Checkered Past Finds Ska Home in Former Absinthe Lounge Space

The former Absinthe Lounge has been reinvented as a mod/ska bar called Checkered Past.
The former Absinthe Lounge has been reinvented as a mod/ska bar called Checkered Past.
Peter Lek

Checkered Past Winery isn’t for fancy wine snobs. And it doesn’t want to be. The winery and wine pub quietly opened in early November and features a menu focused on local Texas wines, beers and ciders.

Located inside South Side on Lamar, Checkered Past took over the 2,500-square-foot spot at 1409 South Lamar St. that was formerly occupied by Absinthe Lounge. The bar has a very casual, open feel to it with a ska and mod flair. Rusty vintage motorcycles and tires decorate the walls and ceilings. It’s not too crowded inside, even with the sleek leather couches, tables and the occasional decorative barrel throughout the place. An upbeat mix of ska, punk and ‘60s rock plays over the speakers.

“It took a lot of work,” says Scott Relyea, partner and co-owner. Conceptualized in 2008, Relyea and partners Sandro DiSanto, a winemaker, and Carolynne Chancellor, a farmer, worked on Checkered Past’s concept and design in earnest for a year before opening.

Relyea designed the bar and everything from the light fixtures to the steel countertop bar to the playlists for their musical backdrop. And he and his partners built most of it themselves.

Ska and punk lovers, the three created Checkered Past with a ska and mod-inspired motif. Their goal is for people to enjoy themselves in a relaxed, no-pressure atmosphere. DiSanto always had Dallas in mind as a location and says the growing Cedars area is the perfect fit for the business.

“People in the Cedars neighborhood support local businesses,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to be in any other part of town.”

DiSanto is a Sicilian winemaker with more than a decade of experience. He and Chancellor make Checkered Past’s wine from grapes grown on Chancellor’s farm near Tyler. Chancellor has grown grapes for six years on the 2.5-acre farm she inherited from her father. Chancellor explained they also purchase grapes from other areas in the state, like the high plains in West Texas, where the climate is more suitable for different types of grapes. They hope to have a selection of Checkered Past’s wine available in the pub by the end of the year.

There is one rule when it comes to drinking wine in their establishment: Drink what you like. It isn’t about the labels to them; it’s about the experience and enjoying wine for what it is. If you don’t know what to order, the staff is more than willing to lend a hand.  

"We exist to make wine more approachable, without being fearful of drinking it wrong,” DiSanto says.

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Their cellar boasts a variety of Texas wines including labels like Lost Oak, Vintage Lane (both from nearby Burleson), Blue Ostrich and Messina Hof. DiSanto says their number one wine is Messina Hof’s GSM, a sweet red wine blend of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre wines that isn’t too sweet or tart. Keeping up with the local vibe, there is a selection of local craft beers and ciders from area breweries, including Lakewood Brewing Co., Grapevine Craft Brewery, Austin Eastciders and Deep Ellum Brewing Co. There is also a selection of American and international wines, as well as a food menu with a variety of cheese and meat boards and other pub-style pairings.

There wasn’t much fanfare when the pub opened on November 5, but a grand opening celebration is scheduled for Saturday and will feature a performance from local ska band Boss Riot, a scooter and café racer show, door prizes and, of course, plenty of food and wine. The event starts at 4 p.m. and Boss Riot plays from 9 p.m. until close.  

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