Insider Guide to Fort Worth

Apr 19, 2011

by ROBERT LA BUA

There are two sides to Texas, the Lone Star State, and at Dallas Fort Worth airport (DFW) there is a choice of which to embrace. Dallas, to the east of DFW, has a fine array of nightclubs and shopping malls. Fort Worth, to the west, is less homogenised, more compact, less intimidating and, to the initiated, more essentially Texas. While Dallas strives for tacit recognition by the East Coast establishment (protests notwithstanding), Fort Worth is a Western city confident of its own style.

Yes, Fort Worth’s Camp Bowie Boulevard sees the occasional car with cow horns as hood ornament – and only those of Texas longhorns will do. The classic version has them attached to the front of a 1976 Cadillac Eldorado, though they are also present on newer Cadillacs or the occasional extended-bed, four-door pick-up truck. Along with big hair, big belt buckles, and big welcomes, the cow-horned car is one of the stereotypes come to life in the Lone Star State. But stereotypes aside, Fort Worth has never been reluctant to embrace innovation alongside its historic past. Added to its mix of friendliness, small-town sense of community (it’s the kind of place where neighbours still have block parties and a wealthy stranger has been known to pick up the tab for a young couple when overhearing a wedding proposal in a restaurant) – and a whole lot of cattle – is a sophisticated array of museums and art centres.

Texas is the US state that is most similar to Australia in mentality: kindliness towards guests, appreciation for wide-open spaces and a big beef industry are the most obvious similarities. Less obvious is the wry humour that has locals slipping funny lines into their conversation, further enlivened by that trademark Texas drawl. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss them – then people will wonder why you don’t have a sense of humour.

Fort Worth calls itself the City of Cowboys and Culture and has a lot of both. For more than 100 years the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo has been a pageant of dedication and skill. Like all professionals at the top of their game, the rodeo riders make it look easy to rope a steer at full gallop or stay atop a tonne of angry bull. Alongside the entertainment rides some serious business. The auctions of livestock include cattle, sheep and llamas; and attract an international pool of bidders. Raising prized livestock involves more than throwing feed into the yard. It takes years of breeding and care to create the ideal cow, the flawless sheep or the perfect pig.

Just north of the Stockyards, the Kimbell Art Museum, designed by Louis Kahn, houses an eclectic collection of European art with several famous masterpieces including the earliest Michelangelo opus, The Torment Of Saint Anthony (c1487-88), painted when he was 12 or 13 years old. Similar to Madrid’s excellent Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Kimbell does not attempt to compete with the Louvres, Tates and Mets of the world, but rather pursues its own path as a showcase for a comparatively small but eminent selection of works.

Fort Worth is also home to the Amon Carter Museum, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This well-respected institution is famous for its priceless American sculpture collection, which includes not only the works of celebrated artists Frederic Remington and Charles M Russell depicting scenes of the American West, but also those of modern American luminaries such as Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson. Conditioned as we are to seeing art of the American West as somewhat kitsch and superfluous, it is a revelation to see this collection of masterpieces. The Amon Carter is also home to one of the largest photographic collections in the US.

Between 1836 and 1845, when it was annexed to the USA, Texas was an independent country, the Republic of Texas, with its own president, General Sam Houston. That independent streak remains very much part of the local psyche. However, as with most American cities, Fort Worth is now a microcosm of the entire country. Among the populace are renowned scholars, multi-pierced teenagers and vibrant immigrant communities to boot.

No article about Fort Worth is complete without a mention of Billy Bob’s Texas, which bills itself as “The World’s Largest Honky Tonk”. The claim is confirmed immediately upon entry into the complex – perhaps even earlier if trying to find a parking space in the 9ha car park on a Saturday night.

In a building so large it served as an aircraft factory during WWII, Billy Bob’s is an indoor amusement park for adults, with bars and restaurants, of course, plus a bull-riding arena, performance stage and a dancefloor where linedancing lessons are offered free every Thursday night.

The fun is infectious; even the normally highbrow will end up bootscootin’ their way across the floor before the night is over. A huge success since opening in 1981, Billy Bob’s has been the setting for scenes in several films and music videos, and is still going strong in its 30th year of business.

If the Dallas TV series had been called Fort Worth, perhaps fortunes would have been different and tourists would be asking, 20 years after the show’s demise, for directions to Wildcatter Ranch rather than Southfork. As it is, Fort Worth remains quintessentially Texan. Even the Ewings went to Billy Bob’s.

Fort WorthWhile Attractions

CBD round-up

To experience the essence of Fort Worth, see the Herd, The Stockyards’ cattle round-up where real cowhands drive Texas longhorns through the streets just as they did in the old days. Watch from East Exchange Avenue twice daily at 11.30am and 4pm. The cattle can be viewed at other times in their pens behind the Livestock Exchange Building.

Performance

The performing arts arewell represented at the Bass Performance Hall. Also enjoy the Fort Worth Opera Festival (featuring one of the oldest companies in the US), the Ballet Folklorico Azteca, which offers classes in traditional dance, costumes included, and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

This year’s Fort Worth Opera Festival season (May-June) includes classics such as Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and Verdi’s Il Trovatore as well as the avant-garde Allan Ginsberg-Philip Glass collaboration, Hydrogen Jukebox. More information is available at worthgoing.com

Art observed

The Amon Carter and the Kimbell are rightly famous for their outstanding collections. Don’t miss the Modern Art Museum’s collection from the second half of the 20th century, housed in a dramatic Tadao Ando-designed building. The American Airlines CR Smith Museum is a must for airline buffs, one of the few in the world dedicated to commercial aviation.

Eat

Tex-Mex, Texas barbecue, fine dining – no-one ever leaves Fort Worth hungry. As would be expected in a beef capital, the preparation of steaks is truly an art form unto itself. Try a hand-cut 12oz ribeye at Hunter Brothers’ H3 Ranch to judge for yourself. For a dner franais in a refined, rustic atmosphere, Saint-Emilion is the place.

Stay

The Stockyards Hotel offers rooms and suites with names such as Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy, Davy Crockett – you get the idea.

Equally “Texas”, The Ashton is a genteel establishment where gracious hospitality of a past era lives on.

Urban waterhole

The Fort Worth Water Gardens are at the edge of the downtown area. The terraced steps of the active pool allow visitors to be surrounded by waterfalls.

Cowgirls without the blues

The surprisingly diverse history of women in the American West comes to life at Fort Worth’s National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Influential but uncelebrated heroines, such as rodeo pioneer Fern Sawyer, are recognised with the same enthusiasm as singer Patsy Cline.

In the park

The Texas Native Forest Boardwalk is one of the verdant pleasures of the Forth Worth Botanic Garden. The Fragrance and Water Conservation Gardens are other areas to explore.

In the pink

Q Cinema, Fort Worth’s international gay and lesbian film festival (June 2-5) takes place in the historic Rose Marine Theater. Now in its 13th year, they’ve added theatre to the program.

Rodeo to the max

If you miss the Stock Show (January), you don’t have to miss out on the cowboy action. There’s a rodeo every Friday and Saturday night throughout the year at the Stockyards.

Source Qantas The Australian Way May 2011

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