Mr. Pong's Bar
Mr. Pong's Bar might be your next favorite hang-out. A bit difficult to find in Little Portugal, and just a few days old, its windows are still coated in non-descript brown paper and it doesn't properly open 'til after 8 p.m. But if its opening weekend is any indication, the party arrives 7 days a week, and doesn't die down until last call.
A few things. Yes, it's brought to you by the people behind Cold Tea , but they're just one partner. It's also a collaboration with Alex Sengupta from The Lakeview , Richard Pope, the bar's manager is Alex Ioannou (recently of Ronnie's Local ), and Matt Turenne ( Parts & Labour ) tends bar. Notably, Robbie Hojilla (recently of Ursa ) is masterminding the gourmet egg rolls ($6 per order, and in honour of the original Mr. Pong's best-loved dish), which include shrimp and pork with housemade chili plum sauce, beef cheek with Filipino-style homemade adobo sauce, and a mascarpone and quince dessert roll that saw them head out to Mississauga farmers' markets for maximum freshness.
In short, it's a perfect storm of people from some of Toronto's favourite bars. Inside, it's cozy and already feels lived-in. "I just thought we needed a place with no Edison bulbs or subway tiles," Cold Tea's Oliver Dimapilis tells me. The bar is divided into a front seating area with roughly-painted blue stools, a small wraparound bar, and a narrow back section featuring the counter-style open kitchen (temporarily closed) which is covered in Chinese newsprint.
The real decorative flair comes courtesy of local artist Andres Miranda 's black-white-and-red comic panels, and Dimapilis' charmingly twisted mind. "The icon of Mr. Pong's was two pandas hugging, so I took the icon in a different direction," Dimapilis says; the direction of an Asian revenge film.
Start by the bar (where poachers guffaw over a pile of x-for-eyes pandas), and make your way around the space for the story of a young panda who escaped, and caught a cab to (what's ostensibly) Toronto, to unleash a wave of gun-fueled, vengeful death. It's entertaining, and dare I say, fucking cool. At any point in the night, you need only look up from your beer into the raging eyes of a bloodthirsty panda and be instantly cheered.
Speaking of drinks, you might be as (gamely) taken aback by Mr. Pong's Bar' offerings as I was. As it turns out, they're breaking from the pack with $4 cans of Stroh's (light, crisp and very drinkable) and bottles such as Muskoka's Mad Tom IPA (around $5.25), shots from their considerable bar stock ($5), and draught beers for around $6. I'm placated somewhat by rumors that they might serve classic martinis with home-made brines (such as leek) in the near future.
The crowd is everyone from Kensington Market regulars who followed them west, to locals looking for a new watering hole, to stylish run-off from both Parkdale and Dundas and Ossington . As we're talking about music--DJs spin everything from hip-hop and rap, to classic rock, to a particularly successful bout with 'guilty pleasures'--Electric Circus comes up. "You guys should install a cage," I say (har har), to which they reply, stone-faced, "it's in the basement; check it out." And yes, past the bathrooms, there is in fact a grated cage set into the wall. Aside from obvious makeout potential, they're debating how to best use it--remote cammed DJing has been thrown about, or art installations.
They'd been looking to open a bar for a while, and when the location became available, they pounced. "West is best," Dimapilis says, and while I'd heard rumblings that their concept would change up every few months, I'm told it's nothing so regimented. "It's expensive to keep opening new bars," Dimapilis says, and given how many partners there are in this particular venture, it's likely to be refurbished over time. Well and good, as long as they don't mess with the wall art.