USHERING IN A NEW ERA
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
For me, at least, this story begins two decades ago when, as a precocious nineteen-year-old, I began my second era as a regular patron of Uptown Waterloo’s storied Jane Bond Café. (My first era came to an abrupt end when the Jane Bond first acquired its liquor license and, as a result, under-agers like my friends and me had to find another hangout for steeped tea, fruit shakes, and maudlin soundtracks of our lives.) The Jane Bond was like home to us. Wednesday night hip hop with DJ Alibi. Thursday drum-n-bass with theVinylkiller Lee Chung. All made possible by those incredible folks who ran the place: Leanne, Vicki, Kate and others. And by co-owners Bernard, Josh and Renée. I loved those folks. And that café.
Imagine my delight, then, when – after all these years – I ran into Josh a few months back and discovered that he and Renée, along with celebrated Chef Paul Boehmer of Waterloo’s Bhima’s Warung, were planning to open a brand new restaurant. Uptown. Almost directly across the street from the Jane Bond. ‘Something this region’s never seen before,’ Josh noted excitedly. ‘Imagine a 1920s-style French colonial hotel lobby bar you’d find somewhere in South East Asia.’ I imagined. He continued: ‘We want everything about the place – the aesthetic, service, smells and tastes – to reflect this experience. And transport restaurant patrons to that period. And those places.’
Seems as though my third era with Josh and crew might soon be upon me, I thought to myself. And it sure sounds like a good time.
* * *
‘It’s like we’ve entered the set of a Wes Anderson film,’ I whisper to TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis once we’ve been seated at a cozy two-seater beside the windows facing Princess Street. After taking a minute to look around, I add: ‘Or a Tintin book.’ Cai nods discretely and we sit together in silence. By candlelight. Taking it all in.
I’m dazzled by the formidable three-sided marble bar staffed with a small ensemble of professionals outfitted in sharp black tuxedos. The fleet of bar-top statuettes grasping globe lights that would serve just as well on the hoods of Rolls Royces as they do here. The intricate art deco ceiling with patina’d panels decorated with all sorts of exotic birds. I survey the dimly-lit dining room – ringed on one side by sumptuous banquettes, on another by large windows, and on the third by through-the-glass views into the bustling kitchen. Everything contributing to the bold, captivating ambience: the glamorous chandeliers, the heavy revolving door, the tiled floors and the central front host/ess desk appointed with fresh greenery and boasting an antique rotary phone.
I half expect to see Bill Murray at the bar. Or at least Jason Schwartzman. In this fantastical culinary wonderland. Loloan Lobby Bar. Josh’s place. And Renée’s. And Paul’s too.
‘The place is so incredible because it seems perfectly out of place,’ I note to Cai as I sip on an ‘Infinity Mirror’ Brett IPA from Halcyon Barrel House. ‘As though we really have been transported to another time and locale entirely.’ Indeed, the only thing that seems to ground me in reality is that both Josh and Renée are here – meeting and greeting and hosting the seemingly endless stream of individuals and groups who have been lucky enough to secure a reservation. Josh visits our table and, deeply affected by this whole scene, I give him a giant bear hug. He seems to be radiating with joy – and utterly exhausted. Which only makes sense. It’s been months of full days (and long nights) pushing Loloan forward. The concept. The new build. Hiring and training. The menu.
Ah yes – the menu.
Our appetizers arrive and I begin to understand more fully the allure of this place. ‘Buntut’ – slow braised oxtail in red wine, ginger, lemongrass and oyster sauce in pastry, with papaya pick and sambal tomat. And ‘Nem Trio’ – seafood salpicon in rice paper with lemongrass sambal; a catfish and sausage fried roll with sour cherry nuoc; and ginger cured arctic char and somtom roll with crab oil. The Javanese elements offer striking, wonderful flavours – not to mention, for me at least, a whole new and exotic culinary vocabulary.
Up next: our mains. ‘Moo Parlow’ – pork neck slowly braised in star anise caramel liquor, steamed fresh rice noodle, crackling, pickled duck egg, condiments. And ‘Cha Ca Thang Long’ – whole boneless rainbow trout, stuffed with herbs and baked, with bun noodle, lettuce wraps and dipping sauces. I have never eaten a whole fish before (let alone oxtail or pork neck). And yet I eagerly dive in. And it’s spectacular. And I can’t help but think I’m so receptive to this food because the whole place has seduced me into allowing myself to let go of expectation, convention.
To relax into a new sort of (albeit fully charged) comfort zone.
As the evening progresses, and our dishes have been cleared from the table, I am left trying to make sense of the episode that Cai and I have just experienced together. This place. And this meal. And the bar. And tuxedos. And art deco. And candlelight. And all the rest of it. And Josh and Renée too. ‘And I cannot for the life of me seem to wrap my head around it,’ I exclaim to Cai. ‘But I think that’s the point.’
Loloan Lobby Bar. A destination. From a bygone era. Perfectly pieced together to encourage folks to leave their comfort zones – if only for an evening. To play upon a stage exquisitely designed to transport them into another time – another world. Right here in Uptown Waterloo.
My third era. A wonderful thing.