Design

A Visual Feast — TOMO, a graffiti vibe to a very happening place

This is the second of three restaurants featured in the design series, A Visual Feast

Tomo

109 Clarence St.

At the Tomo opening party this past May, designer Kayla Pongrac spray-painted the restaurant’s logo on an exposed brick wall freehand, using bright red paint. It was a gutsy move that could have made a horrible mess in front of a big crowd. But she pulled it off, and it now adds a graffiti vibe to this very happening space.

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Inside Tomo. Photo: Gordon King

Pongrac has brought together many Japanese design motifs and layered them with an urban Western edge. From sake barrels imported from Japan mounted on one wall to a giant photo-and-origami collage of geisha girls along another, there is no mistaking that this is an Asian restaurant. But the decor is rooted in Canada too. For example, natural wood accents on the large sharing tables act as a contemporary update on the harvest table or school refectory. The generous edge of the concrete bar top, chairs, and stools are made from luscious grained maple, sourced from Toronto.

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Floor-to-ceiling geisha mural inside Tomo adds plenty of drama and urban edge to the space. Photo: Gordon King

“We wanted it to be a place where groups feel welcome,” says co-owner Nara Sok. “We also wanted to encourage communal eating and sharing. Our menu is made for sharing.” Quite fitting for Tomo, which, after all, means “long-time friend” in Japanese.

Along the exposed stone wall, 99 tea lights twinkle. Photo: Gordon King
Along the exposed stone wall, 99 tea lights twinkle. Photo: Gordon King

Down one long side, Pongrac has used nearly 700 feet of marine-grade rope, imported from the United States, to create an airy, cocoon-like feeling over the booths. The heavy pieces of rope are mounted on maple bars suspended from the ceiling. Along the exposed stone wall, 99 tea lights twinkle at night.

The stunning bar at Tomo. Photo: Gordon King
The stunning bar at Tomo. Photo: Gordon King

Elsewhere, empty sake bottles have been turned into light fixtures, while 45 Edison bulbs hang over the bar from an abstract maple trellis overhead. “I wanted to use many traditional Japanese design references,” she explains. In their goal for an ambience that brings together the Eastern izakaya and the Western pub, Pongrac and Sok have created an upscale, unique addition to the city’s dining scene.

Sake barrels line one wall at Tomo. Photo: Gordon King
Sake barrels line one wall at Tomo. Photo: Gordon King