There he was, a black bolo tie around his neck and a felt Stetson on his head, back on a small stage in his hometown. It was the end of last June, and Leon Bridges had taken a time-out from his world tour to perform at Shipping & Receiving, a bar that occupies a building constructed in 1910 in Fort Worth’s happening Near Southside. Miles away, watching via my social media feeds, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling: if the mega-famous 27-year-old crooner could make a point to go home again, it was time I did too—and not just because my mother kept hinting as much but also because there was a new Cowtown emerging that I hardly knew.
Like Bridges’s career, multiuse developments have sprung up across town seemingly overnight, including Waterside, anchored by the city’s first Whole Foods, and the tony Shops at Clearfork, soon home to a brand-new Neiman Marcus. But it’s the transformation of the Near Southside, a hub of historic neighborhoods and medical buildings just south of downtown, that I scarcely saw coming in the nineties, when I was still a local. Back then it was primarily vacant lots and crumbling teardowns. Now, after two decades of tinkering by prescient developers and business owners, it has gelled into a laid-back hive of music venues, breweries, watering holes, and restaurants, most along broad Magnolia Avenue. “It’s our little South Congress” is how longtime Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy explained it to me, likening the fourteen-block stretch to Austin’s funky tourist drag. As I spent a few days soaking up the area’s shoulder-shrug hipness, I could easily see what he meant. There are community hangouts disguised as coffee shops, trendy-dessert purveyors (cupcakes, vegan ice cream), a smorgasbord of international eateries, bike-share stations, pop-up art installations, and, yes, the young and skinny-jeaned set posing away in front of bright murals on the sides of buildings. It looks a lot different, in other words, than the Fort Worth I grew up in, but it’s a place that I’m happy to come home to.
SEE + DO
Tour a brewery (or a bourbon-ry?) . . .
The Collective Brewing Project // This self-described “franken-monster of a brewery,” known for its wild and sour ales, combines its production and taproom under one roof. Open vinyl nights, “Off Flavor” tasting classes, and beer yoga sessions are on regular rotation.
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. // A twenties-era redbrick warehouse now houses the first bourbon and whiskey distillery in North Texas. Book one of the two-hour tours, held on select Saturdays, for a deep dive into every step of the distillation process as well as the story behind the company’s proprietary yeast.
Rahr & Sons Brewing Co. // If he’s around, get founder Fritz Rahr to tell you about his family’s storied history of DIY brews as you tour the open-air facility. The Wednesday evening tours often include samples of new and limited-time brews, while the better-attended Saturday afternoon tours feel more like a block party.
Get crafty . . .
SiNaCa Studios School of Glass and Gallery // Try your hand at shaping molten glass in this converted gas station by joining one of the walk-up workshops or committing to a six-week course. Finished works are for sale in the gallery if you’re just browsing.
Scout the next big act . . .
Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge // The 150-seat auditorium can brag that it booked Leon Bridges for his first gig. The rooftop patio, with its views of the downtown skyline, is nearly as popular as the native crooner.
Lola’s Saloon // Opened in 2007, after the beloved Wreck Room was shuttered, this venue is considered by many to be the best in town. In its backyard you’ll find the Trailer Park, a newer outdoor bar and stage.
Shipping & Receiving // Though it occupies a 1910 building, this venue’s shows are mostly an al fresco affair, held on the small stage in the skinny beer garden. Sling your leg over a picnic table and settle in to listen to local talent. Oh, and you might catch the occasional game of chicken shit bingo too.
Check out the neighborhood . . .
Fairmount National Historic District’s Tour of Homes // Each spring,
voyeurs visitors are invited inside six to ten of the beautifully restored bungalows and foursquare homes, many dating from the late 1800s, in what is considered the largest historic neighborhood in the Southwest.
Magnolia Micro-Park // The 4,500-square-foot patch that occupies a corner of Magnolia Avenue and Henderson Street has been reimagined as a whimsical hangout, complete with potted trees, park benches, and a mustache-shaped seesaw. There’s also interactive art thanks to the ArtSouth gallery, a repurposed shipping container. The pocket park is temporary, so visit while you can. (Read more: “Fort Worth’s First Micro-Park.”)
Thistle Hill // Built for cattle heiress Electra Waggoner in 1904, this historic manse is open for tours four days a week. On Tuesdays through Fridays, the estate grounds morph into a food trailer park.
EAT + DRINK
Breakfast + Coffee
Avoca // Named for the Gaelic word for “great mouth,” this artisanal roastery and coffee shop is the passion project of two locals who subscribe to a “seed to cup” philosophy and support family-run farms to ensure you’re getting a “carefully cultivated and processed” cup of joe. You can’t go wrong with the signature cold brew but if you’re feeling adventurous, spring for the Charlie Sheen, made with espresso and Coke.
Brewed // Coffee may be the driving force here, but a seasonal restaurant menu and specialty craft drinks make this a full-blown gastropub. Given the kombucha on tap and the artfully arranged vintage knickknacks, it has, unsurprisingly, been described as “hipster ground zero.”
Paris Coffee Shop // Most people think of the biscuits and gravy and other breakfast comforts when they think of this institution, which opened in 1926, but the lunch offerings (read: the CFS) are just as strong. Go on Fridays for the fried chicken and lemon pie.
Heim Barbecue // Yes, there is usually a line. No, it isn’t so long that it should deter you from trying one of the 25 best new barbecue joints in the state. Not even barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn could sweet-talk his way into securing the recipe for their famed bacon burnt ends, which are reason enough to visit. Fun fact: proprietor Travis Heim grew up in the adjacent Fairmount neighborhood.
Plus . . . the Bearded Lady (home of the third best burger in the state) | Benito’s (“real-deal Mexican”) | Bentley’s (craft hot dogs, crepes, and coffee) | Cat City Grill | King Tut Egyptian Restaurant (“the city’s best shawarma,” says Eats Beat critic Bud Kennedy) | Lili’s Bistro | Paco’s Mexican Cuisine | Spiral Diner & Bakery (funky vegan spot)
Cannon Chinese Kitchen // Though not on Magnolia Avenue, the area’s main drag, don’t overlook this 1930s cottage nearby, which has been described as “a respite from dumbed-down Chinese.” (It also got an honorable mention nod in Patricia Sharpe’s “Where to Eat Now 2016” list.)
Ellerbe Fine Foods // A local food critic advises that you start your progressive of Magnolia Avenue meals at this white-tablecloth establishment. The straight-from-the-farm Southern fare and genteel dining room will win you over (and win you points with that dining companion you want to impress). (Read our latest review.)
Fixture Kitchen & Social Lounge // The vibe is “hangout that happens to serve brunch, lunch, and dinner” at Fixture, which has a sizable patio, live music, and a rosemary chicken and waffles dish that shouldn’t be passed up. Health-conscious menus that align with the city’s Blue Zones Project initiative are available too.
Melt Ice Creams // If vegan ice cream seems like a trend taken too far, suspend judgment until after you’ve polished off a cone of the milk-free stuff at this sunny spot (the walls are painted sunshine yellow). And don’t worry: there’s good old-fashioned ice cream made with dairy too, though don’t expect the same old flavors. The ever-changing rotation may include flavors from horchata to tart apple cider.
Proper // Billed as “a contemporary cocktail habitat,” this tiny watering hole keeps things classy and cozy. The selection of craft cocktails and beers on tap get high marks from notoriously hard-to-please online reviewers.
The Usual // An early adopter of the rustic-modern, wood-centric look, the Usual is a sophisticated hideout where you can sip your old-fashioned without feeling pretentious.
Rising rents may explain why restaurants and bars (with their lucrative liquor licenses) outnumber retailers in the area, but there are still places to pick up a souvenir or two, like . . .
Ephemera // This jewel box of a shop specializes in terraria (there’s a DIY terrarium bar), comics, and “awesomeness.” The latter is evidenced by the proprietors’ back story: a native son moves to Brooklyn, meets his future wife, a floral-industry vet, and they return to Fort Worth to open the shop of their dreams.
The Last Word // A crowd-funding campaign helped this indie book shop get off the ground. The well-rounded selection of titles, curated by owner Paul Combs, and the mini–art gallery in the back are keeping the momentum going.
Old Home Supply // Local architectural salvage experts have filled four buildings on adjacent corners in the Fairmount neighborhood with their finds from around the world. Though known as the city’s “renovation headquarters,” you’ll want to pick through the incredible selection of furniture and antiques even if you aren’t gutting a house of your own.
The Texas White House // Local art adorns the walls at this six-room bed-and-breakfast in a 110-year-old house a short walk from Magnolia Avenue (and a short drive from the museums in the cultural district). The little details, like “welcome” snacks and a robust lending library, aren’t overlooked.
BEFORE YOU GO
Read . . . “All Hat, Some Cattle” (February 2013), Sterry Butcher’s account of going in search of the authentic spirit of Fort Worth.
Bookmark . . . Fort Worth Locals, a site that shines a light on the city’s businesses and attractions.
Plan ahead . . . to time your visit to coincide with the annual ArtsGoggle festival, a free gathering of 550-plus artists and 50-plus bands held every spring and fall.
Stay tuned . . . for the $8.6 million renovation of South Main Street between Vickery Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue, currently under way, which aims to bring even more restaurants, retail, and residents to the Near Southside. Keep an eye out for 411 South Main, a mixed-use development styled after the popular Magnolia Market, in Waco.