Fort Worth is one of the fastest-growing cities in America, and the fastest growing city in North Texas, so it’s no surprise that its entertainment options are surging at a record pace as well. It used to be that if you wanted to carouse in Cowtown and do some people-watching, you had two choices: downtown or the Stockyards. Now, you have at least two more bustling entertainment districts — West Seventh Street and the near south side. (These are the top areas to take visitors when they say, “What’s going on in Fort Worth tonight?”) So we take a look at what they are and what makes them different from each other.
Why it matters: It’s the heart of everything, where cowboys, culture and convention-goers intersect. With its low-rise, brick-lined, David Schwarz-designed cityscape, it’s a nod to Fort Worth’s cattle-trail past that usually impresses out-of-towners with its folksy charm. Yet it’s also home to classical music at Bass Hall and jazz at Scat Jazz Lounge, and a growing menu of fine-dining and nightlife options. In other words, this is no Mayberry.
Who goes: Office workers and downtown dwellers during weekdays, conventioneers, bar-hoppers, restaurant patrons, concert- and movie-goers, and families the rest of the time.
What’s there: AMC Palace movie theater (which will soon undergo major renovations), which is home to next weekend’s Lone Star Film Festival, as well as more established restaurants like Reata, Del Frisco’s and Mi Cocina, plus Bass Hall for the performing arts, and, now, Sundance Square Plaza, the new 1-acre gathering place in the heart of downtown.
Pros: Clean, lively and very walkable, Fort Worth’s downtown is often ranked among the best in America. The new Sundance Square Plaza should only help bolster that reputation. With it come new restaurants (Del Frisco’s Grille and Taco Diner to name a couple), an outdoor stage, fountains and a new space for festivals and performances. Cowboy-themed restaurants and shops reflect the city’s Western heritage, but downtown also has a very contemporary vibe, with everything from sushi spots, brewpubs and sports bars to live music and theater spaces.
Cons: If you’re looking for anything alternative, this isn’t really the place. Many of the restaurants are not unique to downtown, and the parking, once a plus, has become harder to come by. The price point has also crept up in recent years, but as downtowns go, Fort Worth’s is still affordable.
Near south side/
Why it matters: It projects a do-it-yourself mindset in which artists, musicians and restaurateurs came together to take over an older neighborhood (Fairmount) and one of its major streets (Magnolia) and recast them in their image. The result is one of the most eclectic and exciting stretches in Fort Worth.
Who goes: Everyone, though it generally skews younger than downtown. If you have a tattoo, own a bike, love tacos and prefer Arcade Fire over Blake Shelton, there’s a good chance you’ve been hanging out in the near south side.
What’s there: Restaurants — so many good restaurants. There’s the original version of North Texas’ best-known vegan restaurant, Spiral Diner; Ellerbe Fine Foods (selected by Bon Appetit in 2010 as one of the top 10 new restaurants in the U.S.); Nonna Tata; Lili’s Bistro; Shinjuku Station; and Paris Coffee Shop, just to name a few.
But there’s also a lively mix of bars and new hangouts, like Live Oak Music Hall, Brewed, Avoca Coffee and The Bearded Lady tavern. And if you love Prohibition-era cocktails, surely you’ve been to The Usual.
Pros: It gives Fort Worth the type of neighborhood you used to have to go to Portland to experience. There is a laid-back, stroll-down-the-avenue vibe there, especially during events such as ArtsGoggle and the upcoming Open Streets Fall 2013 festival Nov. 10, during which Magnolia Avenue will close to car traffic and come alive with music, family activities, food trucks and art demonstrations, and you’ll get a sense of why this has become one of the coolest places in Cowtown.
Cons: While it’s flush with restaurants — old and new, affordable and high-end — Magnolia Avenue is somewhat limited on entertainment options. Live Oak, opened last year, brought much-needed music cred to the area. The Citizen Theater, an arthouse movie theater project, is still in the fundraising stage. And without more shops or live music venues that keep humming late into the night, the area can be a bit sleepy sometimes.
Why it matters: History — not to mention great food, music and shopping. The Stockyards is Fort Worth’s nod to its rugged Western heritage, with a twice-daily cattle drive, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame and a dedicated ring for championship rodeo. But it’s also the place where locals and tourists go to get their yee-haw on, to shop at more than 25 Western spots and, yep, to “ride” a fake bull.
Who goes: Tourists from all over the world, but also locals who enjoy a good steak, a night of two-stepping or live music at any of a number of venues, most notably Billy Bob’s Texas, “The World’s Largest Honky Tonk.” Real cowboys and cowgirls mix with TCU students, making it one of the best places in town to spot the skirt-and-cowboy-boots look. But it’s also family-friendly, particularly during the day, with Wild West shows, vintage railroad trips, animal attractions and the cattle pen maze, which will keep the little ones busy for hours.
What’s there: Aside from Billy Bob’s, there is a solid mix of dining, music and entertainment attractions. You can chow down at steakhouses such as Cattlemen’s and H3 Ranch, or go upscale-cowboy at chef Tim Love’s recently reopened Lonesome Dove Western Bistro. Joe T. Garcia’s is a must-see Tex-Mex cathedral and outdoor patio, and there’s plenty of Texas barbecue, too, at joints like Riscky’s and Cooper’s.
Shops with hats, boots and belt buckles abound in the Stockyards, but so do some terrific smaller bars and live music venues, such as White Elephant, PR’s and Thirsty Armadillo. And it’s not all country music. The Steers & Beers Music Festival on Sunday (beginning at 4 p.m.) will showcase some of Fort Worth’s funkiest local bands.
Pros: It’s the perfect place to bring visiting friends and relatives who want to indulge in the cowboy way, but there’s plenty for locals to love, too. We never tire of checking out the famous wall of handprints at Billy Bob’s, or listening to a country strummer on the patio at Love Shack. And while you can certainly put on your pearl-snap shirt and ostrich boots, you certainly don’t have to to have a good time in the Stockyards.
Cons: If you’re not feeling at least a little bit country, you may not be able to appreciate the appeal of the Stockyards. Also, parking and traffic can be a hassle on weekend nights and at peak tourist times.
West Seventh Street
Why it matters: Practically a dead zone less than 20 years ago, and then nearly wiped off the map by the 2000 tornado, this corridor has quickly become one of the premier restaurant-bar-entertainment areas in Fort Worth. There’s plenty of shopping, too, and a swanky movie tavern, but it’s the nightspots (there’s even a bowling nightclub, Lucky Strike) and plethora of dining options that draw people here.
Who goes: Foodies, bar-hoppers, music lovers, the in crowd looking for the next best fill-in-the-blank. At night, there’s mostly a young crowd looking for a good time, but also more grown-up types checking out a concentration of restaurants ranging from moderately priced to “Whoa, I spent that?!”
What’s there: Lots of restaurants — Fireside Pies, Waters, Hacienda San Miguel, Brownstone, as well as other area joints such as Rodeo Goat (winner of DFW.com’s 2013 Battle of the Burgers), The Pour House, Max’s Wine Dive, Chuy’s, Gloria’s, Chimy’s, Times Ten Cellars and old-school favorites such as Fred’s Texas Cafe and La Familia. There’s also a vibrant local bar and music scene thanks to Lola’s, Capital Bar, Magnolia Motor Lounge, Poag Mahone’s, Durty Crow and Reservoir. You may also spot food trucks parked behind Poag’s or at the nearby Fort Worth Food Park.
Pros: Much of it is walkable — as long as you don’t try to cross Seventh Street too often. And it leads into the Cultural District, so you can make a day of it at the museums, grab a drink at a trendy spot like Bar Louie or Blue Sushi, then have dinner — everything from gourmet burgers and beer to Mexican and Mediterranean is on the menu. And you can still catch a movie or grab ice cream for dessert.
Cons: Parking is — how can we put this? — hell, especially at night. The area has grown so quickly, the available parking usually isn’t adequate. And while there is a wide selection of restaurants, quite a few of them are offshoots of mini chains (Chuy’s, Fireside Pies, Tillman’s Roadhouse), so the experience doesn’t always feel uniquely Fort Worth.