Nestled into a faded commercial strip tucked into a side street on Denton’s downtown square, Vinyl Lounge is easy to miss. The unassuming red and blue sign over the door is no indication of what patrons can expect when they step inside Denton’s newest bar, which is anything but understated.
Psychedelic pinks, blues and yellows greet guests as they enter the decked-out 2,700-square-foot record bar. A silver disco ball hangs over the neon furnishings and circular white tables. Staff DJ Jordan spins Tears for Fears’ “Shout” from a booth nestled against an expansive library that houses more than 1,600 vinyl records. Offering signature cocktails like “Bootsie Collins” and “The Fab Four,” Vinyl Lounge embraces the distinctive and eclectic.
Much of Vinyl Lounge’s atmosphere is a nod to retro. Owner Tom Martin, 53, has long been a fan of the British Invasion that fueled the counterculture movement of the 1960s. An early music curator, Martin began collecting vinyl as a teenager.
“My first love was The Beatles and then my second love and greatest love was the Rolling Stones,” Martin says. “I was big into records. I worked at a Tinsley’s Chicken 'n Rolls in high school, and I’d go straight after school when I wasn’t at work on down to Sound Warehouse and just buy records.”
Martin became an early adapter for CDs and joined the streaming phenomenon in the early 2000s but felt those mediums provided a lackluster experience compared with vinyl.
“You get so detached from your music [with streaming],” Martin says. “To pull up these records and have this textile, hold-it-in-your-hand feel, to see the liner notes and all that — I just felt it needed to come back. And it is coming back, so obviously I’m not the only one that feels that way.”
That connection with the authentic sounds of vinyl also resonates with general manager Jonathon Vann, who came on staff in June. A longtime bartender and restaurant manager in the Denton scene and the cofounder of a DJ group in the area, Vann was referred by old regulars who knew Martin and thought he’d be a "perfect fit."
“It was almost serendipitous that we came together, like it combined both of my passions — bartending and DJing,” Vann, who also moonlights as a mycologist, says. “It's kind of eerie how similar our tastes and vision are.”
About 15% to 20% of the records lining Vinyl Lounge’s shelves are Martin’s; some he kept from his younger days, leaving him a handful at home (including, he says, “every Beatles record ever made”). With selections spanning the ‘50s through the 1980s and some modern picks, Martin and the staff DJs — along with guest spinners — try to offer something for everyone.
“We have a good mix of standards, from Van Halen to indie rock groups you've never heard of, like The Paranoids out of Los Angeles,” Martin says.
The bar also hosts Bring Your Own Vinyl nights, which Martin says has been his most frequent request so far.
The idea for Vinyl Lounge has been with Martin for a few years. Working in international currency trading, he envisioned a place where groups could get together to exchange coins. Though Martin eventually moved out of trading, the idea for the space remained.
Offering a laid-back feel and a stripped-down atmosphere — the bar’s TVs have yet to be turned on during operating hours — Martin set out to create a space that would blend the swinging London of the ‘60s with the dreamy disco subculture of the 1970s.
“We’re trying to make a place that felt like that fantasy living room we all wish we had to go sit and hang out with your friends and listen to great music, but it’s probably more colorful than your typical living room,” Martin says.
Martin signed a lease on the lounge’s location July 26, 2019, (a date Martin remembers, he says, because it’s Mick Jagger’s birthday). Originally hoping to open around the end of February, Martin says design and construction of the then-bare-bones space took longer than expected. With the build finally completed in May and the 15-person staff secure in June, Vinyl Lounge prepared for a July 1 launch. Instead, Gov. Greg Abbott closed bars across the state June 26.
“It was a sad day,” Martin says.
While he considered offering to-go orders like some other local bars, Martin thought that might prove difficult without an established clientele. Instead, Vinyl Lounge held out, finally having a soft opening Oct. 14 and a grand opening weekend beginning two days after Abbott allowed bars to reopen at 50% capacity.
Though he knows some people will want to stay home amid the pandemic, Martin is hopeful. With the opening exceeding expectations by roughly $1,700 and around 65 patrons in the bar each night, Martin thinks there will be, if not as much business as during non-pandemic times, enough to keep Vinyl Records afloat.
“It’s a good start and now it's like, ‘OK, can we build from that or does it flatline?’" Martin says. “Everybody needs to do what's right for them, but there are enough people that want to get out at least so far that I think we’ll be OK, and we're going to do enough business to pay for everything, keep the lights on and have a good time.”
Featuring local brews from breweries like Armadillo Ale Works, Hop & Sting Brewing Co. and Denton County Brewing Co. along with coffee from Golden Boy Coffee Company, Vinyl Lounge’s menu reflects the bar’s commitment to becoming another staple in Denton’s homegrown scene, which has welcomed them, Vann says.
“The outpouring of support that we've had from the bar community here has been so humbling,” Vann says “They've been a constant resource, and they’ve all been promoting us and telling their patrons to come check it out, and all of them have come in and drank with our patrons as well. It's been really touching.”
While Martin and Vann hope to create a dynamic space that will continue to appeal to a diverse crowd, they also hope to tap into the nostalgia they say resonates with many, particularly now.
“Right now, with this world topsy turvy and at its throat, I think people just want to spend a few hours having fun,” Martin says. “That music gets in your soul and just fills you up, and doing it with other human beings, even if you're 6 feet apart and masked up, is still better than where we've been.”
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