Chorney-Booth: The Tea House is recovering after long pandemic shutdown

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We know that the pandemic has been tough for all kinds of restaurants, but it has been particularly thorny for restaurants that come close to the category of bars or lounges. Dark, moody rooms designed for nighttime festivities don’t pair well with social distancing protocols or recommendations for staying outside in the fresh air. That’s why many of Calgary’s coolest cocktail bars have been dormant for a year and a half.

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This was the case with the Tea House, a popular basement hangout below the Two Penny restaurant until March 2020. After the first pandemic shutdown, parent company Thank You Hospitality chose not to reopen Two Penny, converting the restaurant into A1 Bodega et Café last summer. With restrictions going in and out, it made no sense to reopen the tiny, lower level tea house, so thank you Cody Willis left his hip little semi-secret bar empty and started to imagine a new concept for getting into it. space once the time was right and he could invite guests inside.

The founder of the tea house, Cody Willis, poses for a photo inside the tea house.  Brendan Miller / Postmedia
The founder of the tea house, Cody Willis, poses for a photo inside the tea house. Brendan Miller / Postmedia Brendan Miller / Postmedia

Willis went so far as to begin renovations for the bar’s successor when friends and patrons began to push harder for the Tea House to return. They missed out on the underground underground vibe, modern Asian bar snacks and fun cocktails, as well as the opportunity for local comics and DJs to put on small-scale shows. Rather than launch a new restaurant from scratch (Willis just finished opening the new Fonda Fora at the Westley Hotel and owns a handful of other successful restaurants under the Thank You banner), he put the brakes on and decided to revive the old bar. The only question was, without Two Penny sending food carts downstairs to feed the hungry customers, what was the tea house going to do about the food?

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Fortunately, Willis had a secret weapon on his team. In August, Naoki Kimura, a chef who has worked with Thank You Hospitality for some time, announced the launch of Kamado Izakaya, a pop-up ghost kitchen that Willis was supporting through A1 Bodega. To complement the take-out, Kimura now serves a Kamado Izakaya catering menu at the tea house. It’s still technically a pop-up and Kimura plans to start her own independent restaurant, but for the foreseeable future Tea House patrons will be able to order a special Kamado menu from the comfort of the bar.

Menu items at The Tea House include a chenille roll.  Brendan Miller / Postmedia
Menu items at The Tea House include a chenille roll. Brendan Miller / Postmedia Brendan Miller / Postmedia

That’s a really good thing – Kimura not only makes great sushi rolls ($ 9- $ 16), but it’s also incredibly convenient with savory Japanese bar snacks that pair well with Tea House cocktails. The menu includes a small section of kobachi (small Japanese plates) with selections like Japanese cashew anchovies ($ 5) and kimchi ($ 5), slightly larger sized appetizers including chicken zangi kaarage ($ 10) and stuffed chicken wings ($ 10) and noodle dishes like seafood yakisoba ($ 16) and negitoro (tuna) donation ($ 14).

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“Originally, we just had to prepare the A1 food downstairs or prepare a few special dishes in the tea house,” says Willis. “But when we started working with Naoki on his Kamado pop-up, we thought he was already there and we thought it might be a good exposure for him while he builds his business.”

Spicy Tuna Tartlets and Takowasa (octopus crudo, salted nori and wasabi.) Brendan Miller / Postmedia
Spicy Tuna Tartlets and Takowasa (octopus crudo, salted nori and wasabi.) Brendan Miller / Postmedia Brendan Miller / Postmedia

Other than that and a few cosmetic changes, the new tea house looks a lot like the old tea house, which should give comfort to those who mourned its demise. The cocktail menu is made up of classics that guests have been missing for a year and a half, and the bar will continue to serve as a venue for casual events, with its popular comedy night returning on Thursdays.

The Tea House is located downstairs at 1213 1st St. SW and is open Wednesday through Saturday from 6pm. For more information, visit teahouseyyc.com.

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The Tea House isn’t the only lounge-oriented restaurant to undergo recent changes. The Candy Shop Cafe, a small lounge of Makore Hospitality, the same team behind Chakalaka (which is right next door), quietly opened in July, but this week owner Ronnie Mupambwa is renaming it Honey, which will target more directly. the late night crowd. The menu will still feature a range of Belgian cakes, cookies, ice cream and waffles for lovers of gourmet cocktails, as well as savory comfort foods like chicken and waffles ($ 12), perogies ($ 8) and nachos (14 $). Honey is located at 1324 17th Ave. SW

Mupambwa has another new bar on the way with a clandestine bar called Please Don’t Tell, not so secretly located under the new El Chefe taqueria in the Grain Exchange building in the city center. This little gem is slated to open next weekend. I would give you a lot more details, but that wouldn’t be much of a secret, would it? (But for more information you can visit pdtcalgary.ca).

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @elizabooth or Instagram at @elizabooth.

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