Visiting Dallas? Think contemporary art, not BBQ

Hoof Among Us | Fort Worth Herd longhorns walk the bricks of Exchange Avenue for the world’s only twice-daily cattle drive

Nasher Sculpture Center

Bishops Art District

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Best picks for eating your way through Fort Worth

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Best picks for sleeping your way through Fort Worth

Both Dallas and Fort Worth defy (and embrace) tradition in one of America’s fastest-growing metropolises

While stereotypes may be shorthand for the lazy, in each stereotype lies a grain of truth. Take Texas, for example. America’s second-largest and second-most-populous state is an increasingly cosmopolitan and diverse place, with big cities that rival Chicago, L.A. and New York for culinary and cultural excellence. And yet, in other ways, the Lone Star State lives up to its reputation for doing things big, brash and with an unmistakable twang.

That contrast—new and old Texas, if you will—is most evident in the twin cities of Dallas and Fort Worth. Often lumped together because of their namesake airport (DFW is equidistant from both cities), the two cities paint a complex portrait of what’s happening in one of North America’s fastest-growing urban regions. (The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington CMA is the fourth-largest metro area in the U.S. and trails only Houston, down state, in growth; it added more than 131,000 people from July 1, 2013, to July 1, 2014, while New York-Newark-Jersey City, ranking third, added 91,000 during the same period.)

Fort Worth is often the forgotten half of the region, as far as tourists go, but it’s also the best place to explore that dual personality. If outsiders know anything about the city, it’s the famous Stockyards—where a twice-daily cattle drive sees 16 longhorn cattle (owned by the local tourist board) paraded down the main cobblestone street, or where Billy Bob’s (the world’s largest honky-tonk bar) hosts line-dancing lessons, bull-riding demonstrations, and a slew of country and western stars. But the pretty former trading post (and current home to corporate giants Bell Helicopter, Lockheed Martin, American Airlines and Radio Shack) is also a renowned centre for art, with the acclaimed Kimbell Museum (designed by Louis Kahn and Renzo Piano) and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth (designed by Tadao Ando) upping the cultural ante.

It’s not just starchitect-designed museums that are shifting perceptions about Fort Worth. Increasingly, the city is taking cues from other livable cities around the world and revitalizing former industrial, low-density neighbourhoods. Among the up-and-comers: the West Seventh District, which in the past five years has emerged as a major restaurant and entertainment district (and like Vancouver’s Yaletown, chockablock full of eligible yuppies); the Near Southside, which is home to edgy fusion eateries, craft breweries (like Rahr & Sons) and distilleries (Firestone & Robertson, the only artisanal bourbon distillery in North Texas); and Panther Island (a waterfront redevelopment on the Trinity River being modelled after Granville Island).

Dallas—the better-known face of the region—is similarly bifurcated in its character. On the one hand are the gleaming corporate towers made famous on prime time soaps and the unrelenting spread of asphalt. But like Fort Worth, the Ewings’ hometown has developed a serious reputation for art—the Dallas Art Museum and Nasher Sculpture Center are considered world-leading institutions—and a growing recognition for its funky, if far-flung, neighbourhoods. Among the highlights: the Bishops Art District (Dallas’s answer to Main or Commercial, replete with independent retailers and bohemian coffee shops and bakeries); Trinity Groves (a brand-new 15-acre entertainment district, central to which is an innovative “restaurant incubator” of rotating culinary concepts); and Deep Ellum (a former warehouse district now the heart of Dallas’s live music scene). 

Yes, the city still has vast stretches of highways and byways—and features a rather sterile downtown dominated by the sombre legacy of John F. Kennedy’s assassination (though the excellent Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is not to be missed). But increasingly, the city is escaping the shadow of its towers, its freeways and its dark political history—and along with Fort Worth, helping to put the region on the global tourism map.