Liquid sky

Fort Worth's Flying Saucer offers a cozy space for quaffing alien beers

What's gotten into Fort Worth lately? A few years ago, you could have filmed a sequel to The Omega Man downtown, the place was so deserted. Now you can't squirt a stream of Copenhagen without hitting one of the hundreds of amiable boulevardiers who pack Sundance Square on weekends. The City Fathers are right: Fort Worth is not just for shitkickers anymore.

The warm crowds are being drawn more by decent movie, restaurant, club, and pub options than any comparable area of Dallas can offer (better architecture, too). One of these options is The Flying Saucer, a restaurant-pub housed in a 100-year-old brick structure that formerly was a land and title office.

It's the kind of place to warm any undergraduate's heart, as it offers an excellent venue for quaffing beer and exchanging philosophies. The free-standing, two-story building features four dining, drinking, and schmoozing areas, each one presenting a slightly different ambiance.

There's a lounge where first-daters can sit secluded in dark, plush chairs and sofas to determine whether their minds are likely to meet. There's a long, gleaming bar behind which ranks of beer-keg taps from many countries are proudly displayed, like flags at the United Nations. This is the area where singles mingle. There's the outdoor patio with picnic tables screened from the sun by a green canopy--a likely spot for families or those who enjoy fresh air with their food. And then there's the bar and gaming room upstairs, which has an appealing, turn-of-the-century bordello feel and offers dominoes, billiards, cards, checkers, and chess.

Though the bricks, the two bars, the billiard tables, and the beer are enough to create an authentic pub feel, management has added a decorative gimmick by plastering the ceiling with the plates and saucers that give the place its name. As you pause to glance up, thinking of some telling analogy that will drive home your argument, you'll see images of Charles and Di, the Beatles, Lyndon and Lady Bird, Sulu, Spock, and Snoopy, and, of course, Elvis, beaming encouragement back down on you from their plate portraits.

Patrons can also earn a place of honor on the ceiling by sampling 200 different kinds of beer.

The menu, naturally, is composed of things that make you want to drink beer. It's mostly German food--bratwurst and knackwurst (smoked and grilled); potato salad; sauerkraut; pretzels; a variety of sandwiches; cheese, fruit, and sausage plates; turkey sticks; and (how did they crash the party?) hot tamales.

Given the notoriously lackluster reputation of pub food, the grub here is surprisingly good, especially the wurst plates, which come with a couple of plump, tasty sausages and some zingy, robust potato salad. Also worth trying is the cheese soup, a thick, clotted concoction served in a bread bowl that has quite a peppery kick to it. When the hot cheese melts the fresh bread, it creates a textured fondue that you can capture in a spoon, rather than with an unwieldy fondue prong. Though a liverwurst pate is on the menu, this really isn't a pate kind of place, and you'll do well not to order a watery mess that wouldn't pass muster at a deviled ham cannery.

Another drawback: This is one of those "cigar-friendly" joints where stogies are on the menu, so you've got to put up with cigar faddists pretending to find gourmet enjoyment in hot tobacco smoke.

While it seems a stretch to rhapsodize over cigars--even though entire magazines do these days--beer is a different matter. Beer is, after all, golden, like the sun; pale, like the moon; or russet, like the hair of an Irish colleen. Vikings drank it out of horns. Cowpokes washed trail dust off their tonsils with it in rowdy saloons. Lewis and Tolkien imbibed thick, dark pints of it while discussing dragons at the Bird and Baby Oxford. In short, beer is awash in romance and history, and you're part of a large and grand tradition when you drink it. It's tasty, too.

There's a wide variety of beer on tap at The Flying Saucer, which does not brew its own suds. This, in a way, is a good thing, because microbreweries, while generally offering quality beer, usually have a limited selection. That is their downfall. After sampling the typical complement of a light beer or lager, an amber ale, and a dark stout, there is nowhere left to go.

Here, by contrast, they have on draft brew from a variety of great beer-making countries, including Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, and the United States. That's right--with its flourishing minibreweries and growing legions of discriminating hopheads, the United States qualifies as a top beer-crafting nation.

There are the typical international standouts, including Guinness Stout, Bass Ale (with which to toast the coming opening of the grand Bass Recital Hall, right across the street), Heineken, and Harp. There's also Pilsner Urquell, a Czech beer billed as the original pilsner; Paulaner Oktoberfest, a smooth, superb German beer; Young's Oatmeal Stout from Britain; and a variety of other browns, bitters, ales, and lagers.

Domestically, you can select from more than two dozen regional labels, including Seattle-brewed Double Black Stout, Boulder Amber, and Rolling Rock of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, home of Arnold Palmer and my own Mum. Texas is well-represented by beers with such characteristically suave names as Yellow Rose Bubba Dog, Main Street Alien Ale, and Yellow Rose Vigilante.

The menu of bottled beers is even more expansive and eclectic, with selections from China, Africa, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, and Mexico. About 200 brews all told are available at any one time.

Beer on draft is generally preferred by veteran swillers, however, as it's smoother, fresher-tasting, and less fizzy than bottled beer. It's also more temperamental. Kegs are sensitive and can be affected by the weather. On a recent warm day, three consecutive orders of different draft beers came back flat, a heartbreaking letdown, particularly when your whole being craves the solace that beer can bring.

On another trip, though, each draft seemed fresher, mellower, and more satisfying than the last. That's the secret of good beer--it wears well--as does this genial, well-appointed pub.

The Flying Saucer, 4th and Commerce in Sundance Square, Fort Worth. (817) 336-7468. Open Monday-Wednesday 11 a.m.-midnight, Thursday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.-midnight.

The Flying Saucer:
Wurst plates (bratwurst, knackwurst, or cajun hot links) $8.75
Liverwurst pate $6.50
Beer cheese soup $3.75
Baked pretzels $1.95

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