An Ode to Bar Volo, Closing this September
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An Ode to Bar Volo, Closing this September

After 28 years the famous beer destination is closing, but the Morana Family is already looking ahead.

Photo by Robin LeBlanc

Photo by Robin LeBlanc

I was saddened at first to hear that the little hip beer bar at 587 Yonge Street was closing down. Bar Volo was the first craft beer bar I ever went to. A group of friends and I would head down there, order random bottles of beers that sounded good to us, and share them around the table. The staff encouraged this (as I look back on it, rather expensive) method of discovery, and were nothing short of welcoming.

In recent years, I’ve often darkened their door to have one or two pints, and just last week my father and I sat on the patio, talking about our weekend over glasses of Burdock West Coast Pilsner.

It’s hard to believe that in less than a year, that location will be rubble, making way for a rather sterile-looking condo whose character and warmth will never match what was once there.

Earlier this week, award-winning beer writer Ben Johnson confirmed that Bar Volo, the much-loved and respected craft beer bar that has been operating on the corner of Yonge and Dundonald Streets for more than 28 years, will be closing its doors in six months.

The beautiful old building that houses Bar Volo and its neighbours is slated to be torn down to make way for — what else — condos. Last month, Cresford Developments — the company behind Vox on Yonge and Wellesley, Clover on Yonge, and Casa III in Yorkville — received approval by City Council for the development of a 44-storey tower, which will include more than 528 residential units and 232 parking spaces.

“It’s weird, because after 28 years, the last year or two has felt like the first really concrete years here,” says owner Tomas Morana. “But all there is to do is adapt and move forward.”

Since its original inception as a Southern Italian restaurant in 1985, Bar Volo — under the supervision of Tomas, his father and proprietor Ralph Morana, and his brother Julian — has been one of the foundations of the Toronto craft beer scene. Over the years, the bar has introduced newcomers to the flavourful world of beer by showcasing a number of selections from around the world and right here in Ontario. Many Toronto residents had their beer firsts here, from sours to cask-conditioned, imperial to sessionable. Additionally, Volo served a number of in-house beers made on their pilot brewing system, House Ales, and played host to legendary beer events such as Cantillon Zwanze Day, Péché Day, and various tap takeovers from both local and international breweries.

But Bar Volo is only one part of what the Morana family does. They also run Cask Days, North America’s largest festival for cask-conditioned beer (originally taking place on the patio of Volo) and operate Keep6 Imports, which brings some fantastic and hard-to-obtain beers from breweries all over the world, from Cantillon in Brussels to Evil Twin in Brooklyn.

Sadly, for the past two years an impending closure has always been alluded to. The bar’s landlord kept the Morana family abreast of developments, with no clear indication about what would be happening and how much longer they might remain in the building. The hope was that they would have at least a year to clear out, but at the beginning of April, their landlord officially gave them six months’ notice.

Still, the Morana family is optimistic about the situation. While the need to get the most out of Volo’s final months will be essential, the family’s primary focus is their new project: a more refined bar located at 612 College Street next to the Royal Cinema. Considering the latest developments, many are inclined to believe that this new project will act as a replacement to Volo, but Tomas is quick to dispel that myth. While the bar on College will feature the odd pilsner or IPA, it will be a far cry from the wide variety of the Yonge location, instead putting a focus on Farmhouse and sour beers. “A bar like this would not have worked five or even two years ago,” Tomas explains. “But the local scene has been evolving to this direction”. The bar will feature full by-the-glass service and will carry many of the beers on offer from Keep6 Imports. The overall look will be directly inspired by places around the world that the Moranas enjoy going to in their off-hours (a notable example being popular Brooklyn bar Tørst).

For those who want a Bar Volo reincarnation, don’t fret. While always in the cards, the overwhelming response to recent news of the bar’s closure has renewed the need to open a second Volo, though there are no concrete details as of yet. Right now, the priorities are on the current location, the new project, and running this year’s Cask Days Festival.

Ralph, Tomas, and Julian created the sentimentality that we have for Volo by being who they are: a family that has helped shape how this city thinks about craft beer for almost 30 years. Let’s not mourn the loss of the church they built, but celebrate what they created that drove people to gather inside it, knowing that it will still exist elsewhere. To “adapt and move forward” is a perfect ethos for the Morana family. It’s something that they have been doing all along, and it’s something they will continue to do in the future. And I take great comfort in that.