Lee Beekly believes in saving things that matter. As the owner of the popular Taco Garage on Broadway, he's used to taking old spaces and ideas and making them new again. His newest endeavor, The Burleson Yard Beer Garden, celebrates the history and modern culture of Eastside San Antonio, but Beekly hopes to fill the long-vacant space with visitors, residents and families – people who matter.
The beer garden at 430 Austin St. held a soft opening on Friday, but its unique beer hall, impressive patio and space for local food trucks hope to draw big crowds in the coming weeks.
"When I first came here seven, maybe eight years ago, it was all old sign cans and one giant patio that was just (begging) to be a beer garden," Beekly said, adding that the structure was home to a sign company at the time.
Built in 1893, the building was once a saloon and restaurant,Beekly said. When he found out the building was on the market, he jumped at the chance to buy it and make it his own. Three months later, he's ready to open the bar's doors. The building, amid industrial warehouses in the near-Eastside between Highway 281 and Union Pacific train tracks, has a calm and unique view of the city.
"It's got a ton of character," he said of the 10,000 square foot building. The property sits on half an acre, and the building can can easily fit more than 400 people.
"I just couldn't say no," he said.
Beekly appointed Daniel Delgado, his right-hand man at the Taco Garage, as the head bartender at the Burleson Yard, where customers can find everything from Texas craft beers on tap to special cocktails and domestic favorites.
"Anybody can come here," Delgado said. "Whether you want the 'Alamo' experience or whether you're a tourist staying downtown, you can come here and you can relax and you can enjoy yourself and not feel totally out of place."
Delgado has also developed a railroad themed cocktail menu that features modern classics like the "21st Century Rail Road Spike" and for the brave customer, a concoction called the "Train Wreck."
"If you want to have a cocktail, you should be able to have a cocktail," Delgado said. "You shouldn't be intimidated about enjoying what you like."
The large building hosts many rooms including a basement and several rooms for entertaining. Delgado and Beekly will focus on the bar and beer garden for now, but they hope to eventually turn the space upstairs into a restaurant.
Inside the beer hall, customers are greeted with generously sized wood tables and oversized leather couches toward the back of the room. Future Spurs games will be shown here, thanks to the large projector hanging overhead, Beekly said.
Metal signs from the original Freeman Coliseum also hang from the ceiling, and various antique advertisements decorate the walls and spaces throughout Burleson Yard. Beekly enjoys finding new uses for old objects, like the bar's wood tabletop made from an old 1940s boxcar, and the bar footer he created using old railroad spikes found by the tracks.
"I think you look at certain buildings and things and they already have a certain amount of history and character to them," Beekly said. "I don't think it's something to be changed, it's a more interesting space. When I walked in here, this just screamed at me 'beer hall,' and 'beer garden.' That's how it all came about."
The bar opens up to a spacious patio and garden outside, where dozens of colorful chairs and tables wait for customers. There's enough room for three food trucks to set up and sell food. Beekly hopes that people will come to the Yard to grab drinks and hang out with friends while watching graffitied train cars pass by.
In the coming months, there will be a modified airstream trailer that will serve beer when the bar inside gets too busy. He also plans to use old shipping containers as temporary walls for pop-up art shows. A stage is already being built to host bands and live music.
"I hope its going to complement the area; the neighborhood is great," he said of the Eastside, which is in the early stages of revitalization. "I want this to be a place where people can get their art, get their food, get their beer, get their drinks."
He also wants this to be a place where the neighborhood enjoys gathering, and made sure the Yard included a play area for customers with kids. Beekly, a father of two young girls, said it was important to ensure the Yard was an enjoyable place for adults that provided a family friendly space for anyone who happens to walk in.
"There's nothing more humbling than people who bring their families, they could go anywhere they want in San Antonio," he said. "I hope they enjoy it."
The Burleson Yard Beer Garden is open Monday through Wednesday from 3 p.m. to midnight; Thursday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to midnight.
*Top Image: A portion of the outdoor area at Burleson Yard. Photo by Scott Ball.