Despite its decent size, Fort Worth still feels like a small town, and plenty of young people looking for a bigger scene split for Big D on weekends. Still, Cowtown has a few good nightlife options, especially at the two extremes of the scale: high culture and cowboy culture. Whether you're inclined toward opera, symphony, and theater, or up for some boot-scootin', Fort Worth has some fine venues. Exchange Avenue in the Stockyards is where you want to be on weekends for some hot Western swing, Texas shuffle, and honky-tonk tunes. The street becomes a cruising strip of souped-up trucks, guys and dolls in cowboy and cowgirl finery strutting their stuff, and dancers ducking into honky-tonks and cowboy discos. Meanwhile, Sundance Square is full of bars, restaurants, cafes, and movie theaters, and is mobbed on weekend nights (luckily, there's plenty of free parking after 5pm and on weekends right in and around the square). City Streets, 425 Commerce St. (tel. 817/335-5400), is a one-stop-shopping entertainment complex, generic and mild-mannered but popular with visitors for its range of bars, lounges, and pool halls -- and, of course, happy hours.
For listings, check out the "Entertainment" section of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram or check the weekly listings posted on its website, www.dfw.com. For tickets, try Arts Line at Ticketmaster (tel. 817/467-ARTS [467-2787] or 214/631-ARTS [631-2787]; www.ticketmaster.com) or Texas Tickets (tel. 817/277-3333).
The Performing Arts
Elegant Bass Performance Hall (tel. 877/212-4280 or 817/212-4280; www.basshall.com) is one of the top places in the country to see a musical or theater performance. Home to the distinguished Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, its stage has welcomed an eclectic range of productions including The Nutcracker, Handel's Messiah, Madame Butterfly, Broadway shows (such as Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk), and pop, jazz, and country concerts by the likes of Tony Bennett, k.d. lang, Nanci Griffith, and Pink Martini, as well as dance/theater performances such as Stomp.
Casa Mañana Theater, 3101 W. Lancaster, at University Drive (tel. 817/332-2272; www.casamanana.org), is the country's first permanent theater designed for the musicals-in-the-round. The aluminum geodesic dome with an oval stage recently underwent a $3-million renovation. Casa, as its known locally, has been around for more than 50 years, and it puts on a wide range of dramas, comedies, and musicals, and is home to one of the top children's theater operations in the United States, mounting productions such as Aladdin.
The Jubilee Theatre, 506 Main St. (tel. 817/338-4411; www.jubileetheatre.org), is home to intimate African-American theater, staging such dramas as Brother Mac (adapted from Shakespeare's Macbeth) and A Raisin in the Sun, as well as musicals such as Lysistrata Please (a rock version of the Aristophanes classic) and Road Show, an original production.
The Rose Marine Theater, 1440 Main St. (tel. 817/624-8333; www.rosemarinetheater.com), a movie theater dating from the 1920s just south of the Stockyards, has been restored and converted by the Latin Arts Association; here you'll find plays in Spanish, Latin films, and other arts targeting the Latino population.
The Bar Scene
The oldest bar in Fort Worth and the site of the city's most famous gunfight in 1897, White Elephant Saloon, 106 E. Exchange Ave. (tel. 817/624-1887), is an authentic Cowtown saloon, a great place to knock back a Lone Star longneck in the afternoon or check out some live Western music nightly on the small stage. The atmospheric bar is decorated with donated hats (from the likes of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jimmie Dale Gilmore) and cases of porcelain and ceramic white elephants. There's also a nice beer garden, with live bands under the trees.
Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 111 E. 4th St. (tel. 817/336-7470), is a beer snob's dream, boasting 75 beers on tap and 125 bottles, including a slew of American microbrews and exotics such as Belgian guerze and German seasonals. For the novice or anyone looking for something new, there are "flights," sampler trays from around the world. The place can get rowdy on weekends with cigar-smoking types and TCU students, but it's still one of the best places in Fort Worth to wet your whistle. Food tends toward such beer-complementary items as bratwurst and beer cheese soup (yes, you read that right). It also features an eclectic roster of live music on weekends. A swank bar with an outdoor patio and live music in warm months, 8.0 (tel. 817/336-0880), just off Sundance Square, is frequented by Fort Worth's young and beautiful. The outdoor rooftop bar Grotto, complete with waterfall, at Reata is another great place for a drink before or after dinner.
The one place that's practically a required stop in Fort Worth is Billy Bob's Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza (tel. 817/624-7117; www.billybobstexas.com). A cavernous barn for prize cattle in a former life, this absurdly large honky-tonk, a symbol of Texas for many people, has it all. With 40 bar stations, a monster dance floor for hard-core boot-scootin', a rodeo arena, video games, pool tables, mechanical bulls, and pro bull riding, it's 125,000 square feet (er, 7 acres) of country-and-western heaven. Open for over 20 years, Billy Bob's continues to draw the biggest names in country music, including George Jones, LeAnn Rimes, Willie Nelson, and Jerry Jeff Walker. Its fame is such that you'll see real ropers in their best hats and tight jeans, drugstore cowboys, and a swell of German and Japanese tourists, all soakin' up the flavor. Located in the heart of the Stockyards, Billy Bob's does business Monday through Saturday from 11am to 2am, and Sunday from noon to 2am. The cover charge varies according to the musical act; day visits cost $1. Don't miss the pro live bull riding on Friday and Saturday at 9 and 10pm; admission is $2.
Another "Texas-size" honky-tonk is the family-owned and -operated Stagecoach Ballroom, 2516 E. Belknap at the corner of Sylvania, off Airport Freeway (tel. 817/831-2261; www.stagecoachballroom.com), a real contender for most authentic old-time ballroom in Texas. It sports traditional country music and dance, and is a good spot to pick up some moves if you're not exactly a smooth-footed kicker. Wednesday is Ladies Night, and cover for live music guests is usually $15. (There is live music on Wed and Fri-Sun, beginning at 7pm. Thurs nights are newly dedicated to "smoke-free" C&W, Big Band, and Back to the '50s dancing, 6-10pm; $5 cover. Also, look for Lone Star Talent Night contests on Tues.)
Sadly, the poetically named Big Balls of Cowtown, one of my very favorite dance halls, where classic Western swing was practiced with a fervor, is no longer around. The space is inhabited by Pearl's Dancehall & Saloon, 302 W. Exchange Ave. (tel. 817/624-2800; www.pearlsdancehallandsaloon.com), featuring live traditional, Western swing and honky-tonk music Wednesday to Saturday. Although it's a bit spiffier in its new incarnation, it's still the coolest spot in the Stockyards for nontouristy C&W music (featuring name acts such as Dale Watson) and dancing. Free dance lessons are given every Wednesday at 6:30pm.
Also in the Stockyards District, there's often live country music at Rodeo Exchange, 221 W. Exchange Ave. (tel. 817/626-0181), and Ernest Tubb's Record Shop, 140 E. Exchange Ave. (tel. 817/624-8449), the latter only on Saturday afternoons.
Everybody, Get in Line -- If you want to learn to line dance, shuffle, and two-step like a Texan, why not do it in one of the most famous honky-tonks in the world, Billy Bob's Texas? Wendell Nelson is the dance man who will lead you -- and even the whole family -- through the basics. Free classes are Thursdays at 7pm for the family. Call tel. 817/923-9215 for additional information. For a more intimate experience, waltz and swing classes are also offered every Wednesday at 6:30pm at Pearl's Dancehall & Saloon (tel. 817/624-2800).
Other Live Music
Sadly, Fort Worth's premier jazz venue, Caravan of Dreams, bit the dust several years ago. And while nothing has sprung up to fill its big shoes, there are a handful of other live music venues in town that don't go the country route. Sardines Ristorante Italiano features the live jazz of Johnny Case. The top rock venue in town is the Ridglea Theater, 6025 Camp Bowie Blvd. (tel. 817/738-9500; www.ridgleatheater.com), a hip, restored 1940s Art Deco theater that plays host to touring rock bands, including alternative flavors of the month. Aardvark, 2905 W. Berry St. (tel. 817/926-7814; www.the-aardvark.com), is a cool small space that hosts a wide-ranging roster of pop, alternative rock, and neo-folk acts with small cover charges Tuesday through Saturday.
The top blues joint in town, celebrating 2 decades of the blues, is J&J Blues Bar, 937 Woodward St. (tel. 817/870-2337; www.jjbluesbar.com), just north of the Cultural District. A little down 'n' dirty -- how else would you want your blues bar? -- it hosts both national and local acts Friday and Saturday nights, with shows from 10pm to 2am. The crowd is a mix of blues traditionalists and college kids from TCU.
For traditional live C&W, also check out the bands scheduled at two of the most famous spots in Fort Worth, Billy Bob's Texas and White Elephant Saloon], as well as Pearl's Dancehall and Saloon and Stagecoach Ballroom.
A sister of the clubs of the same name in Austin and Dallas, Pete's Dueling Piano Bar, 621 Houston St. (tel. 817/335-PETE [335-7383]; www.petesduelingpianobar.com), has shows Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm; four expert pianists play pop and rock standards and encourage loud audience singalongs. Calling Pete's a "piano bar" probably doesn't do it justice; you won't hear Bach, but you will hear Johnny Cash.
The Stockyards Championship Rodeo is held most weekends on Friday and Saturday nights at Cowtown Coliseum in the Stockyards, 121 E. Exchange Ave. (tel. 817/888-COWTOWN [269-8696]; www.stockyardsrodeo.com). Tickets range from $4.50 for children to $15 for reserved box seats. Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show runs during summer months and holiday weekends.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.