Back in the day, the only reason I'd visit Tony's Darts Away in Burbank was to see a fight, and I'm not talking about a boxing match on TV. I'm happy to report that urban renewal in our city has extended to Magnolia Boulevard, and the "New Tony's" is a cleaner, healthier, cooler place to visit now that new management is running the show.
Tony's is a "niche bar" that serves only beer, wine, soda, meats and breads from the state of California. Keeping it Californian is a unique idea and the big selling point. If you're looking for a Coors Light and a greasy burger, go someplace else. You won't find those here.
The first thing you notice when you walk into Tony's is the hipster crowd that populates the lengthy bar and surrounding tables. Long gone are the wannabe gang members and local drunks who used to get Tony's listed in the police report of the paper every week.
When I visited, "beer nerds" were everywhere playing Scrabble, Uno or other board games while enjoying a pint of microbrew. Imagine a coffee shop with a digital jukebox selling cold brews instead of hot Joes, and that sums up the atmosphere. To be honest, most of the patrons were male creative types, but a few women who love beer were wandering around for good measure.
By rule, most bar food is terrible, but Tony's sets a new standard with their menu, which includes numerous vegan options.
My crew dined on chicken sausages, sweet potato fries, Cajun chips, frizzled onions and lightly salted almonds. I also had the Caloise salad, which is topped with a delicious smoked salmon. The food choices and toppings were eclectic but fantastic. The next time we visit, I'll try some of their "vegan meats." My friends didn't want to overindulge on the food, so we could save room for beer.
Beer is what will put Tony's on the map outside of Burbank. They have the largest selection of California beers on tap I've ever seen. The spunky female bartender was definitely overworked, but she took time to explain to my grumpy friend the various beers on the menu that he might enjoy. My favorite was the orange wheat, which was light and fresh and perfect for watching baseball on one of the HDTVs.
Tony's is becoming so popular, a few of the beers on their list were actually sold out. It was a slight inconvenience, and I'm sure the owner will solve that problem in the future.
My dad worked for a brewery, so I've been around beer my entire life. I became an expert on drinking in college, but Tony's is designed for people with a more discernable palate than a typical frat boy. All of the beers they serve are in glasses determined by which style you orderThey also have books on beer.
My only complaint is the fact that Tony's doesn't sell hard liquor, and I did notice a few younger women getting bent out of shape because they couldn't order Red Bull and Vodkas. Some people just don't like beer or wine, and it's tough to be considered a real bar when you don't sell "booze." In the future, I'm hoping Tony's will expand their selection with spirits distilled in California.
The craft-beer craze of the late 1990s may have gone flat in most parts of country, but if you're thirsty for a California brew, great food and wonderful people, visit Tony's. Their business model will help small brewers in our state and quench the thirst of the biggest beer snob in any crowd.
MATT BELLNER is an actor and freelance writer based in Burbank.