Syracuse, N. Y. — Mike Yorton, the dread-locked and bearded leader of the “Tuskafari” at his landmark Armory Square bar The Blue Tusk, died Sunday. He was 49.
Yorton, 49, operated The Blue Tusk in the Center Armory building with his father, Tim, and other members of his family from 1995 until it closed last year.
Mike Yorton was the visionary behind the idea of a 69-tap bar highlighting both American craft beer and hard-to-find imports. He was responsible for the bar’s laid-back, tie-dyed, jam band-meets-beer enthusiast vibe.
It may have seemed unusual at the time, but The Blue Tusk helped pave the way for the then-new concept of craft beer to take off in Central New York. It was recognized in national beer publications as a trend-setter.
The Tusk, at 165 Walton St., closed after losing its lease last year in a dispute with Center Armory’s new owners. The building’s original developer and owner, Bob Doucette, paid tribute at that time to Mike Yorton and the Tusk, which he had welcomed as one of Center Armory’s first commercial tenants.
“Truthfully, I never fully understood Mike’s vision,” Doucette wrote in a letter titled “Armory Square won’t be the same without the Blue Tusk.”
“Gratefully, it didn’t matter because he and his father were on the right track from day one and they were tireless in their efforts to create a fantastic gathering place,” Doucette wrote. “As tenants, they were the very best and I am proud to say that they became my friends.”
Since the Tusk’s closing in September 2021, Yorton had been working at the nearby Lemon Grass Restaurant, helping owner Methin “Max” Chutinthranond keep its bar stocked with noteworthy and special beers.
“For me myself, it is big loss .. a good friend (and) good brother,” Chutinthranond wrote in a message today to syracuse.com.
A cause of death has not been determined. Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time.
Mike Yorton grew up with his family in Chittenango. In 1995, when his father decided to relocate and expand his business, the Armory Deli, he enlisted his son to handle the beer (and later wine) side of things.
Last September, when many people who had frequented the Tusk over the previous 26 years stopped in to say their farewells to the bar, Yorton was on hand to greet all of them and share the memories.
“We’ve seen so many people in the past few weeks,” Yorton said a few days before the bar closed. “Tuskafari forever!”
Don Cazentre writes for NYup.com, syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Reach him at [email protected], or follow him at NYup.com, on Twitter or Facebook.