By Sophie Leopold

A bourbon focused cocktail bar gives new meaning to “getting toasted” in Savannah’s food and drink scene.

The name Toasted Barrel describes an essential step of the bourbon making process. Barrels used for bourbon storage are previously charred in order to give the properly aged spirit a rich tone. This concept of attaining flavor through toasting shapes the food menu as well as that of the bar. Toast and grilled cheese dishes make up the bulk of the offerings, with salads, soup and sweets rounding out the selections. The streamlined menu is designed for snacking instead of an elaborate meal. Simple, yet satisfying.

Owner Thomas Ciszak wanted to elevate the options beyond typical bar bites. Playing off of the toasted barrel theme, Ciszak created a way to make their food as memorable as the drinks. The menu is diverse even though it’s based on grilled cheese, with a variety of combinations aiming to please a range of customers. Since kids are just as welcome to sample a sandwich as adults, Ciszak places emphasis on making the Toasted Barrel enjoyable for anyone. It’s a destination for a night out just as much as a place to unwind with a book.

“Indulge. Inspire. Share,” said Ciszak. “The three words that I want to create in a feeling.”

Ciszak is the VIP of Hospitality Management, a restauranteur with over sixty locations. The majority of his venues are on the East Coast and revolve around a fine dining experience. Without reservations or formal attire required, the relaxed premise of Toasted Barrel is a new pursuit for Ciszak. Yet the casual, paired down approach of the restaurant is hardly change in protocol for the owner. Although Ciszak backed away from fancy in favor of the laid-back, this different direction didn’t mean a sacrifice in professionalism or flavor. One of Toasted Barrel’s core objectives in the kitchen is to focus on a few items done well. The efficient menu allows each dish arriving at the table to be something of pride.

“What does the guest really want to taste? I try to create that,” said Ciszak. “In high-end dining experiences, it’s the same thought process. Very often the same guest, just a different time in their schedule. Expectations are the same.”

Toasted Barrel has already recognized the potential of being located in the heart of SCAD’s campus. Several SCAD alumni and students contributed their skills to the restaurant design. Ciszak even left a wall blank inside the restaurant to encourages creatives to showcase their talents and to bring some of the character of Savannah inside. He looks forward to seeing where the relationship with locals will lead the restaurant.

“I want to create a space naturally with people from the community,” said Ciszak. “[A] whole wall left blank to see what it takes. I want to make this about the people that are here. I’m just the facilitator.”