25 Reasons We Love Fort Worth
The city is mighty cosmopolitan for a "Cowtown." The cattle drives are just for show--but the avant-garde theater, floating museum, and white-water rapids are the genuine article.
1. Hungry, pardner?
Fort Worth has long defined itself as the opposite of its flashy neighbor, Dallas. Walk into Railhead Smokehouse BBQ, and you'll have no doubt where owner—and state rep—Charlie Geren stands on the matter: Everything reflects Cowtown's down-home roots, including the beer served in goblets and the platters of pork ribs and barbecued chicken. In case diners need reminding, staff T-shirts say "Life is too short to live in Dallas." 2900 Montgomery St., 817/738-9808, railheadonline.com, two-meat platter $10.
2. Blazing saddles
While the daily cattle drives (see no. 7) are just for show, rodeos at the Cowtown Coliseum are serious business. Contenders, some nationally ranked, face off in open rodeos held every weekend (121 E. Exchange Ave., 817/625-1025, cowtowncoliseum.com, $15). The action spills over into the bull-riding ring and dance floor at Billy Bob's Texas, where there are 32 drink stations and a mirrored saddle in place of a disco ball (2520 Rodeo Plaza, 817/624-7117, billybobstexas.com, cover up to $10).
3. The buck starts here
All U.S. paper currency comes from just two sources: Washington, D.C., and Fort Worth. The latter's Bureau of Engraving and Printing produces billions of notes annually, each with a tiny FW on the front. On 45-minute weekday tours, you can check out the production floor and learn about anti-counterfeiting features—like watermarks and color-shifting ink—being used on bills. 9000 Blue Mound Rd., 817/231-4000, moneyfactory.gov, free.
4. Stage coaches
In 2000, a group of Texas Christian University alums formed Amphibian Stage Productions, naming it after the mascot of their alma mater, the horned frog. "I worried that our aesthetic might be too much for people," says artistic director Kathleen Culebro. (One play, by Shaun Prendergast, was performed in the dark.) Evidence proves otherwise: Ever-growing audiences attend the readings and fully staged productions. 817/923-3012, amphibianproductions.org, readings by donation, plays $20.
5. Swim at your own risk
Created by a dam on the West Fork of the Trinity River in 1914, the 3,500-acre Lake Worth was once a pleasant retreat for a swim, but in recent decades it's become a murky, shallow pool. Quirky tales have grown up around it, including sightings of a goat man—a monster with a human body and the head of a goat—in 1969.
6. Billionaire benefactors
Once riddled with gambling joints and brothels, Sundance Square takes its name from the Sundance Kid, who hid out there between robberies. In the '70s, the billionaire Bass family began buying up blocks of property and turning them into a lively neighborhood. The area is now home to the Sid Richardson Museum (309 Main St., 817/332-6554, sidrichardsonmuseum.org, free); the Fort Worth Water Garden, designed by Philip Johnson (1502 Commerce St.); and Bass Performance Hall, remarkable for its superb acoustics and the giant angels on its façade (4th and Calhoun Sts., 877/212-4280, basshall.com).
7. Herd mentality
Fort Worth was nicknamed Cowtown when it was a major stop along the Chisholm Trail, a cattle-drive route from southern Texas to Kansas. Today, the Stockyards district still has brick streets, saloons, and two daily (albeit symbolic) cattle drives. At 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m., tourists line up to watch 15 Texas longhorns amble down East Exchange Avenue. fortworthstockyards.org, free.
8. Light touch
Even in the Cultural District, with four other world-class museums nearby, architect Tadao Ando's gorgeous Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth exists in a world of its own. The five glass pavilions appear to float on a shallow reflecting pool; inside, skylights illuminate works by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, and Cindy Sherman. 3200 Darnell St., 817/738-9215, mamfw.org, $10.