After seeing a “for lease” sign at 117 Oak St., John Williams and Patrick Blancas saw potential in the one-story structure that sat vacant east of the Square.
Williams, owner of Oak Street Drafthouse & Cocktail Parlor — just over 500 feet down the road — and his roommate, Blancas, had talked about opening a bar together, a sort of sister to Oak Street Drafthouse. This was their opportunity.
“The way that Denton is expanding and growing right now, this particular area has a lot of potential,” said Blancas. “Fortunately, John was able to find this building and sign a lease before someone else did.”
With the help of friends, the pair transformed the old office space into East Side Social Club — knocking down walls to create an open room and adding a large patio area for a beer garden. By offering 89 beers on tap — only a handful of which overlap with Oak Street Drafthouse — and more than 50 whiskeys, the owners want everyone to feel welcome.
“It’s a place where no matter how old you are, what you look like, your preference of lifestyles, you won’t feel unwanted or uncomfortable, or like you’re too young or too old,” Williams said.
“A very diverse clientele is one of the things we were looking for — a diverse customer base with different demographics,” Blancas said.
The establishment reflects the growing interest in craft beer happening in Texas and nationwide. The craft brewing industry in 2012 grew 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by retail dollars, according to the Brewers Association.
Most of East Side’s beers and whiskeys are craft — made in small batches and by independent brewers and distillers. In addition to the craft offerings, most are also local — 60 of the 89 beers are made in Texas.
Local brewer Yanni Arentis, co-founder of Armadillo Ale Works in Denton, said that since East Side opened a few weeks ago, his brewery has been busy, as has the bar. This is now one of Armadillo Ale Works’ biggest accounts, in addition to Oak Street Drafthouse.
“I think the success of both these bars is something that speaks volumes about the way Denton is embracing craft beer,” Arentis said.
The local focus is emphasized in several aspects of the business — for instance, employees are allowed to wear merchandise promoting other Denton businesses. One of the owners’ visions for the business is to make Denton a destination where people can come enjoy craft beer instead of going to Dallas or Fort Worth, thus boosting the local economy.
“I would say in six months, hopefully we’ll have an area down here between Oak Street and East Side where people can come from Corinth or Keller, and they don’t have to drive to Dallas or Fort Worth — they can come to Denton and have a good craft beer,” Williams said.
Inside the bar, there are distinctive features hand-crafted by the owners and their friends. With a carpenter on-site, Williams, Blancas and their friends did much of the construction themselves.
“We didn’t really know what we were getting into — or what was going to happen when we started tearing down this wall,” Williams said.
Even though the building had previously housed offices with several small rooms, Williams was able to see the building’s potential. With the adjoining lot for sale, allowing space to build a large outdoor patio, he and Blancas could envision the finished product.
“It’s kind of hard to explain, but you can kind of feel how it should be laid out and set up and how things would work,” Williams said. “Then, hopefully, you get lucky enough to where your vision worked out on paper becomes what you want it to be.”
Once they cleared out all of the walls, they added larger bathrooms — which they said will always stay clean. With friends, they built the bar, the deck outside and even the booths indoors.
Inside the bar there are other features that help to further distinguish East Side from Oak Street. There are large TVs for sports, two flat screens displaying the beer list, and darts in the back corner.
So far their approach has worked, Arentis said. In the few weeks East Side Social Club has been open, he has observed lines at the door. On Facebook, more than 1,000 people have “checked in” to the bar, alerting their friends to their location.
“We want this to be somewhere that locals and the community really enjoy,” Blancas said. “We want it to be a spot that people frequent to have a good time, and really enjoy the beers, whiskeys, bourbons and the products in general that we carry. We just want to be a desirable place to come in and have a good time.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.