Craft beer, bands, comic books and 'Brenda' set Division Brewing apart from the crowd

The band Paper Saints plays at Division Brewing in Arlington.
The band Paper Saints plays at Division Brewing in Arlington. Special to the Star-Telegram

Division Brewing, an Arlington brewery and beer garden, is also a comic book shop . . and a record store . . . and a concert venue. It's also a fascinating place to people-watch, but more on that later.

The two-building venue has a unique ambiance and a large walk-through space.

With a barred storefront window, string lights, and the Jimmy John’s across the street as a backdrop, local bands perform every weekend next to the front door of Growl Records. The posters on the wall and the selection of vinyl records, CDs, and cassettes make this record store feel like a place stuck in the mid-1990s.

Behind this building is a beer garden, along with another space for Division Brewing, where this all began in early 2015. A couple years after opening the brewery, owner Wade Wadlington rented the building in front of it and subleased the space for the record store and a comic book shop, Panel By Panel Comics.

The comics store is stocked with the usual superhero tales, along with an interesting collection of titles in the horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery genres.

It’s hard to miss "Brenda" sitting in a wheelchair by the back door. An art project, the mannequin somehow found its way into the shop. People have been painting the wooden mannequin from head to toe for years.

“Brenda was something me and my buddies put together over the years,” says Dale McKethan from Panel By Panel Comics. He says they will eventually reposition the mannequin to add more tattoos to the empty spaces on its back.

The concert venue came about organically. The shows started as unplanned live music in the brewery, but Wadlington ended up buying a sound system and booking bands. Then he decided to move the shows into the building and have curated events.

“Music is almost as big of a passion for me as brewing,” Wadlington says. “I grew up as a teenager going to Deep Ellum in Dallas. I like alternative rock and punk bands. In this area, there aren’t a whole lot of venues that welcome that. But there’s a lot of talent.”

The scene now developing at this unlikely cultural hub cannot be confused with those of Fort Worth or Dallas. Arlington is not a place many think of when it comes to nightlife, especially for live music.

But Division Brewing draws eclectic crowds with a wider age range than what you may typically see at concerts, perhaps giving new meaning to the words “all-ages show.”

And the concert crowds are blissfully unaware of any cool factor or expected dress codes.

“I guess we’re kind of a nerdy place,” says Wadlington. “Music nerds, comic nerds, and beer nerds. But it can be a perfect storm of people who like craft beer and are really interested in music. I call it the professor circuit.”

“We actually get a lot of people from Dallas,” Panel By Panel's McKethan says. “It’s a different venue, not your typical bar that bands play in. You can go in there and read comics. You don’t have to drink.”

Like the crowds, the lineups for these shows are diverse, bringing all sorts of music styles to Arlington. Dallas garage rock band American Werewolf Academy, Fort Worth singer-songwriter Cody Lynn Boyd, and King Country, a psychedelic rock group from Waco, all played on the same bill last month.

“We had never played Arlington, ever,” says Aaron Thedford, from American Werewolf Academy. “Dallas has its city dwellers, people in Fort Worth are a little more relaxed, and Denton is like college meets Mayberry. But in Arlington it’s Big Gulps and sandals. A rock venue never occurred to me. This is a firecracker crowd, like people you’d meet at a fireworks stand. It does seem strange.”

Kevin Chapman, from the Dallas rock band Paper Saints, has now performed at Division Brewing four times since 2017.

Wade and Tami Wadlington begin construction this week at Division Brewing, with a fall opening of their downtown Arlington brewery planned. Star-Telegram video by Paul Moseley

“I thought we were going to be playing in a beer garden outdoors,” he says. “I thought Arlington just had a bar band scene. But Division is just like a DIY spot. It’s a weird room. A lot of us cut our teeth at punk rock shows in warehouses. It reminds me of that.”

“We don’t really make money doing shows,” Wadlington says. “But it gives these kids a place to play and encourages them to keep doing what they’re doing.”