About half of a bar’s atmosphere lies in the hands of the people who choose to occupy it. At the Drunken Donkey, to give you an idea, I overheard a woman at a nearby table ask for “one regular beer.” When the waitress tepidly asked for a bit more specificity, the customer insisted that she was just looking for, like, “a normal beer.” It was a strange request, and yet: You know what she means, right?
This two-week old addition to the Denton bar circuit plays as a bit of an oddball. Though it has a sports-bar vibe, it also boasts 140 craft beers on tap and a menu that's diverse enough to include hummus and pesto platters in addition to more predictable bar food. Somewhere between craft beer bar and sports bar, Drunken Donkey stakes a claim — but it isn’t easy to pin down. A quick scan when entering the restaurant would register a zero on any pretentious radar, with a beer pong arcade system, an army of televisions equipped with every game and green, sporty booths lining the walls.
But step outside onto the porch and you might swear you’ve entered a different world entirely. Umbrellaed tables fill the covered deck, and your view of the horizon is enchanted by the mystically named “Unicorn Lake” — technically a pond, but you can dream bigger with a few drinks in you.
The day I visited, it was the first time that most of us had seen the sun after two weeks of Old Testament-style downpour. So drinking a pint under an umbrella while looking out at a rippling body of water was a borderline religious awakening. Whenever you plan to embark on your voyage of summer day drinking — which may now be feasible, post-flood — the Drunken Donkey is a worthy dock from which to cast off, directly into Unicorn goddamn lake.
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The menu is decorated with a winding list of shots, mixers and specials before even getting to the craft beers. The options are almost intimidating, although they seemed underused among the clientele. Most people had red Coca-Cola cups and maybe a bottled beer at their tables; which isn't to say everyone needs to be a craft beer buff, juggling three pints simultaneously, but the taps looked awfully lonely.
Their signature appetizer, the “Donkey Balls,” is seasoned beef mixed in with pineapples and onions, then rolled into meatballs and covered in “Donkey Sauce.” It’s sweet, a bit spicy and you’ll feel weird eating it but you’ll get over it soon enough. Runner-up is the “Bacon Thingies,” which are stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon and deep fried that should basically come with a towel to dab the impending meat sweats.
Curious to test a bar food staple, I got a burger and fries. It was a bit steep at $8, especially since the burger was dry and plain — though the fries were battered perfectly. I was let down, because you'd expect at least a greasy dive burger or maybe a gourmet-leaning dish, since the place sort of walks the line between the two. But it ended up being entirely ordinary, much like the elusive drink that woman was desperately attempting to order.
Existing in this gray area ends up making the Drunken Donkey unremarkable for repeat visits, despite the pleasant outdoor vista. If you want great bar burgers, go to Cool Beans. If you want a huge craft selection, go to East Side. If you want outdoor seating, go to Oak St. Drafthouse. But if you plan to add watching sports to any of these drinking parameters, you probably won't find a nobler steed than the Drunken Donkey to lead you sauntering into the battlefield of sports bars.