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Sweetwater Grill & Tavern brings zombie fans together every Sunday night

Sweetwater Grill & Tavern brings zombie fans together every Sunday night

April 07
02:58 2016

Kayleigh Bywater | Senior Staff Writer

@kayleighnic0le

The lights are dimmed. Fingers anxiously tap tabletops as teeth clench and eyes are glued to television screen. The viewers are in a zombie-like state as notable characters like Rick Grimes fill the screen. The uneasiness in Rick’s gaze matches with the suspense building in the viewers’ chests.

It’s “The Walking Dead” season six finale, and the episode is just as gruesome as everyone in Sweetwater Grill & Tavern expected it to be.

The underlying premise of each season of “The Walking Dead” may hold similarities, including extremely real-looking walkers, the gut-feeling that your favorite character probably won’t make it to the end of the season and hours of suspense, but Sweetwater gives fans the opportunity to share the agony and watch the show together every week.

“’The Walking Dead’ has a ‘woah’ factor to it that a lot of other shows don’t,” Sweetwater owner Ryann Reid said. “This idea started off kind of slow, but here we are now with around 30 or more people showing up each week to watch this show in our company.”

An undead event

Since late 2014, Sweetwater has hosted weekly watch parties of TWD on Sunday nights. The idea started out as a small gathering put together by an employee but has expanded into a weekly tradition.

“Since we renovated Sweetwater in early 2014, we have had the space and utilities to host various events through our venue,” Reid said. “We have this great facility, so we wanted to utilize it.”

Reid said one of their old bartenders, a die-hard fan, presented the idea to her as a way for her and her friends to enjoy each other’s company while watching zombies destroy the world on television.

Although Reid does not watch the series, the show’s Denton following, and lack of a common area to watch it, made for the perfect opportunity to start up weekly watch parties. Granada Theater in Dallas does something similar, but those looking further north were out of luck.

“What’s better than sitting back, having a beer, eating some good food and watching one of your favorite shows?” Reid said.

Since Reid is not as into the show, bar owner and fan Gayla Hooten took hold of the parties. She wanted to make it a fun, common place for fans to get together, get shocked and talk about the craziness of the show.

“We go into the back room of Sweetwater, turn off the lights and turn the volume way up,” Hooten said. “Anyone is welcome, but that way people can enjoy the show without distractions around them.”

The watch parties, which are held each Sunday during the show’s season, do not only provide for entertainment, but also provide a unique watching environment instead of on a viewer’s living room couch.

Food and drinks are available for guests through Sweetwater’s menu. In addition, Hooten and her husband spend the week searching for unique TWD memorabilia to raffle off during the show’s commercial breaks. She said she wanted viewers to feel as though they were a part of something bigger, not just a group of people watching a show.

“It’s fun to watch the show with a group of people so dedicated,” Hooten said. “During commercial breaks, everyone in the room will freak out and talk about what just happened, but the second the episode comes back on, the room goes dead silent. We aren’t just watching for the gruesomeness of the show; we’re watching because we love everything about it.” 

While some come in zombie makeup and others prefer a simplistic angel-winged vest (per the show’s character Daryl Dixon), they are all there to watch the stressful hour-long episodes together.

“It’s really just another way we are able to bring Denton together,” Reid said. “People want to be together. That’s just human nature. So it’s good to have people with similar interests that surround you. It just really makes for a great time.” 

Three unlikely heroes walk into the apocalypse.

TWD fans know there’s more to the show than killing zombies, gruesome death scenes and unexpected twists. The show portrays a sense of family and community by having this group of unlikely people navigating the zombie apocalypse together.

Public relations junior Sarah Cagle said in the same familial way, TWD fans are grouped together. Outsiders would have no clue why people would revolt if rude, sarcastic Dixon died or have debated for weeks on whether or not Glenn escaped an inevitable death of a hoard of zombies under a dumpster.

For Cagle, getting to share these experiences with fellow fans is a part of the show’s essence.

“It’s just so fun to watch ‘The Walking Dead’ with other fans…who have grown as attached to [the show] and the characters,” Cagle said. “Together, you can freak out or get excited about what’s happening on the show.”

Despite season six having ended on a controversial cliffhanger, fans are still staying loyal. After all, the show’s spinoff, “Fear the Walking Dead” returns to TV next week.

Although the current season has come to an end, Hooten isn’t ready to stop TWD parties when season seven of the main show rolls around in October. She will have opened a new bar on Fry Street called Caskey’s and she feels the watch parties bring to light the fact that there’s things to do all over Denton, even when it comes to watching a television show about brain-eating monsters.

“We hope to expand so we can show different shows like ‘Game of Thrones,’” Hooten said. “It got to the point where we actually had to pull in chairs for the finale because there were so many people wanting to watch it with us. Even though from the outside ‘The Walking Dead’ can be seen as gruesome or scary, there is this whole community surrounded around this show, and we get to take part in that.”

Featured Image: After the episode had aired, a raffle was made for attendees to win prizes, such as special cups, or free drinks. Trevor Lloyd | Staff Photographer

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