Wednesday, May 29, 2024 May 29, 2024
70° F Dallas, TX

A Girl Walks Into a Bar: The Fillmore

A little bit of Europe finds its way into downtown Plano.
photography by Sean McGinty

In order to feel right, a pub must have: snugs; wood; something delicious to eat that’s unequivocally bad for you; and space to hang out and talk. If it’s firing on all cylinders, it should also be a place where you don’t mind seeing a kid or two on a Sunday afternoon, a place where someone might just break into song. A pub, at its best, fosters community and warms you like comfort food. The Fillmore, a European pub in historic downtown Plano, felt like a neighborhood joint, in large part because of the crowd. Men in ties, presumably there postwork, friends in their 20s, women with tattoos, even a frail, much older woman with dyed black hair and penciled-in eyebrows. Some people of color, some people of hipster, a bartender with a Grizzly Adams beard, and enough bed head to fill two indie rock bands. Though there was a kids’ menu, there were no kids—and the one time I called the bartender to ask if kids would be okay in the afternoon, he seemed moderately surprised by the request. “They should be fine before 9” was his bemused answer.

The tables are large and small: two-tops for tête-à-têtes, large rectangles that invite table sharing between people who’ve never seen each other before. Standard bar etiquette dictates that anyone who sits at the bar itself, up at the front, is open to conversation. That conversation is generally limited to people on either side of you. One reason to love table sharing is that it opens you up to people across the table from you as well as next to you, creating more chance encounters, more possibility of surprising conversations (and more opportunities to use body language to create big, imaginary glass walls when said conversations go awry). The Fillmore was never crowded enough for the one big table to fill when I visited (on a Wednesday night and relatively early on a Saturday night), but the possibilities that big table suggested were as alluring as the fine beer selection.

And almost as delightful was the fact that the beers were served in appropriately shaped glasses. The friendly staff could and did make excellent recommendations when asked, and even allowed us to sample the tea-infused vodka (tastes exactly like tea and vodka—we stuck with beer). My stepsister tried Blue Moon, her beau drank the Dogfish Head IPA, and I sipped the Franconia Wheat—made in McKinney, Texas, no less. The whiskey menu we saved for another time, though I was tempted by two of my favorites, the 12-year Balvenie Scotch and Red Breast Irish whiskey. But that night I wanted beer with my burger (FYI: good burger and great fries), just as I’d wanted vinegar with my fish and chips on my previous trip (good fish, so-so fries). Plus, it’s fun to order from the drafts listed on big chalkboards; the impermanence of a chalked-in name adds a little gamble to a drinking choice—as if to say, This is here now but may not be next time.

People are encouraged to “live, play, dine, and shop” in the refurbished red-bricked streets of historic downtown Plano. There are pizza joints and eclectic shops. Candy boutiques and portrait painters. The street clocks would feel at home in Ye Merrye Olde England, and some of the preening youths walking the street, clearly on the prowl, could have made excellent characters in a Shakespearean play. Both times I was there, the streets were vibrant—filled with people, living, dining, and playing in Plano. (Sadly, no singing.)

The thing I love that this pub didn’t have? Snugs. Private nooks and crannies, often with frosted glass at head height. Snugs were designed to allow people to drink without being seen. A lady or a parson might nip unnoticed. I’ve always liked the coziness of snugs, chatting privately with friends in the midst of a public space, but snugs are not conducive to neighborliness. And since the Fillmore is in Plano, and not, say, in a tiny hamlet in rural Ireland where I was once tsked-tsked for ordering a full pint of stout instead of a more ladylike glass, well, a bargirl and a parson should be able to clink summer wheats and pass the time of day in the broad, open expanse of a public house.

Write to [email protected].