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.”
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.
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.”
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]