Meet Tony: Drake’s Taproom Fixture Since Before the DBH

IMAG1292

If we do say so ourselves, we got a pretty sweet thing goin’ on here in our humble Barrel House. We just marked its third anniversary last month, and we began opening seven days a week.

With this milestone past us, we thought now would be a good time to look back at the DBH’s history, and there’s no one better to do that with than the guy who worked for Drake’s taproom before Drake’s had a tap room, current tap room manager, Antonio Sullivan-Sariñana.

DSC_1223Tony, as he’s called around here, started at Drake’s, as our very first official taproom bartender when our taproom was a smallish 14 tap setup in our brewery breakroom/office. Before that Drake’s fans would enthusiastically accost the brewers mid-brew for their pint and case needs, or even before that they’d swing by on the noted “Drake’s Friday” BBQs leaving a bit of a party mess to clean up for the next brewer on shift as former Head Brewer Brian Thorson recalls. As we grew, we needed someone cool, collected, and stoked on beer to cater to Drake’s fans and take the load off the brewers. Plus, as former brewer Jeff Kimpe puts it, “We brewers were not very charming.”

With the rise of the Age Of Tony in Drake’s taprooms, we however did not only increase our charm factor, we gained an asset to the brewery who has been converting new Drake’s fans for nearly 5 years. Don’t you want to get to know him?… let us help you out.

JesseTonyTBT

Jesse left & Tony right. The coolest kids in the Southern Tier.

Tony grew up in upstate NY state, outside Binghamton (carousel capital if the world, and home of the late Rod Serling) with his brothers Jesse & Brendan.

Jesse, the oldest, actually beat Tony to the West Coast, having moved to the East Bay about 8 years ago, and he’s currently the general manager of Triple Rock in downtown Berkeley.  After a couple of visits to see his big brother, Tony followed suit a couple years later in moving to the East Bay, and ended up starting out in the beer world as a dishwasher at Jupiter, also in downtown Berkeley.  He first got into beer via Jesse & Triple Rock, but, as he puts it, “XHP at Jupiter is really the first beer that made me realize that there’s so much more than what I’d been used to.”

DH000037Eventually, John Martin, owner of Triple Rock and Jupiter, took over Drake’s Brewing along with business partner Roy Kirkorian in late 2008, and when asked, Tony jumped at the opportunity to take some of the load of the brewers in the tiny taproom. At the time taproom was just a couple of folding chairs and a small corral set up in front of what is now the brewery office.  “I loved working at Jupiter [where he actually continued there until just last year], but working down at Drake’s was just a totally different way to really connect with the beer and the people making it, and I got to learn so much more from those guys.”

photo 2In the summer of 2011, the Barrel House officially opened, no longer in the brewery proper, but just across the lot. The space was to serve partially to actually store all the barrels we were beginning to amass at the time, and also as a larger, more comfortable space for Drake’s fans to experience more Drake’s beers.  Tony was one of the original bartenders, starting under the original DBH manager Gabbi Chan.  In the beginning, we were open a few hours a week, serving a somewhat slow stream of long-time regulars and hardcore beer geeks that were willing to trek out to industrial San Leandro. But with a big warehouse to fill with people, and an excellent lineup of 20+ beers to share (including drool-worthy, small batch, experimental, and barrel-aged beers), Tony and the DBH team were ready to turn up the volume in San Leandro.  Says Tony, “It’s way more comfortable, we got music, snacks, and an actual patio that actually gets sun.  Plus, we have way more beer to pour.  And in general, it’s just a better spot- we’ve been San Leandro’s hometown brewery for 25 years, and it’s nice to actually be able to properly host our neighbors and supporters from way back.”

Since then, Tony and the other bar staff who’ve come & gone have turned the Barrel House into a major beer destination in the Bay Area. The DBH team even took on the task of reviving the spirit of those drinkin’-in-the-parking-lot “Drake’s Friday BBQs” with Drake’s First Fridays, occurring every month and generating thousands of dollars for local schools, educational groups, and other community nonprofits in & around San Leandro.  “I’ve always liked that Drake’s set these things up, and it’s really great to see people who’ve benefitted from First Friday come back to hang out. Being in the bar, I’m usually the one who gets that love back when they come in.”

The DBH has grown in other ways too. The occasional food truck at the DBH for big events turned into four food trucks every week most weeks. In the past three years, we have steadily expanded brewery tours, our beer selection, DBH seating, merch, and more, and Tony’s been on top of it all, having run First Fridays since their return, as well as taking on the reins of Tap Room Manager, underneath Barrel House Manager Jonathan Aronson. 

Now of course, Drake’s beer can be found all over California, but there’s something special about being able to slide on down to the source and drink the beer that came out of the barrel you’re leaning on. Next time you’re in to do just that, say hi to Tony. You’ll be glad you did.

Speak Your Mind

*