Many years ago Drew Kennedy told me that he’d just played the coolest venue he’d ever stepped foot in. The name of said venue, The House of Fifi Dubois. I was awestruck at the name. That had to be the coolest venue name I’d ever heard. Then he began to tell me about the place and the people that make it special. I was surprised that such a cool hamlet would find itself in the no man’s land of San Angelo just down the block from perennial favorite venue and bar of your dreams Blaine’s Pub. I bookmarked Fifi’s in my brain at that moment and decided that I would venture to San Angelo to see this place for myself.
It only took me seven years to get there…but it won’t be seven months before I go back.
The first thing you notice about Fifi’s is that it sits in a row of vintage shops on Chadbourne Street in downtown San Angelo, sharing a block with the famous Fuentes Cafe. A funky canopy announces the name from the street in a stylish throwback font that encompasses the first taste of vibe you feel about this place. Once the sun sets, the barfront is adorned in red Christmas lights that draw your attention and give the place the warm, nostalgic feel it’s searching for.
Upon entering you are immediately transposed to a different time. A time when music was everything. A time when it held the answers to your problems. All of your problems. A time when the melodies lifted your spirits higher than you thought possible. The age of original vinyl, pirate radio and outlaws across all genres. Shabby chic décor true to the time period and the sense of home at every turn. If your home was the grooviest, coolest music venue for hundreds of miles.
The joint is owned by Toni and Fifi herself. That is young Fifi on the logo for the place. Big city transplants, Toni is the soul and Fifi is the brains of the operation. Toni is a veteran of the DFW music scene and came up with folks like Mark David Manders playing such venerable Dallas area haunts as Love and War and Poor David’s Pub. The space wasn’t originally intended to be much more than a place for the women to showcase their art, antiques and friends…but quickly evolved into what you see today. Toni’s love of music couldn’t be denied. The night we visited, Toni quickly leapt out of her seat to personally greet us. I thought she might be just going out of her way for an out of town guest, only to witness her do it time and again to nearly each table, patron, musicians and vagabond that wondered through the doors. Hugs, backslaps, laughs and stories accompanied each interaction…as long as the music wasn’t going on.
When the music starts at Fifi’s, everything else takes a back seat. Toni serves as emcee, DJ, and host of it all. Much like James Brown, she does not tolerate swearing onstage…but she does want you to dance. The dancefloor stays packed even on breaks as Toni fires up a specially tailored Spotify playlist of songs that fit the mood. The booking calendar is as eclectic as what you find inside the four walls of Dubois. Toni explained to me, “I grew up in the 70’s when you could find radio stations playing Waylon alongside The Clash and I try to keep that energy and spirit going with what we do here.” She does a damn good job of it.
You’re as likely to find an acoustic songswap as you are a funky dance party band. Wednesday nights belong to the classic country dancing group. And some nights the amps are cranked to 11 for rock n’ roll.
Statesboro Revue were the headliners the night we visited this west Texas gem. LA based Jaime Wyatt in Texas for a run that culminates as SXSW was the opener. The Mann boys were fresh off a west coast run that had found them palled up with Wyatt and her hired guns. Wyatt has a style both visually and aesthetically that recalls Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price. It’s an airy southern California twist on retro country that manages to still remain modern. Just the type of offbeat booking that Toni revels in. Wyatt set the stage for Statesboro and the Allman Brothers-influenced rockers never let the throttle disengage. Road weary and tired from a 3 week run, Fifi’s found the band on their last stop before finally heading home to New Braunfels. That last gasp of adrenaline, combined with a couple trays of shots had the band in ace form.
Stewart Mann commanded the stage with the lanky swagger that has made Statesboro a must-see live act. All was rolling along swimmingly until Mann broke one of Toni’s rules…an f bomb emanated from the stage. It was a joyous one…soon followed by a second one. Stewart immediately and sheepishly realized his error and smiled at Toni before apologize on the mic. Toni even showcased her former DFW musician chops, sitting in on harmonica and singing a Stones song with the band. She doesn’t play around…in the best way possible. She turns the TVs in the bar off once the band starts. Fun Toni fact…she graduated high school with a guy named Radney Foster. Awesome.
The wide dancefloor was hit and miss with customers on this night, but everyone was in tune with the music coming from the stage. As you face the stage, the array of decorations catches your eye, chief among them being the vintage, fully refurbished Airstream trailer in the right hand corner. The trailer is available to rent out during shows and for private parties. Just don’t get too private. Fifi related a tale of catching a couple sneaking in there to acquaint themselves carnally before being asked to leave the establishment. That’s how comfortable folks feel here.
Perhaps the coolest design feature in the bar is the bartop that was hand made and decorated by the owners themselves. They hand cut and glued famous photos and album covers that exemplify the energy they are chasing with Fifi Dubois. As you work your way through some of the tastiest cocktails you’ve ever had and make pleasant conversation with the extremely professional and cool bar staff, you will find yourself staring at history. Your history. Fifi’s history. Toni’s history. Music history. It’s everywhere.
Do yourself a favor. The House of Fifi Dubois should be on every true music fan’s list of must see venues. Check out their calendar and make a roadtrip to see a show there. You can even stay in the boutique hotel that Toni and Fifi own called Flamingo Flatts. It’s within walking distance of the club and houses the same mystique and spirit that Fifi’s does.
I was blown away by the class, personality and charm of this venue and the women who make it happen. The world, not just the music scene, needs more folks like Toni and Fifi. Stop by, say hi, jam out and have the time of your life at The House of Fifi Dubois.