No Reservations: Meo magic comes from sophisticated cocktails and a vibe inspired by 1970s love motels

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      Once you get past the physical attractiveness of the room—all soft dim-sum pinks and royal-dynasty reds—the beauty of Meo in Chinatown is the way it seems to welcome everyone. On the night we visited, tables were filled with fashionistas in stylishly ripped AC/DC t-shirts, heavily tattooed alternative types in six shades of black, and Amiri-baseball cap–sporting trust-fund kids. 

      The drinks, meanwhile, riffed on some familiar classics (check out the sake-powered grasshopper and Bumbu rum–spiked old fashioned) while also offering something new and forward-thinking (thumbs up to the Tumeric Highball with Tito’s vodka, dry vermouth, aloe vera, and coconut water). Need a place to hang while waiting for your table at Kissa Tanto? You might just discover your new favourite bar. 

      The team 

      “My name is Tannis Ling and I’m the founder of Bao Bei and co-own Kissa Tanto and Meo with my partners, Joël Watanabe and Alain Chow.” 

      The seed 

      “The Chinese goods store below Kissa Tanto went up for lease in 2019, three years after we opened. My partners and I made a practical decision to scoop up the space so we could offer a more casual, drink-focused concept to capture the spillover from upstairs. It made sense at the time. As we were in the design development phase, Covid hit, the ownership group shuffled around, and we pivoted hard to Nancy Go Yaya, a Singaporean luncheonette, thinking it would have more chance of survival. It failed, so we got the band back together (Joël, Alain, and I) and decided to double down with Meo—going back to our original idea of a fast-paced, casual bar serving delicious food.

      I knew for sure I wanted the new spot to be dark, soft, and comfortable. What ended up inspiring the aesthetic was a Greg Girard photograph that led me to our now-infamous colour palette of pink and red. These colours and the photograph itself conjured up a fictional version of a love motel in the 1970s. I took the palette and the mood to our designers, Ste. Marie, and they worked their magic to create Meo.” 

      Charles Nasby

      The vision 

      “A warm, plush, and fun space that transports you to a different place and time with a sophisticated, not outrageously expensive cocktail list and elevated drinking food. A casual place to rendezvous with friends or lovers.” 

      The plunge 

      “The five-year-long journey it took to get to this point was fraught with sacrifices and hardship, so it wasn’t so much a plunge but a long and slow swim across the ocean. There was a lot of doubt and questioning of myself, but in the end, I embraced the valuable lesson of failure with Nancy Go Yaya and used that humility and knowledge to ensure the success of Meo.”

      The hurdles 

      “The entire project was one giant hurdle. We do have a couple of very special bar units we shipped in from Norway from a company called Behind Bars, who supply most of the top bars in the world. It wasn’t terribly difficult to import them in, but definitely worth mentioning.”

      Charles Nasby

      On the stereo 

      “In the beginning of the night, we throw on the Babymaking playlist: slow and sexy soul, R&B, and jazz. Then we move into mid-evening with a slightly more upbeat tempo—French disco, pop, electronic, city pop, anything with a sensual and eclectic beat and sound. Fridays and Saturdays, the late-night playlist is fun: dance nu disco and Italo disco mixed with jazz and Korean house. It’s incredibly satisfying to put the volume up and reap the acoustic benefits of the carpets and soft sofas.” 

      Open for business 

      “I couldn’t have asked for a better opening, and it is busy beyond my expectations! Our challenges at this point revolve around ensuring we can provide the high-level of service we’re known for at Bao Bei and Kissa Tanto in such a fast-paced room. We’re working on finding the right balance of staffing and ensuring everyone is trained properly.  

      I’m extremely proud of our unique bar program. Denis Bykov has worked tremendously hard to create an imaginative menu that is both accessible and challenging to guests, depending on what direction they would like to go. The ideas and techniques that go into each drink are multifold, and something that looks visually simple is actually quite complex in flavour and execution. I haven’t looked too far in the future at this moment as I’m still in shock that Meo has finally opened. I look forward to not living in a constant state of uncertainty and being able to concentrate on other aspects of my life and caring for the people that surround me.”

      (Left to right) Alain Chow, Tannis Ling, and Joël Watanabe.
      Mark Yammine


       265 East Pender

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      Instagram: @meochinatown

      No Reservations is a column where we look at how your new favourite spot got from the initial idea to opening day.