"What're you havin'?" "I dunno. You?" "Maybe a beer. A craft beer. Do they have those?" "I think so."
4026 30th Street, San Diego
The word Toronado carries a lot of meaning in West Coast craft-beer circles. For San Franciscans, it’s the name of a bar in the Lower Haight, where the stock has consisted of fine beer for the past 24 years. That’s a long time, especially considering that, in 1988, not one of San Diego’s current 50-plus brewhouses or craft-beer bars existed.
As that large number of suds-slingers attests, San Diego has become a remarkable beer town, one regarded by many as the best in the U.S. So it’s only fitting that we, too, have our own Toronado. Opened in North Park in May 2008, Toronado Two may be younger, but it’s every bit as formidable as its forerunner.
How can I be so sure?
Last month, I headed up to San Francisco to experience the city’s annual Beer Week festivities. I hit over a dozen beer bars, restaurants, and brewpubs, experiencing the best that the City by the Bay — plenty beery in its own right — has to offer. It was a whirlwind affair that started with my first stop straight off the plane, the original Toronado.
Arriving just after 5:00 p.m. on a Friday (since most of my Toronado San Diego drinking occurs on Friday afternoons, I figured conditions would be ideal for comparison), I charged through a familiar-looking Dutch door into a crowded bar. It was a bit narrower, but overall, similar to its North Park counterpart. The bar was in the same location, running along the right wall; the beer board, identical to ours, with its no-frills plain-text paper print-and-cuts naming each beer and its price, was positioned so it faced the front door. In San Diego, if you want full view of the draft offerings, you need to find rare and sometimes nonexistent space in the aisle separating the bar from the tables — we have large full-on tables, versus the wooden protrusions that jut from the east wall in San Francisco. North Park’s Toronado is more homogenous in its publike decor, whereas Frisco’s (yeah, I just called it Frisco) has a more kitschy, patchwork style.
But the true differences in the two Toronados lie beneath the surface, in the very fiber of their underlying cultures.
San Diego’s Toronado is a laid-back place, where beer-seeking locals and out-of-towners alike can mix seamlessly. Life is simple: have a seat, open a tab, kick back, and be enraptured by good beer. If you’re so inclined, partake of some heavy, honest-to-goodness sustenance from a full menu, which has been recently revamped by the bar’s food, beer, and bacon bon vivant, Nate Soroko (try the sumptuous grilled pork-belly skewers).
Things are different at the original. In San Francisco, you have to pay cash, and there is no food menu, though there is a nice artisanal sausage spot next door, Rosamunde Sausage Grill, which serves up a tasty assortment of transportable meats in tube form.
What’s harder to get past is dealing with the kind of mellow-harshing BS that exists in institutions that will flourish with or without your business. The sass and generally unwelcoming nature of the majority of the staffers behind Toronado San Francisco’s bar has been explained to me by many a patron as “part of the ambiance.”
Because a large contingent of the regulars are either hospitality-industry types, who understand what makes barbacks cranky, or people so enamored with beer that they’d take 40 lashes from a bullwhip if it meant a pint of a rare double IPA, the staff can behave in this way. That’s within their right, but the environment doesn’t hold much appeal for San Diego visitors, who can reference an almost identical venue sans the needless vitriol.
The only thing keeping San Francisco’s Toronado from qualifying as a full-fledged dive is the history and commitment to incredible beer. The place is both significant and an archetype for those looking to create similar shrines to the brewing industry. But Toronado Two has taken the best of the genuine article and infused it with modern-day sensibility and easygoing Southern California charm. ■
4026 30th Street, North Park, 619-282-0456; toronadosd.com
Hours: Sun–Wed, 11:30 a.m.–12:00 a.m.; Thurs–Sat, 11:30 a.m.–2:00 a.m.
Vibe: Mellow, welcoming; full menu available