Autonomous Society, now open in the Cedars, wants to emphasize the “pub” part of brewpub. It’s a neighborhood bar in the traditional sense—accommodating, friendly, geared for locals—in a historic building with loads of character. Although the pub is still filling in a lineup of its own foods and beers, it already has the welcoming feel of a good neighborhood spot.
Owner and brewmaster Dean Weaver is a 30-year veteran of the homebrew scene and a leader of Dallas homebrew groups. Supply chain issues and backordered items held up his new production system a couple of weeks, but his first Autonomous Society beer—a saison—starts pouring today. Next up in line: a Munich-style helles lager, an imperial red ale, and a double IPA.
Alongside its own brews, Autonomous Society’s 24 taps pour beers from other local producers, including Oak Highlands, Peticolas, Four Bullets, Cowtown, and Tupps. They’ve also got wine, cider, and mead on hand. It’s a welcoming list, a something-for-everyone menu.
“I want a good pub atmosphere, and when I say pub, I’m going for that English pub,” Weaver says. “If I ever call it a bar, I’ve done it by mistake. I want to have a place where people can come in and be a community. Think of Cheers. I want a place for people to hang out, throw some darts, play some games, and get to know each other.”
When I stopped by last weekend, a week after Autonomous Society opened its doors, I had no trouble finding something to drink (Cowtown’s fabulous Vienna lager). I also had no trouble feeling relaxed and at home. The space is clearly post-industrial, all brick and concrete with big metal doors, unfinished in a couple corners, with almost no physical resemblance to any pub I’ve ever visited in England. But it manages to be friendly anyway, because it’s a manageable size, not too loud, and fitted out with welcoming touches that every brewpub should have. (Never trust a brewery without a get-your-own-water station.) The dartboard is up and ready. Since the kitchen was not yet ready to sell snacks, our bartender handed out free popcorn.
Weaver’s craft beer origin story is an all-American one. He grew up before the craft revolution really took off, and found out about great beer when he left the country.
“I was in the army for four years, and I was in Germany for 26 months,” he says. “I thought I knew beer before I went over there, and I got slapped down and learned some lessons. Really tasted some awesome stuff. That sent me on a journey.” His brewing philosophy reflects that history, spanning both American styles and the sorts of European classics he might have tasted during his deployment.
Some home brewers have struggled when they make the leap from hobbyists to professionals. That seems unlikely in Weaver’s case, since his commitment went beyond the usual countertop kit. He installed a one-barrel system in his garage and participated in a group called the Big Rig Brew Crew, dedicated to brewing 45 gallon batches (about 360 pints of beer).
“To brew 5 gallons or 45 gallons takes roughly the same amount of effort,” he explains. “It’s just the magnitude of size. For me, that was my goal, was to get people past the magnitude of size.”
I’m looking forward to returning to Autonomous Society to try the results of his labor. I’m also looking forward to returning to the building itself. It was constructed in 1943 and was a storage warehouse in a past life. Weaver and his architects touched the space up, including a fresh coat of paint, but they preserved many historical details, including characterful art deco-style metalwork over the windows.
After I visited, I looked up the building’s history on Google Street View and saw that it had sat seemingly vacant for a decade. However, Weaver corrected me with a startling fact: “It was a residence. People were living here. It was a little bohemian kind of thing. The inside space, the pub area, that was all subdivided into four rooms. [The walls weren’t] even all the way to the ceiling, you had these drop ceilings.”
His team worked to take out the added walls, restoring the original industrial space and highlighting many of the original details.
“If you look at the structure you can see the lintels and say, oh yeah, this used to be a whole wide open garage door. I love turning this old structure into something new, rather than tearing the building down, which is kinda what Dallas does.”
That attitude is a breath of fresh air. There is a respect for history in this project—in its choice of beers, in its embrace of other Dallas-area breweries, and in its chosen venue—which should help to immediately weave Autonomous Society into the fabric of the Cedars.
Autonomous Society Brewpub, 1928 S. Akard St.