The humidity licks my skin as I sip a Shiner beer on your scorched grass. Across the road, coffee shops, candy meccas, a cinema and thrift stores shine from the incandescent lights blazing above my head. It’s 7pm and I’m already drunk.
I’ve been sat in your Square for a few hours. Nestled into the hub of activity, inbetween Hickory and Oak Street, staring at your baroque-style county courthouse with awe. It was a long drive from Houston through Dallas, with nothing on the radio but country music and nothing on the side of the road but churches and isolated x-rated video shops for the horny truck drivers looking for anonymity. Driving through the Lone Star state is kinda like any long journey; time and places start to blend as the concrete carries us on.
The Square acts as the pulsating heart of your aesthetic appeal. You feel nice, like a mini version of the bohemian Bethlehem that is Austin. But it’s time to get this night into motion. We move on to Pascales, a drinking spot for hotshots, owned by Denton band Midlake. The place is ablaze with fancy cocktails among the humdrum of chess playing patrons, majestic bookshelves and quirky paintings. It’s ridiculously crowded so we stand against the walls, sipping our whiskey sours and mojitos, bobbing our heads to the soul soundtrack. We move downstairs to Andy’s Bar. There’s a band playing and the lead singer resembles Justin Vernon under the inexpensive stage lights, his creamy voice filling the dark corners of the establishment. It’s got a good atmosphere. Down a further set of stairs, we move to a cellar-like room. We find pool tables, Texas-shaped clocks, cheap drinks, and bar staff with horn-rimmed glasses and coiffed haircuts. Erin slips a dollar into the jukebox and R. Kelly’s ‘Bump N’ Grind’ bellows from the speakers to the collective headshake of the disgruntled drink pourers. It’s time to leave.
We head down to Fry Street where a string of drinking palaces glow invitingly, intermixed with late-night food joints for post-bars replenishing. Lucky Lou’s is our gateway. It’s a place where you can guzzle a $2 luminous green frozen margarita while watching intoxicated people play darts, pool, and throw beanbags. Leathered-up bikers and timid college students stand side by side shotting tequila below bicycles that hang precariously off the walls.
After Lou’s we head to the grimier end of the street. At Side Bar and Public House the drinks are dirt cheap and the dance floors are just plain dirty. It’s approaching closing time and a torrent of guys swim through the masses of patrons to find girls to grind with. I must say I find it a little intimidating. But then we leave. We head home to my friend’s house on the other side of the University of North Texas campus, floating through the mosquitoes and feral cats, and stumble into bed. Now, it’s morning. After drinking coffee outside on the steps, and baking in the 100-plus-degree Texas sun, we head back to The Square to treat our growing hangovers. Another thing you excel in is grub, whether it’s catering to the munchies of stoners or to those in want of sophisticated dinner dates. Yes, despite their blase aura, your citizens keep it classy in this aspect.
We drive through you as your local radio blasts songs of the 70s. Pops of colour sprout from inbetween bungalowed cafes, under bridges and on the side of coffee shops. Fledgeling artists hammer graffiti and murals onto the surfaces of this urban canvas. Inside Denton Donuts, a bakery near the square’s recycled books emporium, sat at a table decorated with newspapers, I order the “Red, White and Blue” doughnut. This may be because I wanna feel a little more patriotic for the states, or because you're starting to strike me as the perfect mix of Red and Blue politics. The white creamy centre, perhaps.
The day flies by as we head to Denton Thrift and sift through the racks of cheap, great clothes. Then, it’s on to Taco Cabana for happy hour margaritas and Mexican food. Everything is affordable here, and so it seems easy to do things to excess. The food, the alcohol, the drugs. You strike me as a place that could act as a vacuum, allowing one to either have fun on the fringes, or be inextricably sucked in. Maybe it’s good my stay is short. Once again, it’s 7pm and I’m drunk.
But it’s not all just watering holes and nacho bowls. Where else can I head to a house party and find myself in the middle of a showcase of local music? In a dude’s converted garage, three bands from the area sing to the swarms of people. It’s unbearably humid inside, and I find myself rubbing up with strangers in the sweat-soaked euphoria of arrogant drunkenness. I don’t understand what vibe the opening guy is going for with his experimental approach, making odd sounds and pausing halfway through his set to venture outside and get himself another beer. But I don’t care. With long dirty blonde hair sitting upon his bare torso, he epitomises the effortlessly hip attitudes of the Denton elite. Caught in a web of mason jars, marijuana and maki, Denton kids could be at home in the borough of Brooklyn.
Even the plethora of deadbeats, who get by on cruising couches and skipping rent, find sanctuary in your merging of arts. A cool aesthetic that extends from the majestic courthouse to back yard games of beer pong. It’s the college town where North Texans come to get creative. I know I’m left with a kind of inspirational residue from my time spent in Fort Worth County.
In the Rocky Horror Picture Show, during the song “Damnit Janet,” a sign stands behind the duo as they sing to each other. “Denton. The home of happiness.” And artistically, it’s true.