A new bar called Toronado has opened in San Diego’s North Park neighborhood. It’s a spinoff of the popular Toronado in San Francisco. It specializes in craft beer and offers 50 taps and an extensive bottle list. I had high hopes for this place, but after going there the other night, it’s hard to imagine going back.
It’s not that the beer selection is bad. Quite the opposite. The 50 taps serve up offerings from Pizza Port, Bear Republic, Russian River and other favorite breweries. There also are a number of beers I’m unfamiliar with, and that’s good because I like trying new brews.
Finding out what’s on tap isn’t easy, though. The 50 taps are clustered in one corner and many of them have labels that are too small to read from more than a few feet away. There is a menu of beers posted on the wall above the bar, but if you’re sitting at the bar, you have to stand up and step backwards a few paces to see it.
This wouldn’t be so bad if the bartenders were friendly and helpful, but the man working the bar when we were there seemed to be annoyed at having to answer any questions about their beers and affected a hipper-than-thou posture that made me wonder if his last job was working at an independent record store or something.
I can live with arrogant bartenders and a lack of info about a place’s offerings if it has other things going for it. But I had a hard time finding many pluses at Toronado.
The atmosphere certainly isn’t anything to get excited about. Lots of bare walls, bad lighting and drab furnishings. It feels kind of sterile, far from cozy. Yes, it’s only been open about a month so maybe the owners plan to give it character over time, but it’s got a long way to go.
Then there’s the jukebox. It’s one of those cheesy faux-retro Wurlitzers that look like something you’d order out of the Sky Mall catalog. The CDs on it are decent — Pere Ubu, the English Beat, Eddie Spaghetti, etc. — but the cards only list the artist and album title, not the tracks. So unless you know a CD’s tracklist by heart, you can’t pick the songs you want to hear and instead have to kind of stab in the dark. Not that it really matters much; the harsh Toronado acoustics are such that if there are more than 10 people, their voices drown out the music on the jukebox.
It’s not that Toronado is an awful place. If I lived a block away from it I’d probably go on a regular basis. But in a town that has lots of great beer bars, Toronado isn’t worth going out of the way for.