The Tapa Bar: a local success story

Culture Food | Drink

If you are looking for a funky place to hang out that has trendy music and delicious food at reasonable prices, then you need to try out the Tapa Bar, located in the heart of downtown Victoria, in historic Trounce Alley. The unique, Hispanic-inspired menu and interior design have kept this local restaurant in business for over 15 years.

The decor is a unique blend of Hispanic meeting abstract design. Sitting down with the manager, Emily Henderson, I learned that Dano Lee, the owner, had a specific vision for this restaurant. Fifteen years ago, the idea of small dishes called “tapas” was a unique concept for Victoria. According to the website, the definition is, “Tapas are small, flavourful dishes that can be served as an appetizer or together as a meal.”  Tapas are meant to encourage sharing between people, which then leads to more conversation.

I browsed through the menu and noticed that there are a variety of tapas to choose from. For instance, there is a traditional “Latin Tortilla Soup”; salads such as “Chickpea and Chorizo” with artichokes and parsley; seafood tapas such as “Gambas con Coco,” prawns in coconut milk curry with cucumber and tomato; and “Mussels de cha cha cha,” Salt Spring Island mussels in a fiery pepper sauce. In addition, there are vegetarian choices such as “Grilled Eggplant” with tomato basil and goat cheese, or for those who prefer a gluten-free menu, you could enjoy “Grilled Kale” marinated in coconut milk, cayenne, and lemon. The selection of tapas is impressive, but the artistic ambience is also part of the allure of the restaurant.

The influence of Hispanic culture is clearly apparent in the interior design and in the choice of music played in the restaurant. The artwork on display is by Mexican artist and mural painter Luis Merino, and music from various parts of Spain and Latin America bring an energetic feeling into the space. I asked Henderson what her vision for the Tapa Bar was for the future, and her reply was, “I really love it as it is. I like the fact that people feel comfortable. People feel like this could be their place for a variety of different social activities.”

I decided to stay and have a quick bite in this Hispanic paradise before I returned to the reality of my doctoral studies at UVic. I had the “Latin Tortilla Soup” and the “Mussels de cha cha cha.”  I ordered the mussels partly because Henderson recommended them, but mostly so I could say the name. Both dishes were superb. While I was ahaving my lunch, with my husband as my surprise date, I looked around the room and took in my surroundings. The bright colours in contrast with the dim lighting created a certain warmth. The Spanish music playing in the background completed the nostalgic ambience. I had a temporary flashback of the movie Like Water for Chocolate (1992), directed by Alfonso Arau, which was based on the book Como agua para chocolate (1989) by the Mexican author Laura Esquivel. The sensual scenes of cooking Mexican dishes danced in my mind and were only interrupted with the not-so-sensual arrival of the bill.