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Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Five Days in Ft. Worth, Day Five
Home for the holidays, this travel journalist approaches her hometown with the fresh perspective of a traveler.
Five days is scarcely enough time to build a new relationship from scratch. There's so much to learn that only time can reveal. However in some cases, five days is enough to rekindle a romance, or at the very least, revive some interest in it. Sometimes it's enough to remind you that there was something you valued about it to begin with.
And so it has been with the relationship between myself and my hometown. It's true that we were never in love. When I was younger, I never had the feeling that Ft. Worth was where I would live my whole life; or even where I belonged. I wasn't sure where that place was, it just didn't seem like it was in Cowtown.
But after 14 years away, with only intermittent visits, the past five days in Ft. Worth have given me a fresh perspective on the city that I spent my childhood and teen years in. I've been reminded what I valued about it to begin with: the cross-culture, the music, the food, the relationships with the people I care about. The city has grown and changed, and so has my relationship with it.
In the years since I moved away, I've traveled all over the world. Most of the time, it's hard to even scratch the surface with less than a week unless one has some pretty good insider information. Thankfully, I still know plenty of insiders here. They're all friends and family, however. Which means that some days, I don't get to go out. I have to catch up with people. On my fifth day home, this is what I do.
My mother and I stay in our pajamas all day, pop open a bottle of champagne, and watch George Bailey help Clarence get his wings. For me, it's the perfect end to my time in Ft. Worth.
But it may not be yours. After all you don't know my mother or where she lives. So for the rest of you, here's an itinerary for one of the most popular destinations in the city if you're in search of the real flavor - and smell - of Cowtown.
In the mid-1800s, what had been a sleepy little army fort and settlement overlooking the Trinity River after the Mexican-American War became a stop on the famed Chisholm Trail.
Credit: Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau
Millions of head of cattle were run from all over the region north to Dodge City, Kansas. Cowboys would come through with their heard, stop to stock up on rations, and blow off a little steam one last time before the long drive north into no-man's land.
In 1893, after the addition of a railroad to the already strong cattle industry, a local businessman formed the Fort Worth Stockyards Company. The city had staked its claim to fame.
Located just under three miles north of Downtown's Sundance Square, the Stockyards National Historic District runs along Main Street at Exchange Avenue. Street parking and lots provide ample space for stowing your car. Once you're there, everything is within walking distance.
The old cattle pins and slaughter houses are still there, although they no longer work as such. Now they're home to shops, bars, museums, and restaurants. Although there are re-enactments of cattle runs through the streets of the district; check the Stockyards website for details.
The main drag really is Exchange Avenue. Lined with saloons named things like Booger Red's and Filthy McNasty's, it's hard to know where to start sometimes, I know. I like to start at the seminal White Elephant Saloon near the corner of Exchange and Main.
The hats that line the ceiling of the White Elephant come with some famous signatures.
With live music - leaning heavily toward country, for obvious reasons - every night, it's one of my favorite spots in this neighborhood. People still wear cowboy hats and Ropers here without a hint of irony. In the late 1800s, there was a well-publicized shoot out in front of the White Elephant. It's as authentic as the district gets.
The Stockyards was a working cattle industry hub until the 1960s when the two largest meat packing houses closed their doors. The history is exciting and rough, and you can learn more about it by tripping down Exchange to the east and visiting the Stockyards Museum and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. You can even prevent yourself from walking the next day by going on a horseback ride from the stables located near the Hall of Fame, if you'd like the full western experience. Contact Stockyards Stables for more information.
Spend the afternoon wandering the district - if you can still wander after that horseback ride - and find your own favorite spots. At the opposite end of Exchange from the museums is Pearl's, a dancehall and saloon that folklore has it was started by Buffalo Bill Cody when he arrived and decided the neighborhood's nightlife was lacking. In response, he opened Hotel Pearls, a bordello.
The last stop on this itinerary is one of the most hallowed institutions in Country Music. If you're a Country fan, you've most likely heard of it. If you're not, you'll get it once you're there. Either way, head on into the world's largest honky tonk, Billy Bob's Texas.
From Exchange Avenue, cruise up Rodeo Plaza and you'll come face to face with the legend. Superstars of the Country scene still play here regularly, and the venue is the perfect size for intimate shows with people you otherwise may not see outside of a stadium.
On nights when a huge headliner isn't there, you'll find solid local acts and smaller touring bands that have a lot to offer.
There are dance lessons at least once a week so you can get your two-step on without fear, and there's a bar about every three feet inside the gigantic space.
When you're tired of all the line dancing and the games of pool on dozens of tables, there's the bull riding. And not on the mechanical bull, either. They sadly did away with the old girl a long time ago. I remember it from when I was a kid. No, I'm talking about the real bulls, being ridden by the pros.
Billy Bob's prides itself on the fact that it operates a full size rodeo arena in one end of the complex. This is definitely where you get the full sensory experience of the Stockyards. It brings new meaning to the phrase dinner and a show.
And see? You got out and didn't have to sit at my mom's house all day in your pajamas.