Food News

Union Bear Bartender Jonathan Colley on Crime and Punishment and Local Beer

Jonathan Colley is one of the resident barkeeps and beer nerds in the basement at West Village (aka Union Bear). He got into the beer biz by frequenting his neighborhood watering holes in Oak Cliff, where he met the ambitious Spillers Group. When they recently opened Union Bear, they hired Colley, who is a a Certified Beer Server through the Cicerone Certification Program, to help keep the brews interesting and cold.

"I taught senior AP literature at Adamson High School in Oak Cliff for 11 years prior to working at Union Bear.

"Prior to that, I worked in the restaurant business. I remember the last time I left a restaurant back then I was like, "Never again." It was too stressful.

"I don't feel any of that now, though. It's like, "What could happen that could really be that stressful tonight?"

"I definitely gained perspective on how taxing teaching is. There's so much of yourself invested. Kids' attitudes, parents' attitudes, the meetings, paperwork, preparation, grading and extra hours. If you're really trying to do a good job then there's always going to be something you take home with you. It weighs on you.

"I didn't feel guilty leaving. I may go back sometime -- it's a fit. To have that captive audience, where you design the program, it was a way to have a big impact.

"My favorite thing to teach was Russian literature. Especially at an inner-city school that didn't really come from a reading culture. To have them get into big novels, like, Crime and Punishment, exposing them to big stuff was great.

"When you're a senior in high school, you're thinking about what you want to do with your life. So, at that level they're really open to looking at the bigger picture. That was very rewarding.

"The beer program here at Union Bear is growing and evolving.

"I wouldn't call it competition because nobody views it that way, but there's sort of a pecking order. Let's say we have something special we're going to put on tap, we wouldn't want to do it at the same time another place nearby does it.

"One thing I'm really proud of is that all of our beers are five dollars. The objective was: can we get customers to always try new things if they don't order by price point? We also don't want them to order what they always get, which we probably don't have, on purpose. And we'll do as many samples as we need to find them something.

"It's great to spend time talking with people at all levels [of beer nerdiness] here.

"It's really frustrating to go into a place and the person behind the counter doesn't know what they're talking about, they recommend things you don't want; when the customers know more than the server, that's an issue.

"It's on us to train our serves so they can engage in those conversations.

"Right now I'm drinking the new Peticolas Velvet Hammer. It's an imperial red ale, higher in alcohol; it's got a good chewy mouth feel, not over-sweet, so it's still pretty balanced. It has a big taste to it and is probably the most interesting thing we have right now.

"People travel around beer now. Last August when I was done with school, I flew to Boston and rented a car and drove around New England for a couple of weeks - Portland, Maine, Portsmouth, Massachusetts, over into Vermont to a small pub and brewery in the mountains and upstate New York. Dallas is a behind those places, but is definitely progressing.

"Now that we're starting to get our own breweries, we're coming onto the scene. People come in looking for local beers, and we have them."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.