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A TALE OF TWO BARS

Being an afficionado on the bars in this town, I always thought I had my finger on the pulse of the new comings and goings in our local cocktail scene. Recently, I was surprised when my girlfriend, a recent transplant to San Diego, would have the upperhand on me. While beer taverns are on the ever popular rise in a twisted economy, I had only really paid attention to Hamilton’s Tavern, which is a block away from my current abode. Rachel happened to note that while she lived in San Francisco, one of her favorite haunts was the Toronado Bar on Haight Street, and that she heard a rumor regarding them opening a franchise down here in North Park. This required some research and a proverbial band-aid for my wounded pride.

We eagerly awaited the opening to see if this sequel would prove as good as the first. Several months ago, we ventured in for the first time. A great farm-house half-door greeted us as we entered. Looking around, I saw bare white walls, some wooden furniture and a large amount of taps. Not impressed, but still curious, we had a beer and Rachel remarked that this was in no way a brother to the original dark and seedy hole-in-the-wall of her rememberence. A bit lack lustered, we left thinking we would never come back.

>Several months later, as I would drive by, I was seeing crowds adorning the 18 or so barstools inside. Once again intrigued, I figured they must have worked out some of the kinks. On a recent return visit, I was well rewarded. I noticed immediately the metal beer signs arranged haphazzardly on the walls in foreign tongues and the three large woodframed mirrors enhancing at once the size of the room and the cleanliness. What we learned is that the current owner, Ian Black, was able to strike a deal in using the coveted name for his new bar but decided on a differen’t concept. While Toronado SF was a bit more on the divey side, this Toronado was to be modeled after a belgian beer bar, which is traditionally clean and bright. Imagine that.

Ok, more surprises, there are currently 50 taps on the wall set in a dizzying array that only a NASA scientist or a well trained barkeep could keep track of. These cover the gambit from pale ales to stouts and everything in between. There are also a couple of featured hand pumped selections weekly. I, being the adventurous sort, and having a bit of trust in David, one of the afore mentioned savvy folk, took a chance and ordered a barley wine cleverly called 3 Sheets, by Ballast Point. Wow, bitter and savory with plenty of fruit. This was the something differen’t I was looking for. They had a couple of other barley wines on draft that I swore I would try next time. I sat down at one of the sturdy long wooden tables and enjoyed my libation while I took a further look around.

There are 239 beers in bottles from all over this beer loving planet, in sizes that range from 250 ml to 6L. Several large bottles of Duvel graced the tops of the glass fronted, and fully stocked refrigerators. The wooden shelves were full of an abundance of gleaming glassware. Apparently, like wine, beer also has specific glasses that suits it’s type. I was bewlidered by the dazzling reflection of light off of this many faceted gem fixed to the wall opposite the mirrors.

I noticed the jukebox was playing some good rock’n’roll tunes. When I had been here previously, the juke had no markings and it was a gamble to pick random songs. I hope that this has now changed, but I kind of liked the fatalistic machine that was previously employed; i.e. push B-3 and you might end up with a random track off of The Sword’s latest record, fun.

Running into my friend Erin, she offered me a bit of her leftovers from the kitchen. I hadn’t considered that a place like this might proffer good food, too. It was smoked Macaroni and Cheese with bechamel sauce, and it was a hearty compliment to my delicious brew. I was told that there was a recent new chef, Glenn Groening, and that he was completely revamping what had only been a sausage house. The menu looks good and well priced. The supposedly famous Rosamunde’s Burger from Toronado SF, which features grass fed Estancia beef from Uruguay on a Bread and Cie roll sounds like a winner. I also contemplated the butternut squash and roasted garlic soup with basil chiffonade garni as a possible selection. The depth of the menu seems to compliment the beers available.

With all this positive fanfare, I must note that I find the beer menu a bit hard to understand for the lay man. Where as at Hamilton’s every thing you want to know about the beer you are ordering is written on a big chalk board in bold multi colored letters, at Toronado you might get some strained neck muscles looking up at the beer list while trying to discern what type of beer you’re actually ordering. Fortunately, the educated staff is there to help you, but I feel a little more general info would be helpful to someone who hasn’t taken beer 101, but knows what he likes, especially on a busy night when your time with the keep might be brief. Maybe they’re just trying to keep it real for the serious connoisseur.

I like the wide open, bright and clean effect alot, but it also lends itself to be a bit noisy. It can be hard to have a good conversation with someone sitting across from you due to the cacaphony surrounding the room, but maybe it’s just a good chance to work out your vocal chords. There is a flat screen TV to the right of the bar to keep track of your favorite cricket game or soccer event and plenty of people watching, either in the bar or outside the farmhouse door.

Everyone that works here is very friendly and interested in making your experience worthy of a return visit. This is a local’s beer bar and I enjoyed the feeling that I belonged there. I even like the long hallway that leads back to the seemingly distant lavatories. Monday nights between 6pm and 10pm, you can sample any of the 50 drafts for only $3.00. Now, that is a noble deal.

Details »
  • City: San Diego
  • Phone: 619-282-0456
  • Name: Toronado Bar
  • Address: 4026 30th Street