When Montreal architect David Dworkind joined designer Guillaume Ménard in the task of designing a restaurant and bar in the 14,000 square foot space that was formerly iconic Laval mega-club Moomba, he knew the project would “generate buzz.”
The two had just paired up, after what Dworkind describes as a long-held “online romance” (consisting solely of numerous likes on each others’ social media). It was their first project together, but it didn’t take them long to find a certain cohesion.
“We’d kind of been following each others work for a long time, but had never actually met,” Dworkind recalls. “[Ménard] reached out to me online and just said ‘Hey, I’ve got this project, could be cool to collaborate,’ so we met up and started working on it together as kind of two separate entities collaborating, and there was immediately a synergy in our work. We had complementary skill sets, similar design aesthetics.”
Over ten months from November 2017 to August 2018, Dworkind and Menard constructed an aesthetically complex space within the massive venue, now Miss Wong, ultimately going on to earn Eater Montreal’s Design of the Year award. Their collaboration was such a success that when they started being approached as a duo for other projects partway through construction, they chose to formally launch a business together as Menard-Dworkind Architecture & Design.
Miss Wong drew plenty of attention for its complex, dream-like design, combining a range of elements inspired by visions of various Chinatowns across North America, complete with their kitschy aesthetics. While Dan Pham (who is behind Miss Wong) and the designers were initially inspired by the history and aesthetic of San Francisco’s Chinatown, they sourced many of their materials from that of Montreal’s — including paper fans they turned into lighting fixtures, vintage neon signs they hung up on the walls, and round red lanterns strung from the ceiling.
Dworkind and Menard also purchased around 500 gold Maneki-Neko figurines to line the bar’s long narrow entryway. (Sometimes known as “lucky cats”, these are actually Japanese symbols of good luck, but commonly displayed in Chinatown restaurants.) This hall — which leads to a coat check station before opening up into a vast room with gigantic ceilings, exploding colours, and vibrant neon signage — is a central part of what makes Miss Wong feel like another world.
“You start in this low space, you turn the corner and there’s this circle which frames the view into this big vast space,” Dworkind describes. “You have this ‘wow’ moment as you enter a space with 22 foot high ceilings.”
From there, the venue is broken up into zones, each with a different vibe. To Dworkind, segmenting the space in this way is a must for a venue as large as Miss Wong, which could easily feel barren if not completely full.
“It’s creating these more small intimate zones so people feel like they’re not sitting in a big empty room.”
The main room, comprised primarily of high tables for standing and high-octane socializing, is broken up into planes, with a second platform of tables just a few steps up from the main floor.
This and other areas are designed with specific types of socializing in mind — and even the lighting attempts to facilitate this. Another portion of the room is designed for more intimate conversations: It contains banquette seating with lower library-style lights that emit a glow onto the table surfaces, bouncing back onto patrons’ faces while they speak.
Dworkind says the pair worked hard to create a complex lighting schemes throughout the space, to evoke different emotions between zones.
“The lighting is definitely very important in all our projects, but especially in kind of bars and clubs,” Dworkind said. “One of the big successes…is these lights from the bar. They really create an interesting ambiance at night, where all the lights are dimmed but you just have this light on the table, which is reflecting off of the wood and onto people’s faces, so everybody has this kind of warm hue on their face and everybody’s looking good and healthy.”
And while every zone in the establishment may elicit unique reactions in patrons, Dworkind hopes one feeling is universal throughout the entire space: the feeling of “discovering a new place, even within your own city.”