For the Love of Forth Worth
Published: June 2009
By Mario R. Mercado
No more living in the shadows— Fort Worth has come into its own
With a population of 500,000, Fort Worth is less than half the size of its neighbor to the east, Dallas, and in the past suffered in comparison (size matters in Texas). But the tables have turned, and Fort Worth has emerged as the envy of Texas cities: people live, work, and play in its revitalized downtown, and the new Bass Performance Hall simply adds to its already lustrous cultural reputation. For all that, the city has an ease and friendliness that comes from not appearing to take itself too seriously— after all, it was once known as Cowtown because of the role the cattle industry played in its development. Fort Worth has always been modest about what it has to offer, but maybe a little Texas-style bragging is in order.
The focus of the city's increased vitality is the 16-block Sundance Square, spearheaded by the four Bass brothers and named after the Sundance Kid (born Harry Longabaugh), who, along with Butch Cassidy, hid in Fort Worth between escapades. Here are some highlights:
DRAMATIC DEBUT The Nancy Lee & Perry R. Bass Performance Hall (Fourth St. between Commerce and Calhoun Sts.; 817/212-4200) is the new $65 million home of the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, Fort Worth Opera, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, and Van Cliburn piano competition. Combining elements of Vienna Secessionist and Beaux-Arts architectural styles, the interior is modeled after European horseshoe theaters.
MUSICAL CHAIRS An intimate 212-seat space, Caravan of Dreams (312 Houston St.; 817/877-3000) welcomes the likes of Buddy Guy and Lyle Lovett. After the show, climb up to the rooftop bar for a view of the square.
ACTING UP Casa on the Square (109 E. Third St.; 817/332-2272) presents small-scale musicals; Circle Theatre (230 W. Fourth St.; 817/877-3040) offers a mix of new and classic plays in a 125-seat black box; and Jubilee Theatre (506 Main St.; 817/338-4411) stages comedies, musicals, and adaptations of classics, all reflecting African-American culture.
GALLERY-HOPPING The Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art (309 Main St.; 817/332-6554) is a permanent exhibition of paintings by Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, and other Western artists. Until August 2, the Modern at Sundance Square (410 Houston St.; 817/335-9215), the downtown gallery of the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, presents "The Pictures of Texas Monthly: Twenty-Five Years"— expect billionaires and big hair galore. The Contemporary Art Center of Fort Worth (500 Commerce St.; 817/877-5550) spotlights regional artists.
WATERING HOLES A sleek, young crowd hovers at the 8.0 restaurant (111 E. Third St.; 817/336-0880). Nearby Reata (500 Throckmorton St.; 817/336-1009), 35 stories up, has two bars— one for vodka, the other for tequila and mescal.
moseying around the stockyards
Fort Worth became known (affectionately) as Cowtown when post-Civil War cattle drives stopped here as they made their way along the Chisholm Trail. The Stockyards National Historic District, two miles north of downtown, celebrates the city's past with remnants of the old livestock pens, as well as wooden sidewalks lined with restaurants, shops, and saloons featuring singing cowboys.
If you're looking for boots— and anyone who wants to be taken seriously in Texas should own at least one pair— head over to M. L. Leddy's (2455 N. Main St.; 817/624-3149), a legendary purveyor of boots, saddles, hats, and Western clothing. Choose from what's in stock or have a pair custom-made (from $500) using various skins, including calf, shark, and ostrich. Break them in on one of the walking tours run by Stockyards Station (817/625-9715). You may feel so darn good in those boots, you'll want to take part in a Friday-night rodeo at the Cowtown Coliseum (123 E. Exchange Ave.; 817/625-1025), site of the world's first indoor rodeo. Then again, maybe you won't.
deep in the art of texas
The Cultural District, an 800-acre area 11/2 miles west of downtown, is the site of some of the country's best art museums. This being a friendly town, they're all free (except for some touring exhibitions).
Kimbell Art Museum 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd.; 817/332-8451. One of America's great museum buildings— owing in part to 16 floating cycloidal vaults that provide natural, indirect lighting— the Kimbell was designed by Louis Kahn. Two recent acquisitions mark the museum's 25th anniversary: Paul Gauguin's 1885 Self-Portrait and a monumental Gandhara Buddhist sculpture dating from the second century a.d.
Amon Carter Museum 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd.; 817/738-1933. A preeminent collection of American art, including paintings of the Hudson River school, oils by Stuart Davis, and works of 400 photographers. There's more to look at than what's hanging on the walls: the museum— designed by Philip Johnson— has one of the best views of downtown.
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth 1309 Montgomery St.; 817/738-9215. It seems contradictory: the oldest art museum in Texas (chartered in 1892) possesses an outstanding contemporary collection. The Modern will be moving in 2002, when architect Tadao Ando's new 130,000-square-foot building is scheduled to open.
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History 1501 Montgomery St.; 817/255-9300. Once known as the Children's Museum, it contains hands-on galleries, the Noble Planetarium, and the outdoor DinoDig, where kids can pretend to excavate dinosaur bones.
Will Rogers Memorial Center 3401 W. Lancaster Ave.; 817/871-8150. Built in the 1930's as a project of the Works Progress Administration, this multi-use facility— trade center, auditorium, and equestrian arena rolled into one— is where you'll find the circus and the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show & Rodeo.
Casa Mañana Theatre 3101 W. Lancaster Ave.; 817/332-2272. Designed by R. Buckminster Fuller, this theater-in-the-round under a geodesic dome presents a summer-stock season of old standards and recent Broadway musicals. Keep an eye out for Carousel (July 719).
Fort Worth Botanic Garden 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd.; 817/871-7686. The 109-acre park includes a 200-variety rose garden, a Japanese garden and teahouse, a conservatory, and some 2,300 plants, both native and exotic.
Cattle Raiser's Museum 1301 W. Seventh St.; 817/332-7064. This place is a must for anyone interested in ranching, cowboys, or horses (the interactive Livestock Breed Wall furnishes images and details on more than 30 kinds). At the press of a button, recorded voices chronicling the cattle trade twang from cowboy mannequins throughout the artifact-filled halls. Absorbing, if a little spooky.
where to hang your hat
Worthington Hotel 200 Main St.; 800/433-5677 or 817/870-1000, fax 817/882-1755; doubles $205. The city's premier hotel spans three blocks at the northern end of Sundance Square. Opened in 1981, this 504-room property was the first project aimed at giving downtown its jump start. Although some find the sleek design a tad too modern and austere, the marble lobby's two-story water cascade makes for a refreshing welcome, especially in summer. The intimate dining room, Reflections, has an opulent gold-leaf ceiling, but the effect is oddly understated.
Radisson Plaza Hotel Fort Worth 815 Main St.; 800/333-3333 or 817/870-2100, fax 817/882-1300; doubles $179. The 517-room Plaza, built in 1921 as the Hotel Texas, bears the distinction of being the site of President Kennedy's final speech. Though it's now part of a chain, it retains the feel of a grand old establishment (its ballroom is the biggest in the city), with some peculiarities— such as Vickie, a parrot that spends the day idling in a cage above a lobby pool filled with carp and turtles.
Etta's Place 200 W. Third St.; 817/654-0267, fax 817/878-2560; doubles from $125, including breakfast. Opened in 1996 and named for Etta Place, a paramour of the Sundance Kid, this three-story bed-and-breakfast once housed performers appearing at the nearby Caravan of Dreams. It has a high-ceilinged music room, a library, and two courtyards. The 10 guest rooms all have private baths; three suites contain full kitchens.
Stockyards Hotel 109 E. Exchange Ave.; 800/423-8471 or 817/625-6427, fax 817/624-2571; doubles from $105. Decorations and furnishings don't get more Western than this. The new Hunter Brothers H3 Ranch Grill serves Texas steaks, trout, and spit-roasted pork. Be forewarned: the 52 rooms go quickly when big-time musicians (Waylon Jennings, Tanya Tucker, LeAnn Rimes) appear at nearby Billy Bob's Texas.
Miss Molly's Hotel 1091/2 W. Exchange Ave.; 800/996-6559 or 817/626-1522, fax 817/625-2723; doubles $95, including breakfast. In the Stockyards, a BñB with a past: once a boardinghouse, then a bordello, it now has eight rooms furnished with Old West memorabilia and names such as Miss Amelia (for the original proprietor of the boardinghouse).
THIS CITY HAS MORE ATTRACTIONS THAN A DOG HAS FLEAS
Thistle Hill 1509 Pennsylvania Ave.; 817/336-1212. How could anyone named Electra Waggoner— who met her future husband, Albert B. Wharton, while on an 1899 trip to the Himalayas— live in a house that was anything less than resplendent?Her restored 18-room mansion, built in 1903, survives as one of the best examples of Georgian revival architecture and a link to the Texas cattle baron era; it makes for a terrific house tour.
Fort Worth Water Gardens 1300 Houston St. A four-block downtown oasis of stepped gardens and water effects designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. Too bad you're not supposed to play in the water.
Legacy Trading Co. 500 Main St.; 817/870-0160. Bigger than his original Dallas store, Kelly O'Neal's monstrous emporium, the onetime Burk Burnett Bank, stocks antique beds, garden goods (check out the fountains retooled from cast-iron Vietnamese rice cookers), and, in the former vault, a cache of candles.
Botanical Research Institute of Texas 509 Pecan St.; 817/332-4441; tours on Thursdays or by appointment. The fascinating herbarium houses more than 850,000 specimens. A free evening lecture series considers native Texas orchids, furniture woods of the world, and plant fossils from Kenya.
Forest Park Miniature Train Ride 1989 Colonial Pkwy.; 817/336-3328. The country's longest miniature train route (five miles) connects the Fort Worth Zoo to the Trinity Park Duck Pond, where quackers wait for crackers.
where to eat
Angeluna 215 E. Fourth St.; 817/334-0080; dinner for two $70. Across the street from the Bass Performance Hall and its 48-foot-tall angels (hence the restaurant's name). A "contemporary global" menu means inventive dishes: roasted basil shrimp with mascarpone mashed potatoes, pork tenderloin with cheddar polenta and green apples.
Reata 500 Throckmorton St.; 817/336-1009; dinner for two $70. Named after the ranch in Giant, Reata has three dining rooms sprawling across the 35th floor of the Bank One Tower. Don't let the views distract you from Grady Spears's Southwestern cooking, such as the chicken chiles rellenos with goat cheese and corn-chowder sauce or the mesquite-grilled T-bone steak with cheese enchiladas.
Mi Cocina 509 Main St.; 817/877-3600; dinner for two $35. Tex-Mex, Southwestern-Mex, and real-Mex food are served in high-design rooms (granite tables, purple neon lighting) and on an enclosed patio.
Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House 812 Main St.; 817/877-3999; dinner for two $80. There is no shortage of steak joints in Fort Worth, but this is the best. The beef is prime and the surroundings— dark woods, alabaster light fixtures— are handsome. Have a drink at the oak bar before settling down to a 24-ounce porterhouse.
Michaels 3413 W. Seventh St.; 817/877-3413; dinner for two $60. "Contemporary ranch cuisine"— quail with grilled-orange jalapeño sauce, crab cakes with ancho chili cream sauce— meets a sleek interior with a complete series of Warhol's Cowboys and Indians prints.
La Piazza 1600 S. University Dr.; 817/334-0000; dinner for two $65. Excellent Italian food in a semiformal setting (no red-and-white checked tablecloths here). Try the seafood risotto prepared with white wine and cognac or the fettuccine all'amatriciana, with pancetta, tomato sauce, and chilies.
Water Street Seafood Co. 1540 S. University Dr.; 817/877-3474; dinner for two $50. In landlocked Fort Worth, this is the place for fresh seafood, much of which comes from the Gulf of Mexico. The mural above the bar says it all— it's an homage to Remington with cowboys riding sailfish instead of broncos.
Bistro Louise 2900 S. Hulen St., Suite 40; 817/922-9244; lunch for two $20. A Mediterranean spin on New American food, with fusion elements from Asia and Mexico thrown in. Especially popular for after-work tapas.
FORGET WHAT OPRAH SAID AND HAVE SOME BARBECUE
Angelo's Barbeque 2533 White Settlement Rd.; 817/332-0357; lunch for two $12, no credit cards. Don't choose between the beef brisket and the pork ribs; have both.
Railhead Smokehouse 2900 Montgomery St.; 817/738-9808; lunch for two $12. Love the sign above the door that advises, please adjust clothing before leaving.
Sammie's Bar-B-Q 3801 E. Belknap St.; 817/834-1822; lunch for two $12. Natives swear by the ribs cooked over oak. On Sundays, it's all-you-can-eat for $6.95.
Riscky's Barbeque 140 E. Exchange Ave.; 817/626-7777; lunch for two $12. This is Riscky's beachhead in the Stockyards; on the same street is Riscky's Steak House, Riscky's Catch (seafood), and Riscky Rita (Tex-Mex). Stick with the basic mesquite-smoked barbecue.
Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse 2621 N. Main St.; 817/626-7191; lunch for two $12. The Dallas fave now has four locations in Tarrant County, including one in downtown Fort Worth (150 Throckmorton St; 817/878-2424) and this outpost in the Stockyards.
my left feet
I knew I was in the right place when I looked up and saw, not a disco ball, but a mirrored saddle suspended above the dance floor. You see, I had come to Billy Bob's Texas ("the World's Largest Honky Tonk") for line-dancing lessons. Some people sneer at the popularity of this dance form— C&W tunes like "Achy Breaky Heart" don't help— but I was withholding judgment.
The appeal lies in the fact that you have no partner: it is a social activity, but has none of the pressures associated with ballroom dancing. You don't have to worry about asking someone to dance and being turned down.
Still, I was nervous when instructor Wendell Nelson, a characteristically tall Texan, summoned our group of 30 to the dance floor. Nelson welcomed us, said we would be starting with the Catwalk, and explained a few basics: you dance with just your legs and feet; you keep your hands still, except for an occasional clap, holding them behind your back or on your belt buckle.
First we would learn the steps without music. He demonstrated the first half of an eight-count sequence— right, two, three; left, two, three; right, two, three; left, two, three. We followed suit; so far, so good. He reversed the pattern and we returned to our starting position. Then he added music ("Cat Walk" by Lee Roy Parnell), which made the process easier, and we repeated the complete pattern. I get this, I thought. It's fun. But there were almost 50 minutes left in the lesson, and I realized we would eventually have to do something besides go forward and backward. To the basic eight-step combination, Nelson added shuffle steps, cross steps, clockwise and counterclockwise turns, rocking steps, a stomp, and a hip-roll I can only call provocative.
More than once, I spun left when I should have gone right. (Given the nature of line dancing, missteps are glaringly obvious, as are attempts at recovery.) I consider it a miracle that I did not step on or collide with anyone— thank God, because a Tush Push gone awry is a recipe for disaster.
Billy Bob's Texas 2520 Rodeo Plaza; 817/626-7117. Dance lessons: Thursday, 7 p.m.8 p.m., included in $3 admission; Saturday, 2:30 p.m.3:30 p.m., $3 in addition to $1 admission.
the lion sleeps tonight (the kids do, too)
"Wow! That fish is as big as my dad!" said the towheaded seven-year-old boy. Not quite. Then again, maybe it was: the South American pirarucu can grow to 15 feet.
The aquarium was the first stop on the Fort Worth Zoo's overnight program, "Roar, Snore & Animal Lore." We began with an orientation at the education center, where we deposited sleeping bags, then had a pizza dinner at one of the open-air restaurants. Despite their formidable zoological knowledge, our three young guides— Harold, Staci, and Stacey— were part-time staffers and had various professions (doctor, teacher, modern dancer).
While at the aquarium, we investigated one of the newest exhibits, Penguin Island. Penguins in Texas?Yep: the African version is one of three species of penguin that live in temperate climates. Children (and adults) were absorbed in watching the birds' aquatic antics. From there we proceeded to see the prehistoric-looking Komodo dragons; a captivating temporary exhibit of albino alligators; and the zoo's Texas section (which featured some shy but beautiful red and Mexican gray wolves hiding in tall grass). At one point, we passed a modest corral full of goats, most of them craning their necks over the rail. One lone goat stood distant from the others with his hind end to us— in what a kid on the tour called "the time-out corner."
In the African Savannah, we stepped along boardwalks over various animal environments, including the one for cheetahs. We were 16 feet above them but it sure seemed like less. Occasionally, one would take notice of us and become very still, hypnotic in its gaze. "A six-year-old child," Stacey whispered to me, "is about the size of a cheetah's natural prey."
By now, it was dark and time to return to the education center for a snack. Before we called it a night, Harold brought out three animals: a Louisiana pine snake, a tenrec (which looks like a hedgehog), and a small American alligator that inspired oohs and aahs from the children and caused some parents to take a step back. Although it was between two and three years old, the gator was only 18 inches long. Harold encouraged the children to touch the reptile with their pinkie ("the touching finger"), but only on the tail.
After breakfast, the counselors brought in more animals, including a penguin. The African variety is also known as the jackass penguin because of its loud, donkey-like bray, which Harold, down on the floor at penguin level, was successful in eliciting. Then we went out into the pleasant coolness of the early morning, retracing part of our itinerary in order to observe the critters' activity in full daylight. Soon it was mid-morning and time to go. For 16 hours, though, we had had the place to ourselves— give or take another 776 animal species.
Fort Worth Zoo 1989 Colonial Pkwy.; 817/871-7050. Roar, Snore & Animal Lore, 817/871-7055; $30 for each person ages six and older, including meals.
more family fun
Six Flags Over Texas 2201 Road to Six Flags; 817/640-8900. Now part of Premier Parks, this original is the best of the group, with more than 100 attractions. Best ride: the 14-story Texas Giant roller coaster.
Ballpark in Arlington 1000 Ballpark Way; 817/273-5100. Home to the Texas Rangers, the Ballpark opened in 1994 as a baseball-only stadium. It also has a 17,000-square-foot museum devoted to America's national pastime.
Texas Motor Speedway 3601 Hwy. 114; 817/215-8500. Rising from the prairies 22 miles north of Fort Worth like a modern-day Colosseum, the mammoth TMS, with more than 150,000 seats, represents the state of the art in car racing. (If you're lucky, Sparky the spark plug, shown at right, will make an appearance.) The second-largest sports facility in the country, it also stages big-time pop concerts.