If you are a beer geek who has traveled to San Francisco, chances are that you have been to a little spot called Toronado. This slightly divey bar has been one of the West Coast’s most important craft beer bars since opening in the Lower Haight neighborhood way back in 1987. Owner David Keene (aka “Big Daddy”) has been the man running the show there since he bought out the owners in 1989. He continuously expanded the bar’s Belgian and craft beer offerings, all the while keeping the bar’s gritty atmosphere in place. In addition to an everyday taplist that kicks ass, their annual Toronado Barleywine Fest is the stuff of legends. In 2008, one of Toronado’s former employees, Ian Black, opened up a second Toronado location in San Diego. The SD version has the same focus on great beer, but the atmosphere and vibe are certainly more refined. I won’t argue that either location is better than the other, just very different.
Now, we are slated to get our own Toronado here in Seattle. Matt Bonney, former Operations Manager for Brouwer’s Cafe, Bottleworks and Burgundian, will be opening up the Seattle Toronado at 1205 NE 65th St. in the Ravenna neighborhood. Some might recognize the address as the former location of Mutiny Hall, another craft beer bar that never really picked up steam. For those that do know the SF version of Toronado, the first thing to keep in mind is that it will be impossible to recreate that version and atmosphere here in Seattle; that is not Bonney’s intention. He expects his version to be a bit of a mixture of the SF/SD locations. He’ll be keeping the main layout of the bar that Mutiny Hall already had in place, but he’ll be giving it its own character. The Seattle location will also have a full liquor bar available, which is something neither of the other locations offer. You can expect a respectable selection of bourbon, scotch and tequila. They will also have a full kitchen and Bonney is planning a menu featuring full animal butchering and a large charcuterie program. For those with kids, sorry, but the Seattle Toronado will be 21+ only.
The main thread that the Seattle location will have in common with the other two Toronados is exceptional beer. Bonney plans to offer around 40 beers on tap, and he will be installing a top notch direct draw tap system, similar to what both Brouwer’s and Burgundian use. You can expect weekly events, special beers and occasional festivals, including a barleywine festival. Bonney was the main driver of the barleywine fest at Brouwer’s Cafe during his time there, so that should be no surprise.
Bonney was Operations Manager for Brouwer’s Cafe/Bottleworks/Burgundian for 15 years, but now he’s excited about what the future holds. “It’s been a goal of mine for a few years to actually have something of my own.” When he heard that Mutiny Hall was for sale, he jumped on the opportunity. “Finding a neighborhood like Ravenna was at the top of my list. This neighborhood is growing up, and I want Toronado to grow up with it.” Bonney has been friends with Keene for quite some time, and he’s proud to now be a part of the Toronado story. “I remember sitting down and doing a back room tasting with Big Daddy probably 14 years ago after a barleywine fest and I just clicked with him. I’ve always really admired the Toronado and to be opening my own now is just incredible.” Bonney will be the main shareholder of the new venture, but Keene also has a vested interested in the project.
Seattle already has some of the best beer bars in the country, but there is always room for a world-class beer bar like you’d expect this Toronado to be. It’s a competitive market, but with Bonney’s experience in the industry and the Toronado name, I expect great things. Look for the Seattle Toronado to hopefully open sometime in August.
For those interested, here is a pretty good piece describing the two very different atmospheres of the SF/SD Toronados.