Let’s face it. San Antonio loves being outdoors. And one of the best places in town to sit outside while enjoying a cold HighWheel is Burleson Yard Beer Garden.
We recently sat down with General Manager Joshua Giles to chat about how the bar has evolved since it opened its doors in early 2016.
What's been the biggest difference between Burleson and Taco Garage?
For me, this place is more mentally challenging since I'm going a lot more big picture type stuff. There it was more like managing the in and outs of the daily operation. There it was more physically taxing, there was more schlepping around. I really enjoy it here. I've been in bars for almost 10 years so I feel like I was prepared for it.
How big of a staff do you have?
We're at about nine people.
How have you seen it change?
The early days were crazy. It was the typical San Antonio business, we were getting inundated with people who were looking to see what the bright, flashy thing was. We didn't have as many of the systemic improvements that we now have in place. We pretty much replaced all of the original plumbing. That was right during that playoff series when the Spurs went up against Oklahoma so we were swamped with Spurs fans. It's a big difference, really. The neighborhood wasn't nearly as fleshed out, so we had a lot more people coming to check us out, where as now the neighborhood and community is starting to grow so we have more of a neighborhood vibe. At first we were kid-centric, but we've tightened it down. So we're still kid-friendly, but now kids are out by 9:15 at the latest.
What is it about this place that was able to nurture that community growth?
I think size is a huge factor. Obviously we've got room. There's a lot of bars in San Antonio that feel cliquish when you get there, and I think that can be a turnoff especially for people who are new to town or even people who don't have that kind of social group. I think Burleson, because of the space and the nature of the operation, we've been a pretty inviting space for people who may not have a home bar in particular.
I also think I've tried to keep a diverse selection of items that are not pretentious in nature in any way, shape or form. If you want something nice you can come here and get it but you don't have to feel like you have to have some high IQ to fit in with all due respect to my cocktail bar friends.
You do cater to several different groups...
We've got that Tuesday social ride, and they've been with us since day one. They're our biggest supporters. They'll come through with 100-200 people. We get a happy hour crowd, lots of school teachers, manufacturers, folks from the Pearl hoping for something more low-key. I've heard a lot of people describe this place as having a backyard party vibe and I think that's something we try to strive for.
This place has changed dramatically. How do you pull off construction and then opening up?
Often we've had construction and customers in here at the same time! I think it's one of those things where customers get a kick out of something like that as long as it doesn't become too much of a deterrent. People want to feel like they're part of the process. Ultimately, when you go to a bar, you're spending money that doesn't amount to much more than satisfaction or catharsis. I think people get joy out of watching a place grow, they feel like they're contributing. When we got here it was pretty much dirt. The parking lot was dirt.
What's your relationship like with Randy?
Daniel my predecessor and him, had a pretty good relationship. I knew the product was solid, but I didn't get to meet Randy until I was at Taco Garage and I wanted to bring HighWheel in. He was one of the first people I reached out to 'cause I was aware of the quality of the product. I reached out, he came through and when we really got to know each other was when he offered a tour of the facility to me and our two bartenders. That was when there was still all that construction out front. Boyan's a regular at Taco Garage and he was a supporter as well. We put them on the board and then added a third tap and we've been cruising ever since.
I told Randy at the time but we don't really deal with folks who self-distribute. It can be a little cumbersome to me. I try to support the little guys but some of these people are just too hard to deal with. You never know when you're going to hear from them again. But Randy's customer service has always been spot on. I've never had a bad HighWheel keg. He's never afraid to hop behind the bar and help me move some kegs. We're both into fitness so we'll have conversations about that — I know he's stronger than me!
What HighWheel beers do you carry?
Right now it's the Betty, the S.A. Hefe and the Dunkel, so the Porter will be coming right back when the Dunkel goes. Randy says he gets the most calls when the Porter's not there. People know when it's not on the board and they'll be like 'Hey, where's the Porter at?', which is funny because I feel like porter as a style is not that popular. But this one is solid.
What's your favorite of the three HighWheel beers you carry?
I'd crush that Betty all day. It's the top-selling of the three. I attribute it to being a lighter style. It's not light on the ABV, but light on the palate.
Randy says Burleson owner Lee Beekly is a big fan as well...
Lee is a huge fan. He had a little slim keg of Betty on his front porch for the better part of two years. Randy called that his favorite tap in San Antonio. I think Lee's been trying to lay off the beer for a little bit so the keg's not there anymore (laughs).
What is it about Lee that makes him such a good barman?
He's had lots of businesses up and down the Broadway corridor. He's a smart dude, very humble. I think he's done a good job of paying attention to what customers are asking for and trying to stay very accessible with everything he does. He's got a laidback attitude as a person and I think that translates to his businesses.
Where do you see Burleson in the next few years?
I don't think we're going anywhere. I think as long as we keep taking care of our guests, the place will keep growing and it'll keep expanding. We're adding drop down covers to help weather the winter. We're adding more TVs outside. We're talking about adding a third bar in the back to accommodate for events like St. Patrick's Day when we were slammed. We carried the Irish Red Ale and sold out!
How do you weather the winter?
It's gotten better every year. First year was tough, crickets. Now we have air and heat inside so it's gotten better. We have day to day regulars and sports to keep people in here. We added fire tables, which helps. I also think people are starting to think of us as not just an outdoor bar.