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Time to Loosen Up Vancouver: New Cocktail Bar ‘Meo’ is Here to Help

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.

Meo only departs from the motel vibe when it comes to its food and beverages, swapping out ‘screwdrivers and vending machine snacks’ typical of “love hotel” lounges for a creative and upscale menu of small dishes and inventive cocktails.

Originally from Ukraine, bar manager, Denis Bykov, has relocated to Vancouver to lead the bar program at Meo via Dubai’s celebrated Sucre. When they open, Meo will roll out with a cool mix of 16 cocktails – a 50/50 split of reimagined classics and original creations (six of which will be available on tap) – driven by the idea that, in cocktail form, fruits and vegetables can transform into distinct and unexpected flavours. Drink card highlights include the Golden Devine (blue agave Altos tequila and summer peach, accented with cacao) and an Espresso Carrotini (featuring Beefeater blood orange gin with a carrot essence). I have sampled the latter and can confirm that it is both innovative and tasty – a trend that runs through the entire beverage program. In addition to cocktails, Meo will have a 12-bottle sparkling wine list including local pét-nats, Lambrusco and Champagne, as well as cans of Gold Medal Taiwan Beer.

Fresh Som Tum Salad * Photo by Mark Yammine

And it gets even better: with an assist from Chef de Cuisine Macià Bagur (previously Bishop’s, Naramata Inn), Michelin Star Chef Joël Watanabe has designed a laid-back collection of small plates with bold, eclectic flavours for Meo. Though the details are still being fine-tuned, I’m told we can look forward to items like freshly pounded Som Tum (green papaya salad), savoury Fideua (a Spanish dish of broken pasta loaded with shrimp and squid), along with Tostadas, Cold Ramen, and Escabeche, which will shift their flavour profiles “on the whim of the kitchen” (read: everything that Watanabe himself craves alongside a late-night cocktail, right down to the Baba Au Rum).

As Ling explains: “Vancouver lacks casual spaces to meet up with a friend for a drink; there are a few out there, but more often than not, it’s either high commitment (somewhere that you have to have a reservation and dinner), or a swanky bar that feels pretentious. We want to create a cozy, accessible experience. We hope nights at Meo will encourage the improvisation and spontaneity from pre-pandemic days, where guests can dine and drink as they please, order as the night progresses, invite friends to join, leave and come back, linger all night or pass by for a quick visit…. and we want it to feel transportive – like you’re at the centre of the world for a moment.” From what I’ve seen thus far, this team is well on their way to taking us there.

Meo is expected to open doors later this month (February 2024). Hours will be Wednesday to Sunday, 4pm to late.

Neighbourhood: Chinatown
265 East Pender St.

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