Mahjong Bar is a secretive spot with cocktails, Chinese small plates and some serious style, fronted by a dimly glowing pink bodega you risk walking right past.
You can drink in the more casual and cozy bodega area, ordering cans of wine and tallboys ($8) from a fridge.
Other items on offer like Penthouse magazines, boxes of KD ($2.50), Doritos ($2) and White Rabbit candy ($6) put a twist on the usual convenience store staples.
Kyle Wong co-owns the place with Andrew Perry (formerly of Home of the Brave), Joshua LeBlanc (formerly of Track & Field), and Emily Blake. The glowing keyhole doorway that leads to the rest of the 2000-square-foot space is just like the one that leads into The Cosy Restaurant owned by Wong’s family.
The element of surprise is used to full effect here, the glowing red space designed by Grey North dominated by a pink marble top bar, a 36-foot mural by Gabriella Lo, and a low platform along one side with curving benches that can seat as many as needed.
Chengdu wontons ($10) stuffed with pork and shrimp are delicately wrapped and come soaking in a pool of sichuan chili oil, topped with Thai chilis and scallions.
A smashed cucumber salad ($7) makes a good and savoury vegetarian option, spicy with chili (hotter as you get to the soupy bottom of the bowl) and topped with crunchy sesame seeds.
Mahjong half moons ($9) come in veggie and meat options. Crispy, airy pastry wraps pork and onion for the meat option, and both come served with and acidic black vinegar and ginger sauce.
I think I like the meat option better, but the mushroom veggie option is definitely just as good and hearty.
Eggplant and crispy pork ($8) is served in a little bowl with preserved veggies, scallions and Thai chilis with an almost donut-like fried Mantou bun that brings a bready sweetness to the dish, especially when used as a vehicle for the eggplant and pork.
The Peach Panther ($13), despite its deceptive name and colour, is actually made with salted watermelon juice, soju, sherry and vinegar, making for a simple cocktail that packs a punch and is full of delightful watermelon flavour.
The Tropic Thunder ($13) is made with subtly flavoured house coconut rum, pandan, lime and pineapple for what feels like a frothy, refined take on the pina colada.
Inspired by Wong’s memories of family mahjong games played during gatherings at The Cosy along with 60’s Hong Kong, this lounge is nothing short of metamorphic.
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