A new pub is coming to Henderson Avenue from one of Dallas' pub pioneers: Feargal McKinney, owner of Old Monk, who snagged the space vacated by J. Black's, the Austin spinoff that closed on May 2 after five years in the space.
"I'm excited to do something fresh and new in the neighborhood I know so well," McKinney says. He doesn't have a name set in stone; for the time being, he's calling it Skellig, after a pair of islands off the coast of Ireland.
McKinney was early on Henderson Avenue: It was 17 years ago that he opened Old Monk, which had a hand in making Henderson Avenue the entertainment hub it is today. And in a scenario that defies the usual Dallas drill, the crowd at Old Monk has not ebbed. Nor has it ebbed at Idle Rich or Blackfriar Pub, McKinney's two similar yet not identical pubs in Uptown.
"We've never been busier," McKinney says. "We've been so lucky with the Old Monk. And I do like Henderson Avenue. It's pretty exciting with all the changes that have been coming there."
McKinney had been itching to do something new. "I was looking in East Dallas in general," he says. "There's a lot of excitement on Greenville Avenue too, which is great to see after the street went through such bad times. But when the J. Black's space became available, I struck a deal with the landlord."
He won't have much renovation to do. "The work that J. Black's did was still in great shape," he says. "We'll do a remodel, and then menu and drinks development. I'm looking at October to open, but we're not in a rush."
He has some ideas about what the new pub will be, but they're not yet fully formed.
"It's not anything I can verbalize right now, other than it's going to be a pub — that's my world," he says. "But it'll be a neighborhood pub. I've lived half my life here now, so it'll be a little more local, a little more American. Sometimes it's hard to verbalize what we do. It doesn't make for stunning press. We don't have marquee chefs, we don't make the biggest headlines."
He may not make the biggest headlines, but he does successfully create a warm, hospitable atmosphere at all of his pubs, each of which is similar yet has a unique personality that matches its address. All have become reliable neighborhood destinations, with great patio action, good beer lists and good-quality pub food.
He cautions that he's using Skellig only as a temporary name and isn't committed to it. "When I was home for a visit last year, they were filming some scenes for the new Star Wars movie so it was in the news," he says. "I like the sound of it, but I haven't decided whether I'm really going to call it that or not."