After a large group of gathering friends depart, Toronado resumes a slow afternoon.
The great North Park revival was teetering toward critical mass in 2008. It had exciting new clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, an art scene pumping blood back into the neighborhood, but it was thirsty. There were neither breweries nor tasting rooms, and only a handful of restaurant bars pouring local beer. It needed someplace to tie the suddenly big deal San Diego beer scene together.
4026 30th Street, San Diego
Then Toronado hit, like a gift from heaven — if heaven looks like the Lower Haight. Spun off a San Francisco beer institution, Toronado gave North Park the destination beer bar it secretly knew it deserved. Among the fifty draft beers it might pour would be local beers, Belgian beers, limited distribution beers from revered Northern California breweries; all kinds of beers you couldn’t get anywhere else in the city.
Most of the domestic brews cost four dollars a pint back then. But the truly special deal took place Mondays, when local beers went on special for three bucks. I’ve still never witnessed a more crowded business on a regular Monday night. It felt like half the city was in there, pressed shoulder to shoulder, getting better acquainted with our hometown brews. You knew it had to be special, because even North County friends would meet you there.
Twelve years later, no fewer than ten breweries pour beer in North Park, and most other neighborhoods for that matter. Toronado’s customers are scattered among other beer businesses. Some of them are operating their own. In January, owner Ian Black addressed rumors it would close on the bar’s social media. “It’s true: after 12 years in North Park, we are probably heading for the exit. A few weeks later, owner Ian Black told San Diego Magazine it will close sometime in March due to a decline in customers and higher cost of business
However, long-time fans are doing their best not to let it go quietly. On a recent weekday afternoon, I met with a group of about 14 brewers, bartenders, bar owners, and other beer industry folk who’d started getting together at Toronado to grab lunch and enjoy their old hangout while they still can. The loosely organized weekly get-togethers were spearheaded by bartender and beer podcaster Jacob Nikos, who said he wanted to recreate the sense of community they’d found there, in their early days as beer fans, then professionals. Meeting after shifts, trying each others’ beers, and generally making memories. Whether or not those memories stuck.
“My favorite Toronado story,” Nikos begins, as he recalls one New Year’s Day when the bar was last stop of a day long pub crawl, and a brewer friend decided to splurge on a bottle of Cable Car, a quite hard-to-get barrel aged sour made by The Lost Abbey. He bought the bottle — priced over a hundred bucks — to share with all his friends. “The next day he texts me,” recounts Nikos:
“Hey... Did I buy a bottle of Cable Car?” He didn’t remember at all, just found the receipt in his pocket. “Well,” came the next text, “How was it?”
Bartender Dylan Brown, who spent years pouring beer at Alpine Beer Company, has fond memories of Alpine Beer events at the bar. The small cult brand from way out East County was coveted by beer nerds across the country, but for the most part you had to make the journey up to Alpine to get it. However, Brown remembers that Toronado was the only place “down the hill” that you could find Alpine beers on a regular basis. “It’s still the only place that has an Alpine neon,” he adds, pointing out the burnt out sign mounted over the bar’s entrance.
“I heard that sign burnt out just after Green Flash bought them too,” chimes in someone at the table, to groans.
For the moment, Toronado continues to pour excellent beers, but stop by soon, it looks like there are only a couple weeks left to forget new memories.