“Ladies and gentlemen, cowboys and cowgirls, we are about to start Pole Bending...’ and with that a man in a pink shirt and a Stetson whizzes past, his horse kicking the red sand from the arena into our faces, to the blaring out of Womanizer by Britney Spears. Pole Bending, it turns out, is weaving your horse in and out of slalom poles and this one is good at it, as he should be having reached the finals of the World Gay Rodeo Championships.
Other events on the schedule at the Mesquite Arena outside Dallas today are Rough Saddle Bronc Riding, which is basically big bulls; Goat Dressing, where you have to get some underpants on a wriling goat; and Chute Doing, which seems to be wrestling bulls to the ground. Here’s us thinking we’d persevere for an hour, but four of them later some drag queens start trying to balance on full-size bulls and we’re still happy to watch, the only red wine drinkers in a very beer-y place.
“I first saw someone riding a bull when I was six and knew I had to do that,” says Breana, an African American girl from Malibu (Stetson just so and the prettiest eyes this side of Marfa) who we’ve just seen trying to stay on top of a massive steer with horns out to here. She’s in town for the Gay Rodeo finals – and to check out how trans-friendly the apparently trans-welcoming gay sauna scene in Dallas really is, but suspects they won’t like her breasts. Any preconceptions you may have had about a) Texans b) the rodeo and c) the tolerance extended towards the LGBTQ community in the Bible belt you may as well flush right now.
But to make out that Dallas, because it’s in Texas, is all about cowboys and horses and yee-haws and funny hats would be to do it a disservice. Yes, some people do wear Stetsons and cowboy boots as regular daywear, but this is actually one of the most sophisticated cities in North America, with the art and the shopping and the culinary scene and the architecture to prove it.
For a start, it has the biest arts district in the world (in the world, people!) with galleries and symphonies and museums, mostly housed in very important modern architecture – Renzo Piano, I.M. Pei, Frank Lloyd Wright, Sir Norman Foster. Names, sweetie, names. And this culture is a real part of the life of the city, not just something they’ve bunged money at because, make no mistake, there is money here. Serious money.
The Nasher Sculpture Center, for instance, a real beauty with a garden where you can wander among the Rodins and Henry Moores and eat at a café MC’d by Wolfgang Puck, is owned by the family who built NorthPark, an upscale mall where you can peruse the Mac and Louis Vuitton stores bypassing some very important sculptures by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Antony Gormley. Oh and Mark di Suvero’s 48-foot Ad Astra. And you don’t get that down in Westfield.
For the cowboy stuff, you’ll actually do better in Fort Worth, Dallas’s cute little sister half an hour away. They share an airport and a friendly rivalry, with Fort Worthians seeing Dallasites as snooty and Dallasites seeing Fort Worthians as hokey. Neither is true and they know it.
In Fort Worth, at Reata, a famed steakhouse in Sundance Square where family events have been celebrated for decades (someone actually gets down on one knee to propose to his girlfriend while we point and drink), it may be all about the meat but they can still magic up a full – and delicious! – vegan menu just like that. “Y’all can use regular cutlery, right?” asks the waitress, winking.
Meanwhile at the kitschy, kooky Spiral Diner, where tofu scramble and vegan mac ‘n’ cheese are highly recommended, the crowd is a mix of races and dotted with hipsters and gays and old married couples who don’t seem to mind the huge rainbow flag hanging in the window. Nothing too hokey about that. From there, you can head to Billy Bob’s, a huge bar where they have line-dancing, a Country & Western Hall of Fame and a mini arena out the back for live bull riding. Yes, in a bar.
But Fort Worth is generally more outdoorsy. Head to the slick modern Press Café where new developments meet an old ranch, older than the city itself, and after brunch you can hire a bike from Mellow Johnny’s next door and cycle down the river to see the egrets. Or make your way to the Historic Stockyards for the real cowboy experience complete with honky tonks and cowboys driving steers in an area that has been revived to provide the authentic Wild West feel. And if you want a real feel of
something authentic, you could try The Urban Cowboy, a gay bar with a western flavour and honky tonk drag queens.
The real gay scene is in Dallas, where they have many a gayborhood, the main one being at Cedar Springs where massive bars like JR’s and S4 are mobbed at weekends. But it’s across the road at the Round-Up Saloon that you’ll get some real local flavour, whether it’s line-dancing, drag-hosted karaoke, men in their pants dancing on podiums... somehow this can all happen on the same premises.
And when you’re done with the gays and the arts and the architecture (take the E-Frogs Tour, by the way, where the friendly beardie driver will give you all the stories of the city as you chug around town in his little electric buy), you can go down to Elm Street and take in a scene you know so well from news footage of the spot where President John F. Kennedy was gunned down from a sixth-floor window, now a museum dedicated to the assassination with Jackie O sunglasses available in a range of colours.
Then it’s round the block to Forty Five Ten for top glamour shopping of a beautifully curated collection (maybe no one’s told them they’re not part of the arts district) and lunch-with-a-view at Mirador on top of the shop.
One night at Cambria Hotel Downtown Dallas starts from £100 (129 USD) based on two people sharing, cambriadallas.com. One night at Omni Fort Worth starts from £115 (150 USD), based on two people sharing omnihotels.com visitdallas.com. visitfortworth.com