A $195 bottle of Dom Perignon sold in mid-October, a few weeks after the newest Ginger Man opened in Southlake. The bar keeps two or three bottles on hand, the way all North Texas Ginger Mans (Ginger Men?) do, but it seemed an unlikely choice at a quintessential beer bar with 63 brews on tap and about 75 more in bottles. Everything about the Ginger Man says pub: dark wood, barmen in ball caps, snack list with cheese platters and roast beef sandwiches. But someone in Southlake was celebrating and called for the bottle of Dom advertised on the chalkboard in bright letters. The bar is, as I write this, less than a month old. It opened in late September, the owners hoping to offer an alternative to folks who might otherwise have to drive to Dallas or Fort Worth. It certainly feels different from the Dallas and Fort Worth locations. The one in Dallas is housed in a building that’s more than 100 years old. The Southlake version occupies part of a pristine, new red-brick shopping center. Jared, the jewelry store, sits next door; Central Market is nearby; and I stopped by an AT&T store after my beer to get my iPhone fixed. The Southlake building is more sterile than Dallas’, a manager told me, more up-to-date and modern. All these things seemed true.
By mistake, I arrived for my first visit during Oktoberfest (I didn’t know Southlake celebrated the occasion). The pub spilled over with people. The guys sitting next to us upstairs played cards and games. I think I saw a Jenga set. The men across from us were middle-aged and dressed to kill: shirts that were a little young for them, too expensive for the casual setting, hair that was carefully arranged to draw a woman’s eye. I don’t get looked at much these days. I radiate “married mother of preschoolers” and “woman with things to get done,” but that night, out with my stepsister and her beau, I did draw looks. I passed a pair of men standing in the stairwell and felt the glare of frank appraisal. I imagine that dating in your 40s and 50s is very different from the dating I did in my pre-kids 20s; how much more complicated it must be. Not something the twenty somethings on date night downstairs had to worry about, nor the older couples who looked long married. Nor the crowds of friends, wrapped tight in circles, absorbed in private merriment.
The Ginger Man Southlake is, like all the Ginger Mans in Texas, owned by the same folks—Steve Schiff and Christy Zirnheld of Houston— and they’ve had their eyes on Southlake for a while. When the Wine Loft space opened up, they moved in and made it their own. There are traditional Ginger Man elements: a staircase and the open patio where smoking takes place, the wall of inviting taps, an unobtrusive TV, the tip of the hat to J.P. Donleavy in the name itself. In feel, it’s meant to be most similar to the Ginger Man Plano, in the Shops at Legacy. (I’ve only been to the ones in Austin, Dallas, and Fort Worth.)
There’s a lot to be said for small chains. The Ginger Man Dallas is a place I loved in my youth. Once owners figure out how to run something, how to do it well, it makes sense for them to use what they’ve learned in new ways. Although the Ginger Man Southlake had been open only a few weeks when I popped in, both times the operation felt smooth, the staff professional and easy. The Southlake general manager was a manager at Fort Worth for five years. That has to help.
My best friend’s husband moved out a few months ago. It’s been hard to watch in the way that marriage disintegration is hard to watch. (And watching is nothing compared to living through it.) I thought about her and the men on the stairwell, who looked divorced and ready for what’s next. I thought about what might be possible between people who can take what worked well and begin someplace new. I thought, too, that if and when she gets ready to take what she knows and apply it newly and differently, then that will be a day to order a $195 bottle of Champagne, even if we’re in a pub with 63 beers on tap.