Berts Growler Garage owner Michelle Bertalotto fills a glass with one of the bar’s craft beer offerings. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

ONTARIO – Time flies by when you’re drinking – and serving – beer.

Situated along the western end of 4th Avenue in Ontario, Berts Growler Garage is a bar with a quirky, old school vibe of its own. Key to that throwback feel is the presence of classic cars, reminiscent of the vintage car business at the building.

The bar, which just celebrated five years in operation, came online after husband-and-wife owners Michelle and Lonnie Bertalotto converted part of the building into a bar. The couple had owned the building for 13 years before that, but it was a space to sell classic cars. 

The Bertalotto’s opened the doors of the bar in March 2014. 

Since then, the bar has provided a one-of-a-kind gathering experience in Ontario, selling a variety of craft beers, wines, cocktails and food. The bar typically has 32 beers on tap, as well as sangrias and kombucha teas. 

Michelle Bertalotto said she was pleasantly surprised at the support they got from the community when the bar opened.

“It’s been really overwhelming the support of the community. We didn’t really know what to expect when we first opened up because there’s nothing like this,” said Bertalotto. “We were both born and raised here, so we have a lot of friends and family in the community. It has been real nice to see it so well received and being support by friends and family, as well as all the local people.”

The bar was a long-time dream of Bertalotto, who was helping her husband manage his vintage car business. 

“I wanted to change my job and do something different,” Bertalotto said.

Her husband still buys and sells classic cars, Bertalotto said, and the bar displays a rotating line of cars.

“He gets to do what he likes to do, and I get to do what I like to do with the beer. It’s kinda fun,” Bertalotto said. “That’s why I integrated that look to this place with all the classic cars, because we already had the cars.”

Bertalotto said the idea for a bar came from her love of good beer and community.

“I really wanted a gathering place for people that was a little more relaxed, not quite the typically bar atmosphere, just a people where people felt more comfortable,” she said.

At the same time, Bertalotto and her husband started noticing the growing craft beer industry. That gave Bertalotto an idea.

“I just really like good beers, and that five years was when everything started booming in the Boise area with craft beers in general, and we got into that,” said Bertalotto. “We started going to different breweries. We went up to Portland and Bend and just really liked the atmosphere of those places.”

The best part of the business is the people and community, according to Bertalotto. 

“We’ve been fortunate to meet some really good people that have become friends just from meeting them here over the years,” said Bertalotto.

Tom Hathaway, Ontario resident who runs Pioneer Place in Vale, was one of the customers celebrating the business’ anniversary.

“This is such a wonderful place because it has so many varieties of beer and they are constantly changing the selection, and it just makes it a fun place to come to,” said Hathaway. 

He said he also likes the owners and the customer service. 

“Michelle and her husband Lonnie – wonderful people,” Hathaway said. 

The bar’s bright, cheerful atmosphere, vintage decor and friendly staff makes customers happy as well, according to Bertalotto.

“We’ve got great employees, some who have been all five years we’ve been here,” Bertalotto said. “We really enjoy what we do, and we enjoy the people we meet through here.”

Bertalotto’s staff are happy, too. Tyler Stam joined the team 10 months ago.

“Ever since I started working here, it’s been so much fun,” Stam said. “Michelle and Lonnie are great people. I think I wouldn’t have worked here if it weren’t for such caring people. They really take the time to ask how you’re doing, asking if you need help with anything. 

“You don’t get that type of respect at most places. You’re there to work. But here, we’re here as friends.”

Stam’s co-worker Kayla Wright agrees. 

“We’re like one big family. We do a lot together, like Christmas parties, we hang out after work,” Wright said

Wright and Stam agreed that another benefit is learning about the beer industry.

“Learning all the beers – there’s so much to learn about beers – the different brew types, different styles, how they brew it, how long they brew it,” Wright said. “I’ve also learned a lot about customer service, learning to work with different people, like co-workers and people in the public.”

News tip? Contact reporter Kristine de Leon at [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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