Three friends and Deep Ellum devotees hover around the polished wooden bar inside the building at 2704 Elm St. as they unwrap a package. "These are awesome," says one. "I'm so happy with the way they turned out," says another. Oliver Peck's tattooed hands move swiftly for a moment before unveiling two wooden toilet bowl seats and setting them side by side on the bar. Engraved in the one on the left is "Rebekahs," the other "Fellows," and both are covered in symbols. Among the symbols are a moon and stars, a right hand with a heart in its palm and crisscrossing hatchets. "These are going to hang on the doors," he says.
It's no news to Deep Ellum frequenters that the longstanding building that once held the Elm Street music venue La Grange has completely transformed since the venue closed in late 2012. Now sits Three Links, a bar and venue owned by Tactics Productions founder Kris Youmans, talent buyer Scott Beggs and Elm Street Tattoo owner Oliver Peck. The three have been working on this space basically since the moment it closed, and it now hosts a larger stage, revamped sound system and wider beer selection. And a particular brand of artistic décor (like David and Goliath interpretations, repeating owl-over-pyramid diagrams and the like) that represents something significant to the three men — an organization called International Order of the Odd Fellows.
"It's a civic-minded community and charity group," Peck says. "It's an old fraternal organization that's been around since the early 1800s and it's an offshoot of what The Masons were."
Historically, the Odd Fellows society is very large, Peck says, and over the past 200 years or so it has become worldwide. As of the last couple of decades, however, fraternal organizations such as The Masons, The Odd Fellows, Woodmen of the World and Knights of Pythias have "kind of just fallen out," he says.
Everything about Three Links is derived from the principles that the three men tout as members of Odd Fellows. Apart from investing themselves, both literally and figuratively, into Deep Ellum's iconic community and continuously uncertain future, they've chosen to do so while promoting their core values: fellowship and civic-mindedness.
"Young kids are not civic-minded anymore," Peck says. "Young kids just go to the bars and hang out or do whatever. Nobody really has a sense of community anymore, and I think that's kind of what got me into the Odd Fellows — even though the community that I'm directly related to is in Waxahachie, we still do a lot of stuff statewide."
The three main goals of an Odd Fellow are to "educate the orphan, care for the widow and bury the dead." Most Odd Fellows lodges today focus on caring for elderly in retirement homes and starting programs for needy children.
"My granddad was a member, so I grew up around knowing the name, although I wasn't active in it or anything like that," Beggs says. "My granddad and several of his friends were Odd Fellows, and several of my dad's friends were Odd Fellows. I mean, I played on their baseball team and everything else as a kid. I guess I joined about five or six years ago."
The main logo for the Odd Fellows are three chain links, with the links representing friendship, love and truth. "We wanted to have a secret society kind of theme to the bar, but we didn't want to take any direct name from the lodge," Peck says. "So we called it Three Links."
Beggs says that it's kind of a tip of the hat to the Odd Fellows, which is an organization that he says does a lot of good in the community, and they wanted to recognize that.
"The fact that there are three of us, we're friends and we're all going into this together — it kind of just fits," Peck says. "One of my things going into this is that I want to be a part of Deep Ellum. I have a shop down here, I've been working in this neighborhood for 20 years and I've seen the neighborhood go up and down so many times. Over the last couple of years I've really wanted to get involved in another business down here, be more of a part of the community, be a part of a bar that does a lot of promotions for shows and clubs and hanging out — these guys and I, that's all we do."
When the former La Grange co-owner Stephanie Schumacher decided to close the former venue's doors in late 2012, the Three Links guys knew they had to act fast.
"We've all been talking about it for about a year now," Youmans says. "I guess when she closed it back in November we started jumping on it. We thought it was time to make it a reality. Scott was already running La Grange (as a manager) when we started working on this, so that part was obvious, that he would come in and take over what we were doing, based on what he was doing before."
Beggs has managed and booked talent for several Deep Ellum venues (Gypsy Tea Room, Trees) since taking up residence in the neighborhood in 1986. "Oliver's got the artistic eye we want," Beggs says. "We all have certain skills. Kris is putting a lot more shows in here. It's all working well."
La Grange had an outsider feel to it that they wanted to eliminate, Peck says. "This is more like your homie's buddy's friend's neighborhood hangout where you know who's running it, you know who works here, you're friends with everybody and it's way more relaxed and more inviting," he says. "Very subtle changes made a huge difference."
The other half of the building space is occupied by Fuzzy's Taco Shop, which officially opened on July 22. "We partnered with Fuzzy's on the space, so that's the next piece that falls in, is having those guys open," Beggs says. "It seems like a good fit, you know, having people who know how to move tacos. We don't know food, and that was the biggest problem with La Grange."
"Fuzzy's has this fool-proof business model that's kicking ass all over the metroplex," Peck says. "They're locally based, the guys are great dudes, the money behind them are great dudes, it's just a legitimately nice organization."
There's also the construction on Elm Street to contend with — its scheduled completion date is summer 2014.
"They're a little rough right now and they're gonna be rough for a while," Beggs says. "But the way I look at it is the difference between us and Greenville Avenue is that Black Flag is only going to play at Trees. MBC is only going to play at Three Links. Once the sidewalks are expanded, there's patio space and things like that. This is a good time to be in Deep Ellum."
"I think it's a great time to be in Deep Ellum!" Peck echoes. "I've been in Deep Ellum for 20 years. There's never not been a great time to be in Deep Ellum, depending on what you're looking at. There's never been a year that I didn't have good times down here. There's been times where it was bad for retail shops and it's been bad for restaurants and a time when it was hard for bars, but I think between the three of us being down here for so long and being so connected with the neighborhood and everyone else that's been in the neighborhood, I think it's just a no-brainer for us to have something else going down here."
None of the guys involved thought opening Three Links would be as smooth as it was. The group took over La Grange's lease on February 1 and had their first show on March 8.
"I can say for myself, and I think I can speak for these two guys as well, when I say that we're not here to get rich," Peck says. "There are no delusions that we're gonna be bar-owner millionaires. We're gonna make a little bit, but we're gonna keep working."
"We all love Deep Ellum," Beggs says. "I think that if you want your community and your neighborhood to be better you have to be involved with it. These are guys that I know have proven track records for wanting to do good things and be a part of something good, and so it makes total sense for us."