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What Makes a Good Bar?

Jen Agg’s new Toronto restaurant, Bar Vendetta, is a pasta and wine bar with highballs and late-night nachos

A view into a restaurant space from an open front door include orange, white, and black linoleum floors and a long bar with orange-cushioned stools
Bar Vendetta
Monica Burton is the deputy editor of

Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg has a reputation for crafting just the right vibe at her restaurants. They tend to be warm and inviting; cool, without feeling trendy. Agg’s last project saw her revamping Toronto icon the Swan into Le Swan, a French diner that marries bistro standards with diner classics in a room that recalls the beloved restaurant it once was. She spent this past summer transforming her own icon of Toronto dining into something else entirely. On Sunday, Agg debuted Bar Vendetta, a wine and pasta bar, in the building that formerly housed her first groundbreaking restaurant the Black Hoof.

“Truly, I had no idea what I really wanted to do with the space for a long time,” she says of her mindset after closing the charcuterie-focused restaurant in August 2018 after a decade in business. The name came to her first. “I do remember texting Jake [Skakun, wine-oriented restaurant partner] and being like, ‘You know what would be a really cool name for a wine bar? BAR VENDETTA.’ I was surprised that he agreed, and the idea just sort of grew out of that.”

A man holds a red tray filled with nachos
Bar Vendetta will serve nachos after midnight.
A plate with a single large noodle rolled into a spiral, dressed with olive oil and pepper
Pasta will channel Italy, without being “on the nose Italian.”

The idea is for a pasta-focused restaurant with “wine for miles.” Agg says the pasta, from chef and partner James Santon, will stick to the Italian tradition of using relatively local ingredients, without being “extremely Italian.” There will also be salads and, in a clear nod to the Black Hoof, charcuterie. Skakun will serve as Bar Vendetta’s sommelier and preside over a “functional if not entirely beautiful” temperature- and humidity-controlled wine cellar that was recently transformed from a crawl space. Bar managerand partner David Greig will handle the rest of the drinks menu.

“Basically we are just having fun and doing whatever we want,” Agg says. For example, the bar will serve both highballs and late-night nachos, two items that fall far outside the pasta and wine categories, “for fun.” But when it comes to creating the right vibe, or put simply, a space that people feel good in, Agg notes that serving delicious food is just one piece of it. “There are way more places to eat and drink well than there are places that master vibe,” she says.

A view into a restaurant space, with tables and chairs on the left adjacent to a wall covered in retro posters. On the right there’s a marble countertop with backlit pantry shelves in the background.
A view towards the restaurant’s entrance, there’s a partial Spy vs. Spy mural on the left wall, tables and chairs along the right side and a doorway to the restaurant’s basement
A wood paneled space with orange, black, and white flooring and tables and maroon chairs. A mural on the left side of the room depicts Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy, specifically the black spy running from the white spy after stabbing him with a wine screw.

Agg says “not even a ghost” of the Black Hoof, her first restaurant in the space, lingers at Bar Vendetta.

The right vibe comes from lighting, music, and “warmth, in all senses,” according to the restaurateur, whose 2017 restaurant Grey Gardens was on Eater’s list of the most beautiful that year. As is typical of her design process, she was particularly obsessive about that first point when designing Bar Vendetta. “I purchased these incredible sconces for the washrooms, but once the wallpaper was up they just weren’t quite right, so now I’m frantically going through my storage to find these other sconces that I know will be perfect,” Agg told Eater a few weeks before the opening.

Bar Vendetta’s completed design channels the ‘70s with orange, brown, and cream flooring and graphic wall paper in the same color palette. In a wink to the restaurant’s name, a pair of murals depicts Mad magazine’s Spy vs. Spy enacting a wine-themed murder plot. Retro band posters cover another wall. “It feels totally different [from the Black Hoof] when you walk in,” Agg says. “Not even a ghost is lingering.”

Behind a marble bar there’s a collection of bottles of liquor. Above the bar, wine glasses hang upside down.
The bar at Bar Vendetta

But as much as Agg can control Bar Vendetta’s lighting and decor and music, she says the people are the real mark of a bar’s good vibe. “I think an ideal, good-time bar for most patrons is one where it’s bustling and full, but a spot to pull up is never too far off in the future.” Now that Bar Vendetta is open, just Sunday through Thursday to start, Toronto can make that happen.

Bar Vendetta [Instagram]