If news stories didn’t confirm its existence, Mayer’s Garden would sound like it came from a fairytale.

The open-air drinking spot opened in 1881, according to Dallas Morning News archives, and is described as a “free pleasure garden” on Elm Street in Dallas with live music, vaudeville performances and a zoo with lions, tigers, eagles and boa constrictors.

A picture from 'The Dallas Morning News' in 1924 shows the famous Mayer's Garden, calling it a 'pleasure resort.'
A picture from ‘The Dallas Morning News’ in 1924 shows the famous Mayer’s Garden, calling it a ‘pleasure resort.’(DMN Archive)

Except for an unfortunate moment in 1886 (when a turtle reportedly bit a kid’s finger), the archived news stories describe Mayer’s Garden as Dallas’ best meet-up spot. It had music seven nights a week, “and the beer from the saloon in the front of the building flowed freely while the clinking glasses kept time with the music,” says a lyrical paragraph from a 1918 news story.

“All classes of people frequented the garden,” says a news story from 1932. “The heads of the best families took their wives and children to these entertainments, to see the zoo and for ice cream and other refreshments, served on the tables under the trees.”

A paid advertisement from 1885 boasted that Mayer’s Garden served “positively the best meals in Dallas.”

Some 140 years later, Dallas restaurateurs Austin Rodgers and Garrett Mayer plan to open Mayer’s Garden on Henderson Avenue, in place of a shuttered Jake’s Burgers. The history of the beer garden appealed to them, and the name is a happy coincidence: Garrett Mayer is not related to Simon Mayer, the brewer who started this popular “pleasure resort” more than a century ago.

The new Mayer’s Garden is expected to open in September 2021.

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Rodgers operates Alamo Club, a restaurant and bar on Dallas’ Lowest Greenville. He was inspired to find a historical Texas name for this new bar, and “there was no going back” once he and Mayer learned about the freewheeling watering hole from the 1880s.

The two plan to take the “garden” part of the name literally and put plants inside and outside of the bar and restaurant. The former burger joint already had a sizeable patio, one Rodgers and Mayer are excited to put to use.

Austin Rodgers and Garrett Mayer plan to keep the industrial bones of the building's former life as Jake's Burgers, but they want to bring the outdoors in by keeping the seven garage doors open and adding lots of plants.
Austin Rodgers and Garrett Mayer plan to keep the industrial bones of the building’s former life as Jake’s Burgers, but they want to bring the outdoors in by keeping the seven garage doors open and adding lots of plants.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

It has seven garage doors that open to the patio. “Our goal is, can we keep these doors open 365 days a year?” Rodgers says.

Mayer’s Garden (pronounced MY-yuhrs, like Oscar Meyer) will have food around the clock, although a heavy focus will be on drinks. The co-operators also want Mayer’s Garden to be a fun game-day spot and a place where large groups can eat and drink.

Rodgers was drawn to Henderson Avenue because of the success they saw from other bars, like at the new Spider Murphy’s Irish pub (which is operated by the same group that runs The Old Monk and The Skellig, which are also on Henderson); and of the fun vibes at neighboring businesses like High Fives and The Whip.

Rodgers assents that the pandemic was a challenge: Alamo Club closed four times inside of one calendar year. But during that time, Rodgers also felt confident enough to start shopping for a second venue.

“It was still a little nerve-wracking,” Rodgers says. “But the longer the conversation goes, the more excited you get.” Sales are up at Alamo Club now that the start of the pandemic, March 2020, is more than a year in the past.

“Greenville Avenue and Henderson Avenue have probably never been healthier,” Mayer says.

Mayer’s Garden will be at 2422 N. Henderson Ave., Dallas. It’s expected to open in September 2021.

For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.

Greg Katz, the owner of Beverley's Bistro & Bar in Dallas, is opening Clifton Club nearby. Katz has worked at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, Victor Tangos, Fireside Pies, CBD Provisions and more. He's now out on his own, bringing new life to Fitzhugh Avenue.

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