Chef Nuit Regular – one of the top Thai chefs in Canada – and her husband, Jeff, came to Jump looking to replicate the authentic vibe of their extremely successful downtown Toronto Thai restaurant concept – PAI – in a very different space uptown.
The result is an immersive dining experience that captures the energy and atmosphere of the backpacker’s village of Pai, Thailand, through the use of genuine sights, familiar sounds and authentic scents.
Nestled in the bustling Yonge & Eglinton area of Toronto, Pai is a two-floor, 12,000 square-foot restaurant that can seat up to 400 guests. PAI evokes memories of its namesake, the backpacker/hippie paradise near the Myanmar border in northern Thailand, known for its waterfalls, hot springs, incredible vistas, and relaxed atmosphere.
At PAI, the small entry foyer at street level greets guests with a vintage wooden cart reminiscent of Thai street vendors. Walking up the staircase, a cacophony of sights and sounds envelope guests when the restaurant is at full capacity. At the top of the stairs, guests enter the main restaurant, adorned with 220 paper lanterns hanging from the 35-foot foyer ceilings, reminiscent of the Thai lantern festival (Loi Krathong) held each year, the epicentre of which is in neighbouring Chiang Mai.
To give a sense of our attention to detail, these lanterns were hand-formed on-site by our design team after it was agreed upon with the client that the original edges were too crisp and stiff.
Colourful and festive flags create whimsical pops of vibrancy throughout the space, while art in the form of vintage posters and signs bring humour and levity. Jewel tones mixed in with warm neutrals and soft breaks help make the large space feel both grand and intimate at once, aided by the overhanging balconies, beams, and fishing net sisal light pendants. An abundance of live plants in a variety of shapes and sizes evokes the jungle setting of the original town and lends an organic authenticity to the environment.
Where possible, architectural features were kept and repurposed, or added. The main area flooring was a beat-up former nightclub floor, re-finished but not refined, in order to keep the character of the distressed wood. We retained and re-clad a pre-existing, sweeping bar fixture with corrugated metal and concrete, topped it with epoxied bamboo, then adorned it with hanging lanterns.
A street food market counter adds a fun and authentic element to the environment, while offering an assortment of pre-made meals to the busy lunch crowd. We incorporated a stage into the design, which serves as a focal point and showcases live local entertainment. The stage is flanked by a large illustration – commissioned specifically for this space – reflecting a scene from the streets of Pai. This fun piece contrasts with the panoramic photo of the lush green hills surrounding the town, situated above and behind it.
Traditional Thai wood paneling and intricately basket-woven wood wall surfaces are interrupted by the 60’s to 90’s musical influence of nostalgic Rock n’ Roll posters and festive Thai patterns. Many of the details and decorative elements were sourced through local vintage reclamation shops, helping to create the feeling of a well-worn space.
Rattan features and reclaimed posts are weathered, and a distressed, old-fashioned travel case and antique console radio add to the timelessness of the waiting area. The hard, brightly painted brick and tile surfaces allow sounds to bounce around in order to set the noisy market street scene.
Two private dining rooms along with a variety of flexible dining coves can accommodate seating for groups of 4 to 30, and the variety of spaces means that a customer can return again and again and have a unique experience at each visit.
The space is fun, inviting, and laidback – just like the town of Pai – with the final design being an extension of the passion and energy Chef Nuit brings to the authentic and beautiful foods served within. The combination of genuine Thai food, the chill hippie backpacker vibe, and the sights and sounds of a busy street market work together to create an atmosphere that will transport guests to Thailand with every visit.