The Dive: Old Views and New

Interview with Lloyd Banks + Review of The Dive
@ The Dive

It’s a venue that’s worn many hats and known many names, over the years - and while that doesn’t narrow it down, here in Denton, perhaps the old handles will: Pourhouse, Drunken Donkey, Lakeside. Whether you’ve visited these in some of their short lifespans or not, you’ve at least heard of the little spot tucked away on Unicorn Lake off of 35E - just a stone’s throw away from the early UNT student’s maximum reach in their journey out to the Cinemark, one might venture to say. In any case, the latest enterprise in this space is done by a man who himself bears a host of names attached to his own such as iconic Denton venue Rockin’ Rodeo. Bringing 16 years of experience to the table, Lloyd Banks has pulled out a personal favorite in his latest concept, which we sat down to both taste and talk about - The Dive.

The Dentonite: So what brought you here? What led you to opening up shop in this location?

Lloyd Banks: So I’ve really been interested in this building for 8 years. And back when it was Pourhouse, I tried to buy it from Rick three or four times; we talked about it, but we just never could get to a place. So I kind of kept my eye on it. While it was the last entity that it was, [The Drunken Donkey], I came here a couple of times, and I just felt like it wasn’t the right thing for the building. I stalked the landlord, found out who it was from some commercial real estate friends of mine, got his number from a mutual friend and one day, I just texted him out of the blue and said “Hey, I’d be interested in talking about your building”, and he’s like “Meet me at BJ’s tomorrow”. We ended up drinking cocktails for a couple of hours, hit it off really well - it happened pretty fast after that. Met with the current owner, had some meetings, and within a couple of weeks we had made the decision.

“I had this concept for The Dive that I had actually made three or four years ago - I had created this thing because I was ready to do something different from Rockin’ Rodeo, but I was like “I’m just too tired to do anything new”. I looked for buildings anyways, didn’t find something I liked, so I shelved it. So when this building came up, all of a sudden I had this, and I thought: “What am I going to do in there?” I dusted off the concept and pulled it off the shelf and decided I was going to do The Dive here.

“A lot of people said “The Dive”? That seems like a really nice building to call The Dive. To me The Dive is more like our tagline: Casual, Comfy and Cool. I want this beautiful building and the beautiful view, but I want people to know: it’s an everyman place. It’s not complicated.”

What do you think was the tipping point of the concept for you, that sold the concept for you, or even for the landlord, so to speak?

Well, they too were concerned about the name [laughs]. What I think sold it to them was a little bit of history - being here twenty-one years - and having had some businesses with longevity, but also the concept and, since then, some of the things I’ve done. I think what’s cool about it is that we’re going to be able to have three or four concepts in one. We’re going to have this good but casual food menu - it’s definitely well above bar food - but we’re also going to have late nights Thursday, Friday and Saturday where we’ll have a club vibe going next to this casual restaurant; you’ve got the bar area and then you’ve got the patio space, as well. If you’re not into one thing, you might be into another. What’s cool about it is that it makes it inviting for a lot of people.”

Is there any part of what you mentioned - or anything you didn’t - that you see as your unique offering to the table for Denton’s food scene?

Honestly - all of it. You know, there’s plenty of places to go eat in Denton - go eat, have a drink or two - but you’re probably not sticking around. It’s not like you’re going to be entertained there. This is a place that I want people - whether you’re coming strictly for the entertainment portion, or to drink and dance and hangout for a while, or just a great lunch and then go back to work - and I wanted to try to do something where I can say my demographic is “everybody”. I wanted to have a space where everybody could fit in and have some sort of space in here they’re going to enjoy.

Do you have any kind of favorites as far as the food or drinks go?

Oh, so I keep probably overselling people on this, but this Granny Smith Apple Burger - when my guy told me about it, I really questioned if he was on drugs or not, because I don’t know why you would put Granny Smith apple, peanut butter, maple mustard and bacon all on this burger. But then I tried it - and I had two in a row - and I probably would have gone for a third had it been sitting there. It was so good. I’ve had to talk a lot of people into trying it, but everyone I’ve talked into it, they’re like “Man, I don’t know that works, but it works. That’s amazing.” But I have yet to try anything on our menu that I wasn’t pretty in love with.

Where do you see it going in the next year, three years, and so on?

My hope was to just get this thing open - we flipped this thing in something like twenty-eight days - but I think what I’d like to do is prove the concept to myself, and others. But eventually - and I don’t know how long, it could be a year, two years - I’d like to build number two and then see how that goes and maybe keep going. I’m not looking to have some nationwide huge thing, necessarily, but I could see myself in a few years owning three, four, five of them, even if it’s just around DFW, as big as it is. But hey - this is day eleven, so, we’ll see where we are on day 111.

Would you say this is your favorite concept you’ve worked on so far, or where does it stand amongst your other ventures?

This is by far the biggest thing I’ve done; I really couldn’t do the same thing I’d already been doing again. Twenty-one years of doing the same thing - I don’t mean this arrogantly, but it wasn’t a challenge anymore. I decided if I’m going to do something, it needs to be different; something that I can really fall in love with and stay in love with for a long time. I think so far I’ve hit on all the marks I’ve wanted to and I’m incredibly passionate about it. I’m a perfectionist, and I really want this to be perfect.

What keeps you going during the long hours, and what’s going to keep you going?

Well, it’s been tough - I’m not young anymore. So a lot of these eighteen, twenty hour days have been really hard, missing time with my family, my kids. But they’ve been incredibly nice about it, and they spend a lot of time up here, too.  I think a lot of what’s keeping me going is - this is the first one I’ve really had them involved in. I think that’s it. As long as it’s a place my family is happy with. We’ve got a family vibe here, and you know, I think that speaks to a lot of people - it’s very “Denton”. I dig it.”

Now that we’ve done the talking, it’s time for the space to speak for itself. We heard it from Lloyd first - and teased it out plenty - so here we are: on to the food.

Apps, Sides + Salads: The Dive Bombs, Mac & Cheese, Grecian Chicken Salad

Bacon wrapped jalapeños: it's a classic for sure, but offered up in such a way that elevates the dish and breathes new life into the familiar culinary companion. Not only is the presentation fresh, but the Bombs themselves feel like a series of subtleties that only a professional chef can bring to such a dive-y staple as this. The savory crunch of the bacon gives way to the heat of the pepper - and the heat of the chipotle-ranch dip - but is all tempered by the tangy-sweet chill of the cream cheese mix within, with the added bonus of grilled chicken to beef out the light fare. Sure, we’ve seen this at many a barbecue - but never so artfully executed as this.

Most everything here, you’ll see, is an improvement of something comfortable and familiar, and this Mac and Cheese side is no different; it's a simple formula with elegant solutions, and this dish doesn't disappoint. Just the subtle addition of some breadcrumbs and herbs on top - plus a delectable cheese sauce - makes this more than your late-night out-of-the-box Kraft snack.

This Grecian Chicken salad sure isn’t your average House or Chef’s salad. There’s a medley of flavors in play here, and as one can see, it’s not light on the serving size. The usual suspects of feta, olive, and banana peppers add their own punches of flavor, and the large-cut cucumbers and tomatoes really soak it up well and give a fresh taste to the whole affair. The colorful presentation - with all of its big, bold veggies and their well-presented colors - delights the eyes as much as the flavors delight the palate.

The Main Attractions: Chicken-Fried Chicken + Mashed Potatoes + Steamed Broccoli

While this dish is something that every good country guy or girl’s grandmother has made them - grandma might have to take a step back or two on this one. The batter is crunchy but light, adding depth to the texture of the meat but not taking away from the flavors sealed within; the gravy is creamy and potent without being out of step. Throw in the perfectly steamed broccoli, topped with a subtle dash of cheese, and the skins-in mashed potatoes, and you’ve got yourself a healthily-portioned plate would not be out of place at any southern holiday gathering.

Granny Smith Apple Burger

And last - but far from least - the Granny Smith. Let me just say something that echoes Lloyd’s sentiments on this truly religious experience: I've been made a believer. This burger has a down-home flavor with lots of comfort, while still throwing in a nice little twang. The peanut butter is a surprise addition that thickens the whole concoction’s presence in your mouth, while the Granny Smith is a sweet zing of fruit and acidity that cuts through the savory burger and Swiss, and is amplified by the mustard - which is maple mustard, adding a more country flavor. It's got a very relaxed set of flavors, mingling subdued syrupy sweetness with the welcome bite of mustard, the resistance of the grilled apple, and the slight funk of the Swiss. Truly, I say to you: this is a triumph, and not a trivial one at that.

At the Dive, you're getting all the charm and comfort of your hometown bar, minus the mediocre offerings and general dilapidation. It's an elevation of country crowd-pleasers and classic bar snacks. So don't be confused, people: this is not your old watering hole. This is your new hang-out.

Header design by Clarissa Baniecki