STEERING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
Written by Bridget Williams
I'm fairly certain that it's part of our collective DNA as Americans to have some modicum of affection for the lore and legend of the American West. I am not immune to these fascinations, part of which spurred an early and enduring interest in Southwestern archaeology, an unwillingness to part with a childhood collection of American West knick-knacks, and a wholehearted willingness to don a cowboy hat and boots when given a chance. The opportunity arose a few months ago during a visit to the Hotel Drover in the heart of the historic Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. The anchor of the award-winning Mule Alley, a collection of 100-year-old horse and mule barns wonderfully refurbished and repurposed for entirely different types of horsing around, Hotel Drover is a chic cathedral of cowboy culture, whose name honors the pioneering spirit of Texas cattle drivers. Best exemplified by a signature neon cowboy installation by Austin artist Evan Voyles, varying and carefully calculated kitsch sprinkled throughout the indoor and outdoor public areas and the 200 guest rooms and spa suites pulls the heartstrings and adds a kick-off-your-boots welcoming spirit to the rustic-luxe design that belies the hotel's relative newness.
Far from cookie-cutter, Hotel Drover employs antique and bespoke pieces to encapsulate a distinct sense of place. From a signature scent with notes of fine leather, campfire, mango, and pepper (and coming soon to a branded candle); to Hotel Drover- branded leather check-in booths; hand-forged chandeliers; Los Poblanos lavender-scented bath amenities sourced from a small maker in New Mexico; Rose Ann Hall hand-etched glassware in the restaurants; contemporary artwork; and lounge chairs upholstered in cowhide and dripping with fringe, the design artfully engages all of the senses. For me, it's the minor touches that attest to a hotel's attention to detail, and the chilled eucalyptus-scented towels in the workout room were the perfect post-workout olfactory pick-me-up. Each spacious guestroom is unique, with most being in either a Texana, Frontier, or Republic style. Our Texana room was chock- full of vintage cowboy and cowgirl imagery, embossed leather, distressed wood, and a lively-tiled bathroom with a stainless steel- skirted soaking tub—a perfect blend of fun and fancy.
In the Hotel Drover's "backyard," a $4 million investment in landscaping alone makes this a verdant and quiet oasis that makes the hustle and bustle of nearby Mule Alley seem miles away. Among the amenities are a refreshing pool; an arbor-covered private event space where Executive Chef Grant Morgan offers "adventurous" seven-course dinners; firepits with available s'more
and mobile bar service; and an acoustic stage complete with seasonally changing murals of pin-up style cowgirl paintings by a local artist that's the site of the Drover Unplugged music series.
At the entrance to 97 West, whose design pays homage to Wild West outlaws, dueling vintage prints of Tonto and the Lone Ranger with weapons drawn flank the entry. The menu features elevated ranch classics and reimagined comfort foods. Their brunch is stellar, with our favorites being the brunch taco board, sweet and spicy bacon (served "clothesline style" above jalapeno cornbread, and a decadent giant cinnamon roll served piping hot in a cast iron pan. The Lobby Bar, The Backyard, and The Courtyard at 97 West all offer chic spaces for sipping seasonally- inspired craft cocktails.
It's just a short walk down Mule Alley to Exchange Avenue, where twice a day, drovers parade longhorn steer, fascinatingly aware of the awe-inspiring span of their hood ornaments, down the street that's often lined three-deep with onlookers. An initiative conceived around the 150th anniversary of the city's founding, Fort Worth is the only city in the world to own a herd and employ full-time drovers. "It's important to remember that we're a cow town," said Ed Brown, the lead ambassador for the Stockyards. His entertaining and enthralling historical tours of the area touch on lore, legends, and why it came to be known as "hell's half-acre." As he spoke, my head filled with hazy images of crushed red velvet and whiffs of stale tobacco and whisky breath. The entirety of The Stockyards is a playground for grownups, with scores of dining, shopping, and entertainment options. From embellished boots and cowboy hats to colorful embroidered dresses, big hair, and shiny belt buckles, the predominant style among the throngs milling around the several-block area is the antithesis of "quiet luxury." Highfalutin folks flock to the Lucchese boutique in the Hotel Drover's lobby (lucchese.com). Here, specially trained staff offer the company's only "sole to scallop" custom boot experience that begins with an in-depth foot tracing and consultation. Options for personalization are limitless, making the experience of designing these wearable works of art akin to a tattoo that you can take off.
Proper Supply Co. (@propersupplycofw) offers another high- style souvenir. General Manager and Creative Director Christina Falconer uses steam and know-how to hand-shape a beaver fur felt hat into your chosen style (I opted for a classic Cattleman crease). A self-taught hat shaper, Falconer cut her teeth at the rodeo, and under her direction, the shop showcases an eclectic mix of upscale cowboy couture. "I love being the voice of artisans," she remarked.
Proving that the world is indeed a small place, during our private hat party, Taylor Samuels, owner of Los Almas Rotas mezcal bar in Dallas, was on hand and offered me a "ranch water," a Texas-style tequila or mezcal highball made with lime and Topo Chico. As we chatted, he casually mentioned that he, too, was from my hometown of Louisville. "You might know my dad, Bill," he said casually. That would be Bill Samuels, Chairman Emeritus of Maker's Mark. So, of course, I asked why he opted for a south-of- the-border spirit over Kentucky's most famous export, to which he replied, "Agave is a terroir spirit that makes mezcal more interesting because every batch is unique." One thing is for sure in The Stockyards: you won't go hungry. Chef and entrepreneur Tim Love is the drover of dining here, with six distinct outlets: Paloma Suerte (palomasuerteftx. com); Tannahill's Tavern & Music Hall, where Hotel Drover has a dedicated balcony suite (tannahills.com); the alfresco Love Shack Burgers (loveburgershackfortworth.com); Lonesome Dove Western Bistro (lonesomedovefortworth.com); the White Elephant Saloon, famous for hosting Fort Worth's last gunfight (whiteelephantsaloon.com); and Caterina's (caterinasftx.com). Each of Love's outlets is a highly personal expression of his passions and affection for his friends and family.
Generating as much buzz as its elevated Italian cuisine are the jackets-required, phone-banned policies at Caterina's. Love, who said he got in a "huge" fight with his wife over the no phones policy, said the idea came to him after being seated next to an influencer at a restaurant in Miami who made a big spectacle filming their entire meal. Phones are placed in a neoprene case and locked at the door. To assuage the anxiety of being so close and yet so far, patrons are presented with a complimentary glass of rosé Prosecco. "Italian food is my favorite to cook," said Love, adding that he appreciates the focus on few and fine ingredients paired with proper technique. The high-ceilinged dining room at Caterina's is intimate and lively. Sitting in what was a hayloft, it was fun to peer over and see a sea of cowboy hats. Not content with resting on his celebrity chef laurels, Love said he frequently works the line in his various restaurants to keep his skills sharp. He's also recently dipped his toque into fashion, launching the Love Collection in Tannahill's Tavern's Goods and Chattels shop (goods-chattels.com). Appropriately attired with new boots and a hat, we further immersed ourselves in cowboy culture with a stop at John Wayne: An American Experience (johnwayneae.com), a 10,000-square- foot museum dedicated to the life and films of The Duke with 400 pieces of personal and professional memorabilia. Just outside The Stockyards is the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (cowgirl.net), the only museum in the world dedicated to honoring women of the West.
The crowning event of our extended weekend stay was the Stockyards Championship Rodeo (fortworthstockyards.com), the world's only year-round rodeo every Friday and Saturday night. As this was literally my first rodeo, I was enthralled by the athleticism of horse and rider and totally swept up in the energy of the packed house. As we reflected on a whirlwind visit, the Texas-sized hospitality most resonated. It's a way of doing business that Ed Brown aptly summed up by remarking, "We don't have tourists; you're our guests." sl
For more information, visit hoteldrover.com.