Last year I had the privilege of taking my first trip to gay Dallas and its surrounding environs. New Yorker that I am, I was suspicious of any and all vendors (Those polite, gracious, easy-going manners! What do these people want from me?!) Much to my surprise, no one aimed a gun at me, shoved a bible in my face, or beat me up for being queer. Don’t spread the good word to Rick Perry, but Texas has oodles of gay men all over Big Butch Cowboy Boot Country, which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense.
My biggest surprise, however, came in the form of a smaller package than those strapping lads carry—nearby Fort Worth. About 40 minutes from JR country, Fort Worth easily ranks as one of the most charming cities under what we snobs call the flyover states.
With the homey atmosphere of Austin and the dazzle of Dallas, Fort Worth is a sophisticated “small town” city. Downtown reminds me a bit of Seattle, with its shops and eateries, all within several square blocks. Here you’ll find clothing stores and cowboy-souvenir stores and pastry shops along with great restaurants around almost every corner. You’ll also find cheaper prices than in The Big Apple’s Bite.
By the way, if you’re a steak eater, don’t leave the Lone Star State without indulging in the beastly good cuts. I’ve been to Ruth Steakhouse before, but the one in Fort Worth had the most amazing slice of prime rib I’ve tasted; and the onion rings are the size of inner tubes.
There’s also a comedy club and, aye, there’s the rubbers, two gay bars—The Rainbow Lounge and Club Reflection. Both feature go-go dancers and hot bartenders and drag queens galore, and both bars are on the same street, on opposite sides of the lane. One taxi ride, two bars! Yes, the driver knows the address. No, he won’t blink when you tell him your destination. While a raid occurred at the Rainbow Lounge on the 40th Anniversary of Stonewall, that’s not stopping the men from hitting either bar – they pack up! Half a million gay people are estimated to live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and after a day or two, you’ll feel as if you’ve met them all. That either means they’re extremely friendly or my travel companion’s a tramp… I was alone.
For comfort, Texas-style, a stay at Ashton Hotel is a must. Once inside, you’ll discover an elegant lobby, sophisticated patrons, and the coolest restaurant/bar in town, the Six 10 Grille. My bartender’s name was Michelle, and we became fast Facebook friends. (She’s smiling right now, as I know she’ll be reading this.) Texans love to talk, and by my second night Michelle knew my life story, and I knew all the other regulars at the bar. Rooms are gigantic, with high ceilings and stark elegance. This is where the cool people stay and the attitude gets the boot.
Come morning, you’ve got the Stockyards to check out, a veritable feast of an actual rodeo, a cattle drive, and saloons aplenty. Do hit Billy Bob’s Texas, which, at 100,000 square feet, feels roughly the same size as a suburban strip mall. If you’re in the market for an authentic cowboy hat, here’s a good place to shop. Yes, the Stockyards are touristy, and yes, it’s still worth the visit. Make sure to check out the twice-daily cattle drive, and do not touch the beasts—those sexy Texas drivers, that is.
Fort Worth has an artistic temperament too. Bass Performance Hall is a sumptuous complex that houses opera and symphony and Broadway touring shows. You’d expect a place like this in snooty Beantown or uppity New York, but here? The Lone Star State has surprises galore. Whatever your Texas desires, at least take a trip around the building for the renovated architecture and heavenly angels perched outside. They’re each 48-feet tall and divinely statuesque.
A lunch restaurant favorite is the coffee-shop-casual-ish Brewed, where hipster surrounding are only matched by ordering the Duck Fat Fries! If you want something on the elegant side for dinner, hit Ellerbe Fine Foods, which still offers up amazing cuts of beef (everything served here is local), but doesn’t mess with the battered deep-fry obesity-inducing dishes. Did I mention they have great steak?
A short distance from downtown is the Fort Worth Hilton, formerly known as the Hotel Texas, which has the distinction of being both a first-class sleepover spot, as well as the last address of President John F. Kennedy. On the morning of November 22, 1963, Kennedy gathered outside of the hotel to deliver his last public speech before embarking on that fatal motorcade drive to Dallas. General Worth Square has a permanent exhibit in honor of the President, and the business-savvy hotel is filled with photographs and tributes to Camelot. Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of his assassination, several events are being held. Click here for more details.
Texas is a driving town, but there is a train that travels from Fort Worth to Dallas proper every day. Visit Trinity Railway Express (TRE ) for details. It’s a short trip to the JFK Museum from the Fort Worth Hilton, by train, and highly worth the trip to get a feel for such an integral part of American history. Ask your concierge for directions to the train station. The museum is unique in that you can spend ten minutes here, and look out the infamous window where Lee Harvey Oswald fired his gun, or you can spend hours watching audio clips and photographs and taking the guided tour.
The Dallas/Fort Worth train doesn’t run at night, so if you do plan on doing a Dallas bar craw, either rent a car and don’t drink, splurge on a taxi or limo, or split up your trip and spend a couple of days in each location.
Fort Worth weather can be sizzling hot or it can snow; check the forecast before you go. And when in doubt, eat. Grace is good for eats or pre-dinner cocktails and another dinner must is Reata, which has an upstairs, outdoor eating area for warmer nights, and an apple crisp dessert that’s so good they let you take the recipe home with you.
My home that last night was the Ashton, where I tipped my hat to Michelle, told her I’d keep in touch, and said good night. If you see her, be sure to say hi. I miss her, and her home star state.
For travel to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, check out Orbitz’s extensive gay and lesbian listings. The site sets you up with gay friendly cities, hotels, cruises (you name it) all over the world. All it won’t do is pack your boots.