Union Social House
There are all sorts of familial units. We have our family of origin, sometimes we make a work family, and oftentimes friends are made that become known as one’s “family of choice.” Those are all wonderful, but you’d be hard pressed to find a family capable of rivaling the one at the Union Social House when it comes to size and eccentricity. You see, the fellowship of the barstool is a powerful thing, and it has turned the Union Social House into a community within a community.
The sun at the center of the Union Social House solar system is the establishment’s owner and founder, Carol Clark. She doesn’t so much walk through the place as she floats. She has the unique ability to sit across from a stranger and immediately make them feel comfortable. On this night, she walks in and no fewer than four people come up to greet her before she can cover the 30 feet between the door and our table. She sits down, flute of champagne in hand, and it becomes immediately apparent that the bar has taken on her personality.
I’d arrived half an hour earlier and walked through the bar. The pub opened in November 2019, just a few months prior to the pandemic, so it was my first time inside the place. I was struck by how familiar it immediately felt. The tables are big and inviting, the comfortable murmur of conversation provided just the right amount of white noise, strangers at tables glanced over in a warm and nonjudgmental way, and then there was the aroma. I didn’t know what it was initially, but my brain and stomach came together in an instant and told me to go figure it out.
I followed the scent outside and found the source on a permanent foundation out back. When Clark opened the Union Social House, she partnered with local food-truck aficionados Beau and Dylan Lindborg, owners of Backcountry Gourmet. The brothers had two other successful trucks in the Durango area previously, and the one on the pub’s back patio is their third in three years.
I watched as they churned out house-cut truffle fries and slider after slider. The sliders are works of art, and one can only see so many $6 BBQ bacon cheeseburger and pork belly sliders come out before having to order a couple for oneself. Once you have your food you’re welcome to take it back inside, and you’re also welcome to hang out on the massive back patio.
You’ll find a world full of inviting spaces on the patio. In one area there are a few tables, in another there’s a fire pit. And in all spaces, the most unique feature of all—the greenhouses, an invention born of necessity during COVID-19. The capacity restrictions that came with the pandemic made it hard for Carol to justify paying the costs to stay open, but the greenhouses were a clever way to put parties together in isolated spaces and keep the Union Social House up and running.
Each greenhouse has its own vibe. One is furnished with a high-top table surrounded by barstools for eight. Another has a gray rug spread beneath a few old easy chairs with faux fur blankets. Vintage trunks and barrels serve as end tables, an old mirror sits against the back wall, and a chandelier hangs from the ceiling as guests chatter.
When warm weather returns, the greenhouses will be temporarily taken down and replaced with a bocce-ball court and whatever else Carol comes up with. This is classic Carol, says Beau Lindborg. “She has so many ideas and I’ll think she’s crazy. Next thing you know, it’s beautiful.”
Like all the furnishings both inside and outside the Union Social House, the shabby chic décor was cobbled together from yard sales, thrift stores, and online auctions. “All of these tables and chairs have a story. They’ve been gathered around for years,” says Carol, and she believes that history helps add to the atmosphere of the place. These tables are where the people in the North Main District came to forget all of the challenges that the year 2020 brought with it.
Those furnishings weren’t in the original plans for the pub, but one of Carol’s investors backed out after she had already signed the lease. In typical Carol fashion she found a way. She reached out to what she calls her “beautiful web of people” and pretty soon she was surrounded by an army of workers. That army did everything from run errands to paint chairs, and they are the “union” in the Union Social House. A giant wall of framed portraits can be found in one of the bar’s hallways, and there are far too many faces to count. Each one had a hand in bringing the place into existence.
The phrase “family bar” sounds a bit oxymoronic, but that’s what the Union Social House is. A table full of old men sit together laughing. They’re here most nights. A few girls in their late 20s make small talk over sliders and beers on the back patio. A few kids play around them. In non-pandemic times, they might come together around the many board games and darts that Carol keeps around.
On this evening, a couple of first-timers walk in the back door, and a group of regulars greet them with a nod and a smile. At some point during the night, they will become part of the family.