North Texas Daily

Looking back on Fry Street

Looking back on Fry Street

Fry Street.

Looking back on Fry Street
August 05
12:05 2015

Paul Wedding | Staff Writer

@RealPaulWedding

[dropcaps]A[/dropcaps]neon-immersed strip of dive bars sits planted beneath the warm orange glow of sodium-vapor bulbs, usually occupied by the smell of cigarette smoke and cheap incense, has kept a firm grip on the northeast edges of UNT and a keen eye on the cultural movements of Denton for the past 90 years.

Texas A&M has Northgate, UT-Austin has 6th street, UNT has Fry Street.

A mixture of evolving vogues and new demands on the local market has shaped the area into what it is today. But Fry hasn’t always looked the way it does now. It used to be so much more.

At the heart of Fry is an old, dark van with bubbles floating out from its roof parked next to Crooked Crust. It sits in the same spot each night, usually swarmed by bar goers. Inside, a man sits happily selling herbal mixtures.

Michael “E.B.” Latimer, affectionally referred to by some as “The Bubble Man,” has done this for almost 20 years. It’s difficult to miss The Bubble Man and his van (unless you’re just too hammered) because he’s a bastion of what is Fry Street.

[df-subtitle]“At Fry Street, everyone being a good-hearted person is the rule, not the exception,” E.B. said, peering from the van, wearing his vest and hat, smoking from his pipe.[/df-subtitle]

Alec Williams first stepped onto Fry Street after graduating from Texas Tech in 1975. He had come back to his hometown after college, but he longed for a college atmosphere.

Williams recounted that Fry Street was a place where one could be themselves without the stresses of classes or the expectations that come with mainstream fashion.

“It was the only place in Texas you could walk around with long hair and body jewelry and nobody would notice,” he said.

Michael “E.B.” Latimer, affectionally referred to by some as “The Bubble Man,” sells an herbal mixture from his van parked on Fry Street. Photo by Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

Michael “E.B.” Latimer, affectionally referred to by some as “The Bubble Man,” sells an herbal mixture from his van parked on Fry Street.
Photo by Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

Williams remembers splashing around a bar called The Final Exam, watching television. It wasn’t so much of a drinking bar, but more of a talking bar. Instead of listening to music, they would turn off the jukebox, pass around the beer and watch American Playhouse on PBS.

Now, Williams does not hang out on Fry as much because of the loud music and the higher price of beer, which can cost up to $3.50 for domestic draft beers.

“Who can afford to get schnockered now at today’s prices?” he said.

Much of what Fry Street used to look like is documented and photographed in “The Fry Street Neighborhood,” a book written by Williams and local Leslie Couture.

You know that big apartment complex on the corner of Fry and Hickory streets? That wasn’t always there. In the last 20 years, a high demand for student living extinguished some of that wacky spirit for which Fry Street is known.

The complex, U Centre, replaced much of what was Cool Beans as well as former pizza shop, Flying Tomato. In 2006, United Equities demolished several historic buildings on that block to build U Centre as well as the businesses attached to the complex, such as Chipotle and Potbelly Sandwich Shop.

Denton residents did not respond well, causing many protests that became the Fry Street Fire.

FryStreetThrowback2

Fry Street has gone through plenty of changes over the years, many of the original establishments are no longer there. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

On June 27, 2007, after two days of sitting inside the Tomato in protest of its destruction, someone started a fire. Hundreds gathered to watch the flames, burning away the enthusiasm and grit of Fry Street.

E.B. is one of the few left of the fringe demographic of people that were drawn to Fry Street back in the 90s. He embodies those that were comfortable with doing their own thing and living life how they wanted.

“There used to be Hacky Sack games and drum circles under the trees,” E.B. said.

The apartment complex acted as a proverbial stake, stabbing what E.B. once considered the heart of the Denton music scene. Residents of the apartments would make noise complaints and live bands stopped getting booked on Fry Street.

Chuck Voellinger, special collections librarian at the Emily Fowler library, said Fry had been the spot for local musicians for years. Every night, students could go down to Fry and find at least one live band playing. It was a source for students to gain experience and exposure. Even Norah Jones played Fry before she played The Chicago Theatre.

“That’s kind of where everyone went to let their freak flag fly,” Voellinger said.

Whether it was just relaxing with a beer, talking over a warm cup of coffee, or checking out a record, most people could find there own place on Fry.

Fry had annual music festival called the Fry Street Fair from 1979 to 2007, but was shut down due to lack of space and increasing costs. The land where it was held had been sold, Williams said.

The growing popularity of Fry and of Denton tantalizes big business, Voellinger said. Anything that starts out as underground will eventually become known to the general public.

“Their job is to try to latch on to the latest trend,” he said. “And Denton is the latest trend.”

But the music scene in Denton is not dead. It has migrated elsewhere.

The Square, which had been relatively uninhabited during the late 80s, blew up when Dan’s Silverleaf and Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios opened.

Voellinger predicts the same fate for the Square, but he’s not too worried about.

“There will always be some place to play as long as there are colleges in Denton,” he said. “If we don’t protect some of this stuff, it can disappear without us even knowing it. At least they didn’t tear down more of it.”

Fry has ridden the wave of each new social movement. As the hippies died out around the mid-70s, punks started coming to Fry in the 80s. Tie-die was exchanged for black. Long hair was cut and body piercings were in. Now, Voellinger said, Fry has become more frat oriented and started catering more to drinking rather than the arts.

FryStreet4

A bartender pours to customers a drink at Lucky Lou’s. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

Blake Jutton, general manager of Riprock’s, agreed with this sentiment.

“Kids want to hear more DJ’s than live bands now,” Jutton said. “There’s no reason for me to pay a band that nobody is going to come see.”

Williams said that the golden age of Fry has probably passed, but there will always be somewhere for the students to call their own. While they may not be as interested in live bands, one thing has remained the same: College students love to get drunk. And on Fry, alcohol and greasy food are around every corner.

“Students have to have a place where they can congregate without parents looking over their shoulders and telling them what to do,” Williams said.

Editor’s Note: In the original version of this story, we wrote the Fry Street Fire was on July 27, 2007. That is incorrect. The Fry Street Fire occurred on June 27, 2007. We regret the error.

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10 Comments

  1. Andy
    Andy August 05, 13:17

    Excellent job! A few thoughts from an ’03 alum …

    – E.B. only started the bubble thing in recent years.
    – The Fry Street Fire was JUNE 27, 2007. And there wasn’t a riot that evening (the fire was set by a sole individual who had previously chained himself to a pillar in the Flying Tomato) but there were plenty of antics in the days leading up to it.
    – We kept that corner from becoming a CVS pharmacy with a drive-through. You’re welcome.
    – Norah Jones was the honorary chairman of the Save Fry Street committee.
    – Tuition de-reg after 2003 sent tuition rates up dramatically. This equated to increased buying power, thus increasing the allure for equity firms to buy up UNT-adjoining property (and higher beer prices, students who prefer DJs to bands, etc.). Poorer students made for grittier environs, IMHO.
    – The Fry Street Fair is legendary, as is the former Delta Lodge which organized it. Google it — that’s what made Fry Street what it is/was. Before that it was malt shops and bookstores.

    Reply to this comment
    • Sarah
      Sarah July 11, 10:22

      I pledged Delta spring of 91. I had so much fun being a little sister at the Lodge. The music, the people, Fry Street Fair…. There was always someone there to talk to or hang out with. Denton has changed so much it makes me sad. The 80’s and 90’s in Denton were truly a special time.

      Reply to this comment
  2. J
    J May 07, 23:49

    Back in the early 90s, as a favor, I drove all day long to pick up a UNT girl from Denton after finals week. I drove her and belongings another full day across Texas to get her back home for the summer. She said she had actually joined a fraternity the previous year called Delta. She talked about this all day music festival called Fry St. Fair and how she had worked on some marketing and organizing of the event as a pledge. I never went to the fair but heard some crazy stories about getting cooked and smashed all day long…

    Reply to this comment
  3. Maggie
    Maggie April 14, 16:29

    I miss smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee at Karma Cafe. My first job in Denton was at State Club, until Kenny sold out and opened Jimmy Johns. The block never recovered.

    Reply to this comment
    • Zott
      Zott July 23, 03:35

      That was the first place I ever got a pitcher of beer in the fall of ’99, I still refuse to eat at any Jimmy Johns

      Reply to this comment
  4. Cabe
    Cabe July 10, 20:15

    Just stumbled on this story……sorry so late to comment. I was the booking agent for Fry Street Fair (and all other Delta Lodge events…Toga Party, Oktoberfest, Thursday’s live music night) from 1993 until the year prior to its demise (almost 7 years after I graduated) Thank you for remembering………..I do, oh the stories. All good….

    Reply to this comment
  5. B Rad
    B Rad December 31, 08:10

    Fry street was the place. Delta was a huge reason it became what it was. Article is missing the root of the freak flag. Delta fka Sigma Alpha Mu before it lost its charter was a HUGE reason the scene became so iconic. The Halloween haunted house was epic. I was a Delta ‘89-‘90 so sad to see this time go but damn glad I lived it.

    Reply to this comment
  6. beach
    beach July 21, 06:39

    Dr. Smiths was a cool punk dive that was there through fall of ’91. I met Rhett Miller there …..i think at a Funland show. We talked about starting a band but he had on a Mickey Mouse shirt and I thought him to be too dorky for a front man. I guess the Old 97’s proved me wrong a few years later. There were some fun times down there but i never understood how everyone could party that hard on a Thursday night and make it to class Friday morning. I know I didnt.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Murph
    Murph September 29, 12:25

    It was a great time. I had an apartment close by.. Park Place apartments in the late 90s. We’d freqently have parties roping off the parking lot and we’d have dozens of Fry Street drinks fumbling in. I’ll never forget the guy that tried to steal our VCR by shoving it down his pants… or the neighbor that pulled a shotgun in us. I loved The Tomato and the State Club… and the live music. Fry Street Fair was a blast.. can remember getting a friend out of the drunk tank for public urination at FSF… so many great times.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Tom
    Tom July 16, 09:25

    Mid-90s UNT student here – I have fondest memories of The Argo music venue, behind Flying Tomato. Some Hunter S. Thompson-worthy memories there!!!

    Reply to this comment

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