Toronto’s first Japanese-inspired vinyl listening lounge opens on King West

Imagine an exclusive atmospheric haven where you can indulge in hand-crafted cocktails and savour seasonal flavours, all while a curated collection of timeless tracks sets the mood throughout the night. This is the experience awaiting you at Kissa, Toronto’s first Japanese-inspired vinyl-only listening lounge, located on King Street West.

Serving up a fusion of  Japanese cuisine complemented by an array of original specialty cocktails, Kissa is the latest creation from hospitality experts Dan Gunam and Vito Tomasicchio. Building upon the success and  reputation of their previous ventures, Love Child Social House and Hush Hush, Gunam and Tomasicchio have created this unique concept, and it does not disappoint.

The restaurant’s name comes from “kissaten,” the name given to the 1920s Japanese teahouse speakeasies where people escaped to listen to American records at a time when it wasn’t allowed.

As you approach, a red arched door welcomes you in, serving as the gateway that transports you from the bustling, vibrant Queen Street West to the intimate, secluded realm of the listening lounge. The ambiance is instantly transformed by the soft glow of table lights, textured velvet, the subtle melodies of Prince playing on vinyl, and the friendly, soft-spoken staff  who put you at ease as soon as you enter.

 

At Kissa, music takes center stage in every aspect. The downstairs lounge is an Instagram-worthy visual treat with a vintage sound system set against a backdrop of over 2,500 plus vinyl records, featuring timeless classics from the likes of  David Bowie, Elvis, the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac. Stunning crystal disco balls hang from the ceiling above, adding a little dazzle to match the sparkle of the 24-carat gold accents topping the drinks and desserts.

In the downstairs lounge, a DJ spins tracks from the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. “It’s very classically mixed,” Gunam explains, adding that some nights the music will spotlight certain artists, playing non-stop Beatles or Prince, for example. “We wanted to create an atmosphere that feels like home to our guests.”

A staircase of mirrored walls — the perfect time for a selfie — leads to the second-floor super club , a space that’s limited to 150 people.  Here, a talented DJ plays house music well into the early hours of the morning. There’s also  a camera-free members-only room that will open with the launch of their Goodnight Club. The membership will include VIP access to Kissa and Soluna alongside invitations to exclusive parties, international festivals, and other perks.

At Kissa, guests can customize their experience by choosing from various rooms and lounges to suit their evening goals.

“The space on its own is an experience. You can define when you want to come, and how you want to experience that space,” explains Gunam. “Some days you could come downstairs, have a snack, drink, listen to the eighties and nineties music. But then when you want to have a good time and party on a Friday or Saturday night, you can go upstairs and be part of that more intimate lounge.”

The cocktail menu features speciality drinks, each named for a renowned album, all of which will soon be on display in vinyl behind the record player. While most names pay homage to a classic album, there are also a few cleverly chosen names like the Twelve Carat Toothache, named for Post Malone’s 2022 album.

All the cocktails are light and airy enough to pair with any of the late-night bites on the food menu, which is constantly changing depending on the season.

The emphasis is on shared experiences, and every item on the menu has been give a Japanese touch. The extremely knowledgeable servers, impress guests with their knowledge behind each element, be it the origins of tequila or the rich tapestry of Japanese traditions.

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The hummus, for example, is made from edamame instead of chickpeas, with a light pour of scallion oil to take away that extra bitterness. Following Toronto’s handroll trend, Kissa does a fresh salmon roll topped with a pickled cucumber to give it a little crunch. Other menu stand-outs are the A5 Wagyu Japanese sando, chicken skewers, and the Mushroom Forest—a gorgeous display of tempura, caramelized mushrooms and edible flowers.

For dessert, the highlight is the tiramisu which features a mashup of Japanese flavours including matcha and hojicha.

Gunam is no newcomer to King Street West, with previous venture Love Child Social House being a favourite on the block for years. Recognizing the other contemporary restaurants on the strip,  he imagines Kissa as the “stop over” cocktail bar.

“You come here for a quick drink before you go have a dinner or you can come for dinner while you’re waiting or you can go somewhere for dinner and you can come afterwards for drinks and the music, or you can come in with a few friends and have a meal and you can go somewhere else to party.”

Kissa is now open at 619 King St. W. 

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO