FORT WORTH, TEXAS – Twinned cities are almost like twin siblings, in which one may overshadow the other. Think of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota or Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina or even Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.
In the case of the latter, the city of Fort Worth should not have to worry about its “Big D” twin, because it has plenty to offer visitors when it comes to history, culture, food and fun. And during a recent press tour to this city just 30 minutes west of Dallas, I got the chance to experience all of the above.
Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District
If you want an authentic taste of the old west, then the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District is the place to be that western buckaroo that you so desired from watching all those John Wayne movies.
The nerve centre of this district is Billy Bob’s Texas, which covers three acres and is regarded as the world’s largest honky tonk, attracting over 17 million visitors since it first opened its doors back in 1981. The moment you enter Billy Bob’s, you are fully immersed into a complete country and western music experience, whether you want to catch a live show, have a drink, grab a meal or marvel at the venue’s many displays and exhibitions.
First of all, Billy Bob’s Texas has a large dance floor where you can two-step to the classic or latest line dancing moves. When I was there as part of a six-person adult staff group escorting over 100 BBYO teens to Billy Bob’s as part of a Sunday sightseeing trip, we got a private 90-minute dance class, where we learned a total of eight dance routines led by a qualified dance instructor who taught us every routine step-by-step. By the time the 90-minute session was over, we practically mastered the art of C&W line dancing.
As well, check out the honky tonk’s wall of fame (where cement hand prints from such country and rock music legends as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Huey Lewis and the News are prominently displayed); take a picture on its pro mechanical bull machine (where over 50,000 visitors have ridden and bucked for nearly 40 years); check out the impressive display of autographed guitars at the Guitar Bar or the wall of backstage passes from a wide selection of concerts; or catch a live show featuring some of the top names in country and western music (the March schedule of shows include Justine Moore and Sammy Kershaw).
As you stroll along the Stockyards’ main street of Exchange Avenue, discover the many shops along the street in order to get your genuine western gear, whether they be shirts, bandannas, cowboy hats, boots, belts or giant belt buckles … and they are all within close proximity to each other. I highly recommend Maverick Fine Western Wear, Fincher’s White Front Western Wear and M.L. Leddy’s, which has a wide variety of western clothes and gear for any taste and budget. And for souvenirs, stop at the nearby Stockyards Station, which is a railroad station converted into a covered mall that contains all kinds of souvenirs stores, food shops and restaurants.
For a live recreation of life in an old west town, the Stockyards certainly meets up to that expectation with stagecoach rides, staged western gunfights, and an authentic cattle drive (just like you saw on the 1960s CBS western series “Rawhide”), which takes place twice daily at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Forth Worth Texas museums to see
Fort Worth has its share of museums for any lover of history, heritage and art. Speaking of the latter, two art museums, which are located within close proximity to each other within the city’s Cultural District, are really worth visiting to appreciate its respective impressive collections.
The Amon Carter Museum of American Art is a virtual history of the complexity and diversity of over 200 years of American sculpture and painting from the early years of the republic to modern times. From Saint-Gaudens’ famed sculpture of Diana that once graced the roof of the original Madison Square Garden to the majestic portraits of John Singer Sargent, the Amon Carter Museum is a first class showcase of how America saw itself on canvas and marble. And fans of the old west will be left breathless with the museum’s sizeable collection of paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, whose recognised works of art helped to create the romanticised image of the pioneers, cowboys, cavalry troops and native Americans that gave the history of the American West its longtime mythical portrayal.
The Kimbell Art Museum caters more towards lovers of classic art by some of its greatest masters. From ancient times to the early 20th century, these artists are duly represented within the walls of the Kimbell. Only a portion of the museum’s nearly 350-strong permanent collection are displayed to the public; however, the list of painters whose works are there represent a who’s who of the world’s best artists in history: works by such notables as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, El Greco, Rubens, De Goya, Velasquez, Gainsborough, Turner, Picasso, Monet, Matisse and Van Gogh are just a partial list of what you can see when you visit the Kimbell (and by the way, the Van Gogh painting is the only one that’s not allowed to be photographed). Combine that with the Renzo Piano Pavilion, a gallery that combines concrete, glass and steel that offers a well-lighted, tranquil atmosphere, and you get the ultimate art museum experience, as you have the rare chance to be face-to-face with the great art masters.
Fort Worth Aviation Museum and Petting Zoo
And while we’re on the subject of museums, aviation buffs must have the Fort Worth Aviation Museum on their itinerary. The museum’s impressive collection of artefacts and memorabilia is a vivid testament to north Texas’ vast contribution to the world of aviation, from the Cold War era B-36 Peacemaker intercontinental strategic bomber, the recreation of a briefing room of the OV-10 Bronco aircraft unit, to the simulator cockpit for a T-38 advanced trainer. There are also veteran Air Force pilots on the premises to guide visitors around the museum and share their stories of their experiences flying high into the wild blue yonder.
One major highlight of the museum is their Air Park Petting Zoo, which contains 27 authentic aircrafts, fighter jets and helicopters from the Korean War era to today. It’s a great opportunity to get up close and face-to-face with many of the American aircraft that dominated the skies throughout 60 years of history.
Forth Worth Texas downtown core
Fort Worth’s downtown area is a lively mix of shopping, restaurants, culture and history. Its nucleus is Sundance Square, the city’s main shopping, business and entertainment district that encompasses 35 square blocks of urban real estate, where you can enjoy some fine dining, shop until you drop, relax and unwind, enjoy a show or activity, and learn a little bit about the city’s colourful past.
One vivid example of the latter is the Chisholm Trail Mural, an epic, colourful three-storey high painting by artist Richard Haas, and located in Sundance Square Plaza, that pays tribute to the many cattle drives that shaped Fort Worth during the 1800s. It’s an eye-catching attraction for anyone who visits downtown Fort Worth.
Fort Worth also has the historical distinction of being the city where John F. Kennedy made his final public speech on the morning of November 22, 1963 before he made his fateful stop in Dallas that afternoon. Kennedy, on a four-day pre-election swing through Texas, spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, and made an impromptu public appearance to the large crowd that gathered outside the Hotel Texas, where the breakfast took place. To mark that occasion, an impressive tribute memorial was erected outside the site of the hotel (which still stands today, but it’s now known as the Fort Worth Hilton), which includes pictures of Kennedy during that morning in Fort Worth as well as an impressive 8 foot-tall bronze statue of the late 35th President of the United States by Lawrence Ludke. A very fitting tribute to a much beloved and greatly mourned president.
Probably the most serene and dazzling public attraction in the downtown area is the Fort Worth Water Gardens. Located next to the Fort Worth Convention Center and designed by renowned American architect Philip Johnson, the water gardens combine modern architecture and clever engineering to show that spraying and cascading water can be a work of art and pleasing to the eye at the same time. It contains three different water pools (aerating, quiet and active) and they automatically captivate the visitor to provide a marvellous way to unwind after a long day of work or touring. And if you want to spend an extended time watching the waters run in such a creative manner, a multitude of chairs are available throughout the water gardens.
Black Eyed Distillery
After a day of touring, stop off for a drink, some relaxed atmosphere and plenty of good talk at the Black Eyed Distillery. Housed in a restored fire station, the distillery makes its own brand of vodka on the premises; the major – and unique – difference is that the vodka is made from black-eyed peas.
It’s distilled 22 times, thereby ensuring that you are drinking the smoothest vodka on the market (and after sampling a straight shot, I can certainly attest to that). The upper level of the distillery houses a bar and restaurant, where you can order your choice of original mixed drinks from its sizeable menu. I chose the John Dailey, which is sort of like the evil cousin of the Arnold Palmer drink, and is made with Black Eyed Vodka, sweet tea, lemonade and garnished with lemon and mint; the end result is a refreshing cocktail that certainly scored a hole-in-one with me. Add to that the friendly service behind the bar by the amiable Payton Lindsey, who also serves as the distillery’s head of operations & sales, and will chat you up with plenty of stories behind the vodka and its signature mixed drinks, which makes the Black Eyed Distillery the ideal place for an end-of-the-day nightcap.
And now, a word about the food: Fort Worth has no shortage of restaurants and eateries where you can experience some fine dining, grab a quick meal, enjoy homemade fare and of course, dig into some Texas BBQ.
Start off with breakfast at Yolk in the downtown area, which has locations across the Midwest and the South, and offers a large menu of comfort food-style breakfast dishes (I went with the chicken and waffles plate, which was dee-licious).
For lunch, check out Hooker’s Grill on North Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards district. This outdoor eatery has a great selection of Texas BBQ lunch items, but try their signature fried-onion burger, which had its origins nearly a century ago in neighbouring Oklahoma, that contains a juicy Hereford beef patty, mustard, pickles and of course, plenty of fried onions.
Stop off for dinner at the Bearded Lady near the cultural district, which offers dozens of craft brewed beers – many of them from small Texas-based craft breweries – and a menu of not-your-average bar fare dishes; I chose something unusual but no less delicious, which was an entire diner-style meatloaf and mashed potatoes dinner place between a large bun.
And for dessert, go across the street from the Bearded Lady for a scoop of some fresh, made-on-the-premises ice cream at the Gypsy Scoops ice cream parlour. The décor is vintage small town malt shop (including a pantry filled with classic penny candy store items for sale), but the ice cream is out of this world; try the Lucky Charms ice cream, with plenty of pieces of that famous General Mills cereal in every scoop.
A special thank you to Sarah Covington of Visit Fort Worth for her endless support and help in making this trip possible. For more information of what to see and do in Fort Worth throughout the year, go to www.fortworth.com.