Full disclosure: the first job I ever had was in one of Darryl Haus’ kitchens. I worked in the dish pit, where I spent every weekend of my grade nine year scrubbing pots and cutting French fries in the Peel Street kitchen. Although my career in the kitchen didn’t last too long, I never stopped being an enthusiast of Haus’ cooking and his unique take on food and dining.
Since those days (roughly 10 years ago) I’ve kept a close eye Haus’ culinary moves: from cooking at Peter Martin’s 20 King, to opening Hogtails and The Grand Trunk Saloon, and now with the opening of his latest venture: The Grand Surf Lounge in downtown Kitchener.
I had heard rumors over the summer of a new cocktail/Tiki bar opening down the street from the Saloon. I even heard that this new place would feature vegan options, so I had to call up Darryl to get the details.
What inspired him to open a Tiki bar, and why in downtown Kitchener?
“Ever since the day after I opened The Grand Trunk Saloon, I was eyeballing what I wanted my next project to look like. I wanted to do a Tiki bar because … they’re kitschy but fun,” Haus explained.
“I think the fun aspect is something we’ve lost track of in our dining industry today. But with this, it’s a Tiki bar, you can’t take anything too seriously … well, except the drinks. We take those seriously, and the food we take very seriously.”
The moment you walk into The Grand Surf Lounge it feels like you’ve been transported elsewhere — maybe to Hawaii, perhaps even a bar in Vancouver, but for me, it’s reminiscent of bars I used to patronize frequently when I lived in Osaka, Japan. It’s a small bar lit by the warm glow of a red lantern that puts you at instant ease and comfort. It feels welcoming, relaxing, and earnest.
Part of this vibe comes from the small and narrow setup of the restaurant, as it seats only 30, but you come to realize quickly that it’s more than just the seating count that gives it this unique intimate atmosphere.
“We don’t even have a phone to take reservations,” Haus said. “I wanted it to be like, if you’re in the mood for a tiki drink, come down for one. It’s not something you need to plan days in advance. I like my whiskey neat or I want something served in a coconut with an umbrella in it. There’s a time and place for everything, it just depends what you’re in the mood for.”
So why specifically a Tiki bar? Where did this idea originate from?
“A lot of my inspiration for this place actually came from my grandfather whose favourite restaurant in Kitchener was Tien Hoa Inn Restaurant,” he said.
“When I was growing up, we used to go there for all our family occasions. They had a bamboo bridge over a koi pond, a lounge, lanterns — it was a Chinese restaurant but had this very Polynesian feel to it.”
For Haus, part of the Grand Surf’s charm lies in his own nostalgia.
“… a large part of why I wanted to open a Tiki bar is because it focuses on the aspect of escapism,” he added.
The origins of Tiki themed bars is based in this, he explained. He described how Tiki pulls inspiration from many different cultures, and creates a place where we can forget what’s happening in our day-to-day lives and feel like you’re transported away from everything.
“We keep the windows dark on purpose,” Haus said. “We keep the music a little loud on purpose, all to create that sense of this could be anywhere.”