spicy Margarita, ordered on a choose-your-own-adventure spice scale ranging from mild to Ghost Pepper hot (this drink comes topped with a lollipop to help soothe your mouth if the heat becomes too intense). We also enjoyed a duck-fat-washed Old Fashioned and a Paloma that wasn’t especially grapefruit-y (still good, but perhaps not what you’d expect if you were craving a traditional version). Also available are sparkling wine, local pét-nat, Lambrusco, Champagne, and refreshing cans of Gold Medal Taiwan Beer.

Although cocktails may take centre stage at this ‘Love Motel’, it’s going to be a challenge to overshadow the food. Chef de Cuisine Macià Bagur and Michelin Star Chef Joël Watanabe, along with their small BOH team, are clearly having a blast in the kitchen — with excellent results. From the laid-back menu of small plates bursting with bold, eclectic flavours, our table savoured a Mini Brioche Milk Bun filled with three chambers of curried potato deliciousness and served with a side of whipped banana butter, as well as the Roast Chicken Croquetta nestled in a gem lettuce “Caesar salad” (two per plate). While most dishes at Meo are intentionally small, we also relished the slightly heartier Fideua, a Spanish dish akin to paella but featuring thin noodles instead of rice, adorned with calamari and prawns atop a smoky, lemon-y sofrito, with creamy aioli dots generously spaced for easy mingling into each bite. I overheard several tables praising the Trinidad Doubles (which consists of fried flatbread topped with curried chana masala, served with a side of habanero/coriander hot sauce and cooling banana raita), which I am eager to return to try…as well as the Green Papaya Salad, and perhaps a few servings of the Baba au Rhum.

If this is the first you’re hearing of Meo, or you need a refresher on the restaurant, here’s some backstory from last month (February 8th, 2024) when we wrote about the news of its coming:

Rich, dark, slinky and soft – new cocktail bar, ‘Meo’ is set to open in Chinatown later this month. Complete with textured velvet, wood panelling, dim lighting and curvy corners, the new cocktail bar channels a late-night-after-the-disco 1970s love motel vibe that encourages talking, flirting and the best kind of troublemaking.

Brought to us by the same team behind Bao Bei and Kissa Tanto (Tannis Ling, Joël Watanabe and Alain Chow), Meo (pronounced Mee-oh) is situated below the Kissa Tanto, on street level at 265 E Pender, and is described as the “coy, playful sibling to Kissa Tanto’s sophisticated Tokyo jazz persona, where the night is always young and full of possibilities.”

During my walkthrough of the space last week, the furniture was still covered in plastic and the carpets protected by cardboard, but from what I could see of the lines and textures – seductively exposed here and there – the finished room will be undeniably sexy.

Ling collaborated with acclaimed Ste. Marie Studio and Glasfurd & Walker to bring the Meo vision to life after being inspired by a Greg Girard photograph from a series documenting Hong Kong nightlife circa the 70s and 80s. “I’ve always developed concepts for places that I want to be in,” says Ling, “With Bao Bei I wanted to be reminded of my time living in London, so the design incorporated elements of a London Brasserie. Then, with Kissa Tanto, when I was in my 30s, I wanted to craft a place where my ‘grown up’ friends and I could have sophisticated dinners. Now, in my 40s, I’m chasing the essence of my 20s – so I’m reaching back to a stylish, indulgent, yet effortlessly cool environment.”

Added up, there will be a total of 70 seats: The front room’s low-lying banquettes, with their strategic curves and round edges, create a naturally flowing path to the wood-clad bar; on a slightly raised platform toward the back of the space are more low-slung seats, and across from that, an eight-person velvet-headboard-framed ‘Honeymoon suite’ booth is tucked in an alcove against the west wall.

The lighting is subtle and sultry. Decorative touches include a vintage jukebox and (my personal favourite) a portrait of a white Persian cat reclining on a chaise lounge, wearing the indifferent stare of a pampered debutante. Add to all that Meo’s sumptuous textiles, rich (but sparingly applied) patterns, and wall- and ceiling-mounted mirrors, and the motel lounge mood is strong (I half expected to come across a waterbed somewhere along my tour). Overall, the space easily takes me back to the pre-pandemic era that the team are aiming for, with its more permissive and carefree nightlife; and perhaps even further, to a time of feathered hair and frosted tips, where swagger and lip gloss ruled, and handwritten phone numbers were smoothly passed across the bar. I’m so into it. FULL ARTICLE.

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Neighbourhood: Chinatown
265 East Pender St.

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