Cowtown. Funky Town. Whichever moniker you prefer, Fort Worth is known for being steeped in cowboy culture. It was the nexus of cattle trading in Texas, and its historic Stockyards are still a lively part of the city’s identity.
But cattle are far from the only story here. Recently, I was invited by writer and scholar Johnica Rivers to visit her hometown for an excursion she titled, A Black Woman’s Guide to Fort Worth. The experience mapped the history and presence of Black women in the city and put a much-needed spotlight on lots of untold history.
After an hourlong evening flight to DFW, I checked into Hotel Dryce, a boutique getaway on the edge of the city's Arlington Heights neighborhood. The hotel, housed in a former dry ice factory, has been transformed into a community hub equipped with 21 rooms, a lobby bar, and a courtyard. Elements of the original warehouse remain, including metal beams, the door to the library, and a rusted old sign with baby blue letters reading "DRY ICE" that greeted me upon arrival. Feeling like a fusion between The Ace and The Standard, with work by local artists, the décor was a welcome surprise from the traditional Cowtown caricature.
It didn't take long to realize that, since its opening in the fall of 2021, Dryce has been a hot spot; it's in a prime location in the Cultural District and minutes away from a strip of museums and eateries. The Lobby Bar served some of the best drinks I've ever tasted at a hotel bar, including a world-class margarita with house-made yucca syrup. It was so good, I had to bring it home. (No, seriously, I asked the bartender for the recipe, and she obliged. That's genuine hospitality.) The courtyard provided a cozy refuge from the Texas sun, where I sat and chatted with friends while enjoying the best Smashburger in the DFW area from Gustos—don't ask how many I ate.
After a full night's rest, I took on Funky Town with a tour through the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Thanks to renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando, it's probably the most beautifully designed art institution in the DFW area. (And it's one of two Ando buildings in North America, the other being the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis.) The museum's 53,000-square-foot grounds include a reflection pool, outdoor sculptures, and airy galleries.
One highlight on this visit was a preview of the Women Painting Women exhibition, which features a multinational and intergenerational roster of 46 female artists. Chief curator Andrea Karnes made incredibly thoughtful selections, with works from artists including Emma Amos, María Berrío, Faith Ringgold, and Marilyn Minter, and organized the portraits in four themes: color, selfhood, the body, and nature. The show’s emphasis on paintings of women by women was an exciting and necessary departure from exhibitions that center on the male gaze.
I took off for lunch at Cafe Modern, where I dined alongside friends with a view of the reflection pool. The warm grits meal cornbread made for the perfect appetizer, and I kept it simple with a fresh turkey club as my main dish. Elsewhere in the museum, I spent time with a special exhibition by Houston-based artist Jamal Cyrus. The Modern invited him to create a new body of work for the museum's FOCUS series. Cyrus, whose practice spans multiple disciplines, responded to the landscape of Fort Worth, both musically and geographically. The show’s power rested in its site-specificity: Cyrus is known for his engagement with Black musical traditions, and the new work mapped Dallas-Fort Worth’s contributions to jazz and the blues through his reimagining of the Trinity River.
Nearby is the Amon Carter Museum. I enjoyed a tour of their permanent collection and a behind-the-scenes look at a selection of photographs included in Black Every Day: Photographs from the Carter Collection. The exhibition combines vernacular images by unidentified photographers with the work of prolific Black photographers Gordon Parks, James Van Der Zee, Houston's Earlier Hudnall Jr., and others. Viewing them together, I was impressed by the collective effort among these institutions to not only engage living artists but also create new narratives from permanent collection works and artists whose practices have been long overlooked.
The following morning started with a visit to Black Coffee in East Fort Worth. It's a Black-owned shop that won Best Coffee in Fort Worth Magazine's 2020 awards season. Following a couple of breakfast tacos and juice, I journeyed to Kinfolk House, an alternative art space that inhabits a 100-year-old home that belonged to the grandmother of visual artist Sedrick Huckaby. Alongside his wife and fellow artist Letitia Huckaby, they set out on a mission to preserve their family's legacy and build a space where art and life would extend beyond formal institutions.
Later that evening, I convened with a group of Black women artists and writers to celebrate Letitia Huckaby, Art League Houston's 2022 Texas Artist of the Year, at Don Artemio. This upscale spot—a sister restaurant to the original in Saltillo, Mexico—was dining at its finest. The architecture and the cuisine are inspired by Northeast Mexico and feature real clay bricks scaling the wall, textiles hanging from the lighting fixtures, exceptional wines, and a variety of authentic ingredients. We started with the Nopalito Fritos para taco, a crispy blend of fried cactus with bacon, and ended the night with deconstructed tres leches for dessert.
What’s a visit to Fort Worth without saddling through the Stockyards? I was in town during the Professional Bull Riders' annual convening and got to celebrate Black cowboys and cowgirls of all ages at the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo. Created to honor the legacy of famed cowboy Willie M. Pickett (1870–1932), the BPIR is the nation’s largest touring Black rodeo, created and produced by the late Lu Vanson (1934–2015) and now run by his widow, Valeria Howard-Cunningham. A mobile museum, sponsored by Toyota, invited visitors to learn about the rodeo’s past and present. Glass cases of archival material lined the walls of the trailer: T-shirts, jackets, blue jeans, saddles, and photographs to the brim. Because I had completely missed out on the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo this spring, the BPIR was the perfect occasion to witness years of training in action. I sat front row in the packed arena, filled with adoring rodeo fans and Black Western enthusiasts. It was truly an exhilarating and entertaining experience; I had never felt more like a Texan.
Fort Worth provided a much-needed reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the Bayou City. It has a small-town charm and the artistic scope of an international hub. My next visit will be filled with more courtyard lounging, craft cocktails, and definitely, a night out at the best dance party in Texas.