Tuesday, March 5, 2024 Mar 5, 2024
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Bar Review: Urban Rio Cantina & Grill

The second-floor lounge is the kind of place you could take your mother.
By Tara Nieuwesteeg |

There I was, sitting at a bar in Plano with my parents and brother, listening to Ludacris’ “Sex Room” thrum over the speakers. My mom and dad weren’t fazed. They were busy looking at the expansive, glowing bar, with all the shimmering liquor bottles nestled behind it. My 21-year-old brother was eyeing the cocktail menu. This is not how I usually go about barhopping.

In honor of my mother’s birthday, my partner in crime, parents, brother, and I had gone out to dinner at Urban Rio Cantina & Grill. My mom doesn’t spend much time in bars, but after dinner, she felt like a birthday beverage. I suggested a trip up to On the Rocks Cantina, Urban Rio’s second-floor lounge. I’ve written about bars and drinking-related shenanigans for quite some time now, but my family had never before witnessed the magic of my work.

Crisp flat screens and a pop-music playlist are standard bar accoutrements, but the rest of the decor threw me—until I learned that this was the original Plano Ice House (circa 1917). Then the ceiling-mounted ice tongs and light fixtures resembling ice blocks made more sense. The crowd? A mix of mid-20s to early-50s sweet couples. Beer-drinking bros. At least one family in search of tequila.

Still, downtown Plano is a place I associate with a quaint park and copious antique shops, so I didn’t expect things to get too crazy. Robin, our pretty blond waitress, offered kind words about the owners (Bonnie and Nathan Shea, who also own Plano pizza spot Urban Crust) and recommended the house margarita. La Verdadera (“The Real Deal”) arrived in a salt-rimmed, color-splashed glass.

“Smooth, clean, no bitter aftertaste,” Robin said. 

Best of all, it was large. My mother looked at my companion and asked who was driving. (Very mom.) Then she looked at my brother, who was downing a strawberry-grape-gin cocktail. Before she could say anything, he informed us that he went to high school with one of the bartenders. (Very Plano.) He dared me to ask the guy about his love for Katy Perry. “Who’s Katy Perry?” my dad asked.  

Robby was tall and friendly with a dark scruffy beard. He brought us a frozen Jack and Coke to taste. My brother enjoyed it, but my very manly companion sulked that it was “too sweet.”

At the mention of Katy Perry, Robby whipped out his phone. His background is a photo in which he is smiling like a fool and has his arm tucked around a certain pop star. She even looks mildly okay with it. “Three hundred dollars for pit tickets. Four hundred dollars for backstage passes,” he said. “Worth every penny.”

He then recounted the debonair tactics used in persuading Perry to kiss him. “No woman can ever live up to her,” he lamented. “ ‘Hey, girl, want to kiss the lips that kissed Katy Perry?’ ”

After some music-related repartee, my parents bid us adieu. But I wasn’t done. Out on the patio, the live music had started. On the way to check it out, I made friends with a good-looking couple. Curtis was bearded and wiry; Jamie was pretty with blond streaks in her hair. How’d they end up here?  

“It’s date night, and we didn’t feel like Mi Cocina or Gloria’s.”

My eyes drifted to the La Verdadera in front of Jamie.

“I’m going to feel good after this,” she said.  

Soon, Robby offered to give us a quick tour of the expansive room upstairs. It’s used for banquets and private parties, and in the clear night, we could see the lights of Dallas in the distance.

“You could even have your wedding here,” Robby said.

My brother suggested an open bar. (Good thing my parents were gone by then.) My companion and I exchanged a glance. A nice night with my parents and some wedding planning? That’s what I call family-friendly.


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