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Beer at my home away from home - Review by Avery G | Toronado


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Beer at my home away from home 4/29/2006

I have a long history with the Toronado. For the final years of the last millenium, my wife and I chronicled our evenings there on our online journal (yes, this was pre-blogging), and there was lots to blog about. We talked about the bartenders, the regulars and the invaders from the Marina who looked utterly confused when the folks behind the bar said "No, you can't have a gin and tonic" followed quickly by "No, you can't have an Amstel Light" and finally by "No, you can't pay by credit card". The Lower Haight was going through a fight for its very soul - battling against SUVs, gentrification, yuppie encroachment and the chain stores and shops that wanted to replace local establishments... and the Toronado was the point where the battle would be won or lost. That was the late 1990s, and now in 2006, things haven't changed that much. During the days and weekday nights, it's full of regular Lower Haight denizens - and on Friday and Saturday nights, it's a battle between locals and folks from different neighborhoods (and tax brackets). Pauly, Johnny and Kirsten are still behind the bar, and Tad is still the best bouncer in the city - I mean, how many people can come up with a trivia question like "Name the three characters from MASH that were there since the first episode" on the fly? (The one that everyone misses is Nurse Kelley... she's the key to the whole series! - I think I won a beer for getting that). So many of my life changing events - from birthdays to our going away party when we moved to Connecticut in 1999 were held at the Toronado, and while I lived just 2 blocks away in a tiny studio apartment with my wife and two cats, the Toronado was like my living room - where I went to relax and to entertain. During the big power outage when the state was plunged into darkness, the Toronado served the neighborhood beverages while Rosamunde turned on their big gas grill and served up sausages for the locals. Up until 1999, the Toronado was home. The bar hasn't changed at all since then. The banner from the bar's first serving of Aventinus on tap is still there, and aside from the growing rack of empty 3 liter Duvel bottles on the wall, the bar is exactly the same. The problem is that even though the Toronado hasn't changed in the past decade, I have. I still love the beer - 46 well selected taps (though I wish they would rotate some of the taps more often - I love De Koninck, but there are other beers that should occasionally take that slot) and a bottle list that is beyond compare in this city and possibly in the country. I've gone there with judges from the Great American Beer Festival and been able to stump them with flavors they couldn't attribute to a specific beer style, let alone a brewery. I love the fact that Dave leased the space to an ex-Bartender to start Rosamunde. The festivals (Barleywine, Strong Beer, Belgian Beer, Oktoberfest, Fresh Hop and many more) are always amazing - the barleywine festival becoming one of the seminal barleywine events worldwide. But as I get older, the music starts to quickly get too loud - and even though I used to be there two or three times a week in the late 90s, now that I am no longer a regular, sometimes I feel like a stranger. Certain new bartenders throw more attitude than necessary, giving non-regulars the stinkeye before reluctantly taking an order - which is a shame for a beer bar that beer lovers make pilgrimages to from all over the world. I'm not saying that you need to be nice, but you need to be respectful of your customers up until they make assholes of themselves. Yeah, I don't wear t-shirts and ripped jeans any more and I live in a SOMA loft, but the Lower Haight is still in my heart, as is the Toronado. Still, I would love for them to install a drain in the bathroom so I don't have to wade through the piss on the floor when I have to take a leak. more
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