“A man walks into a bar – ouch!”
This is one of the first jokes I learned from my always word-playing janitor granddad. It also explains the first two minutes of my first and likely last visit to Dr. Jeckyll’s Beer Lab. First, let me back up a little.
Last Friday was a wet old night putting me lucidly in mind of growing up in England and the countless Friday nights I spent walking to and from pubs. Our party of four –– three determined beer testers and our designated driver –– set forth from Fort Worth for a featureless strip mall in Pantego, about 20 minutes due east from our final pick-up. Reluctant neon apologetically signaled the bar’s entry, which looked more like a convenience store doorway than a nefarious beer emporium. I believe the “lab” part of the name references part of a former function. Dr. Jeckyll’s used to be a homebrew place but now appears to focus purely on slinging suds.
Upon entering, you may be struck immediately by the visual discord. All around is a melee of homemade untreated wooden fixtures –– sometimes lit, other times not, by strip lights wrapped in a drop ceiling circa 1985. The place is uncomfortably bright.
The L-shape bar is accidentally attractive, though I was unable to discern if the lights above were defunct or turned off deliberately. My three companions sought a canteen-style table and chairs as I bellied up to the bar. I was sandwiched between a twentysomething dude in plaid and denim and a red bandana to tame his stringy grunge-era locks and an older guy with suspiciously dark hair, his wiry frame ensconced in a long black leather coat. This guy brought the pain – to himself. While I turned to check on my nearby friends’ potential selections from a choice of 40 locally brewed beers, we four spied the barfly absent-mindedly snap his snifter glass, sending shards into his drink. He drank on undeterred while quietly assuring those with bat-like hearing, “I’m not that drunk.” Ouch!
Having adjusted to the suspension of disbelief required to comfortably pass the remainder of the evening, I starting chatting with the lone server, Brit, who somewhat helped me negotiate the wide selection. I ordered a four-drink flight with a range of beer styles while eschewing the IPAs for which one of my copains did stellar duty. I had four-ounce pours of Braindead’s Exhausted Nihilist (which, on reflection, could be a pithy summation of the state of mind of Joel, the glass destroyer), Independence’s Shiny Diamonds, Real Ale’s Oktoberfest, and Oscar Blues’ Old Chub. The beers were well kept and expertly poured.
The twang of the Braindead was reminiscent of a Czech classic like Pilsner Urquell. The Independence pale ale was soft and a little peachy, which was a pleasant surprise. The Oktoberfest was lighter in color and taste than is common, though it still carried enough toasted malt to be recognizably of its ilk. The biggest surprise was the Old Chub. It had a buttery note that leveled out the sweet cocoa and bitter coffee. I also drank full pints of Pegasus City’s Woofus, a golden ale of quality that I feel no need to seek out, and revisited the Braindead both in terms of the beer and a conversation I had with a surprisingly lucid Joel, who had put on fingerless leather gloves to mask and mop the blood from his earlier event.
This is a decidedly odd bar, and in some ways that is its charm. If you go for the great beer selection, expect to pay a dollar or two more than at a similar bar in the Fort. If you go for the atmosphere, don’t. If you go for the capacious knowledge of the server, don’t. If you like good beer in odd surroundings a 20-minute ride from most parts of Cowtown, check out Dr. Jeckyll’s.
Editor’s Note: The name of the establishment was misspelled in the original version of this article.
Dr. Jeckyll’s Beer Lab
2420 W Park Row, Pantego. 817-274-7405.