Readers’ choice: Blue Mesa, 1600 S University Dr, FW
Staff choice: Blue Mesa
Blue Mesa kicks happy-hour butt by offering more than just drink specials from 4 to 7 p.m. The TCU-area Tex-Mex restaurant also has a complimentary quesadilla bar, free chips and salsa, and a nice patio for when the weather’s tolerable. There are always discounts on beers, margaritas, and other mixed drinks, and there’s usually a diverse crowd: businessmen, college students, families, tired shoppers – you name it.
Readers’ choice: Jennifer (Jenny), Rodeo Exchange, 221 W Exchange Av, FW
Staff choice: Matt Layton, Embargo, 210 E 8th St, FW
Matt Layton isn’t built for comfort. He’s built for speed. When he has a bottle-cap opener in his pocket and thirsty people all around, the slightly built but lovable loudmouth is all business. His idea of commiserating with down-on-their-luck patrons does not consist of expressing his deepest sympathy while looking, y’know, concerned. No, this veteran barkeep is gonna do what every good bartender should in a similar situation: get you drunk – and fast. Even better: He makes a mean mojito.
Readers’ choice: Ten, 835 Foch St, FW
Staff choice: Caves Lounge, 900 W Division St, Arlington
Co-owners Tom and Eric Osbakken offer dim lighting, comfy seating, and great prices. Even better, they’ve managed to stay open for nearly four years, a veritable lifetime in fickle Clubland. The brothers have also taken over the place formerly known as the Power Plant, just around the corner. They plan to re-christen the joint The Ozzie Rabbit Lodge and open next month.
Readers’ choice: Ye Olde Bull & Bush, 2300 Montgomery St, FW
Staff choice: Flying Saucer, 114 E 4th St, FW
What’s not to like about a joint that keeps nearly 80 beers on tap ranging from Belgium’s pale Stella Artois to Murphy’s Irish Red to good ol’ Bud Lite, carries another 150 bottled beers, serves good grub as well as wine, and has no non-smoking section? There is a long bar; plenty of tables, couches, and armchairs; and an outdoor seating area where local musicians play. The food ranges from beer cheese soup to brats to nachos. The place gets crowded, they don’t sell hard liquor, and the men’s room has only two urinals – so be prepared to dance while waiting your turn.
Readers’ choice: Underground Icehouse & Grill, 1117 E Belknap, FW
Staff choice: 2500 Club, 2500 E 4th St, FW
For many years, this stark and tiny bar has stood like a foreboding reminder of what biker bars were before the puppies (patriarchal urban professionals) discovered the joys of dressing in black leather and driving around on $50,000 hawgs to kill a Sunday afternoon. The 2500 is a throwback to an era when bikers were rebels zooming around society’s fringes. A recent visit to the club proved to be quite enjoyable despite the fact that it looks like something out of a Quentin Tarantino movie. In other words, we were so relieved to not die we’ve name this biker bar the best.
Readers’ choice: Stampede, 621 Hemphill St, FW
Staff choice: Stampede
As Stampede’s inaugural year winds to a close, James Allen’s Southside establishment is poised to crack the top-10 list of alcohol sales for gay bars across the state, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. His secret? Cater to the neighbors. Starting at 7 every weekday morning, Allen offers $1 bloody Marys for the nearby hospital employees, and he’s made Thursday into Latino Night, with a salsa DJ and specials on tequila.
Reader’s choice: Best Friends Club, 2620 E Lancaster Av, FW
Staff choice: Mable Peabody’s Beauty Parlor & Chainsaw Repair, 1215 E University Dr, Denton
With a name like that, how could this bar not win this award? The place is conveniently close to Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas, and it welcome lesbians and gays. The owners feature shows, live music, and great drink specials seven nights a week.
Readers’ choice: Grape Escape, 500 Commerce St, FW
Staff choice: PappaRotti’s Wine Room, 6100 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 22, FW
The place formerly known as the Ridglea and Vine Wine Room, PappaRotti’s has plush couches, dim lighting, and a cool vibe. Drinks by the glass run $7 to $15, and they’re poured deep. On the way out, get a bottle for the road, like a bordeaux (Haut Medoc, $37), grenache (Bitch, $30), or cabernet (Washington, $28).
Readers’ choice: Ashton Hotel, 610 Main St, FW
Staff choice: M Lounge at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, Terminal D, D/FW Airport
At the Grand Hyatt Hotel’s M Bar, the ultra-modern sofas and crisp lighting can bring out the jet-setter in even the reddest neck. D/FW International Airport’s classiest spot serves pineapple- and strawberry-infused vodkas, cold beer, and fancy desserts. (Don’t miss the caramelized banana crepe with coconut gelato.) The easiest and cheapest way to get there is by the Trinity Railway Express, which connects to the airport by shuttle bus. The last train is at 9 p.m., around the time when the party’s just getting started. The silver lining: “Accidentally” missing the final departure can lead to the oldest trick in the book – “Guess we’ll have to get a room then.”
Readers’ choice: Fox and Hound English Pub, several locations, FW and Arlington
Staff choice: The Pour House, 209 W 5th St, FW
We agree to a certain extent that most sports bars are interchangeable: same décor, same crowd, same vibe. But any sports bar with great (as opposed to merely serviceable) food, cheap drinks, and excellent service is a step ahead. The Pour House has all three, lending credence to the common perception that the downtown hangout is cool, big game on tv or not.
“Meat Market” Bar
Readers’ choice: The Library, 611 Houston St, FW
Staff choice: The Torch, 711 Barden St, FW
The beautiful people can regularly be found at a few of the old standbys, including The Library, 8.0, any place near TCU, and Reata Rooftop. But most of these joints have mucho baggage. The Torch is a different animal. It draws its share of air-headed hotties, sure, but any suggestion of pretension is tempered by the young musicians, artists, and professionals who see the Cultural District club as home away from home.
Readers’ choice: New Orleans Nights, 7101 Calmont Av, FW
Staff choice: Chicas Locas, 3401 Division St, Arlington
With all due respect to reigning champ New Orleans Nights, there comes a time when two dozen sculpted blondes onstage is two dozen too many. Sometimes, you just want entertainment a little more – how you say? – exotic. At this non-nude A-town hot spot, the buxom bronze-skinned beauts come on strong. The skimpy clothing lets them get close to patrons. Like, really close. Heavy tipping is strongly recommended.
Staff choice: Mia Bella, Crescent Moon Belly Dance Studio, 6202 S Fwy, Ste E, FW
Even though she does offer a pole dancing class, studio owner Bella considers exotic dancing more than just a complex artform. It’s also great exercise. In addition to offering classes for all skill levels, including children (!), Bella twirls her nicely shaped stuff at Byblos Lebanese Restaurant and Hookah Lounge.
Staff choice: “Cabbie Carl” Shepard
We don’t love “Cabbie Carl” just ’cause he’s reliable, caters to the night owls on the music scene, and always has his eye on the road, his hands upon the wheel. The slightly built older gentleman with the handlebar mustache is great because he’s like the long-time friend you never knew you had. He’s as comfortable with letting you ramble as he is with telling you about himself or simply sitting with you in silence. Unable to drive, let alone see, after 12 hours of heavy drinking? Need a ride to the airport in the wee hours of the morning? A joy ride? You know who to call.
Readers’ Choice: Hooters,
Staff Choice: VIPs, 3237 White Settlement Rd, FW
VIPs has always had cheap beer, but let’s put it this way: The ones drinking it seemed to have something sad or evil on their minds Thankfully, the old-man’s joint has changed a bit in recent years, adding bands and attracting a younger crowd – but it kept the cheap beer. Twelve-ounce Coors drafts are $1.25, and that is all day, every day. No happy hour deal. No one-day-only deal. Our favorite part of VIPs is the story that it is somehow haunted by some old drunk. We think that might be true. Across the street at the Greenwood Cemetery, the Four Horses of the Apocalypse (well, that’s how we think of them) stare down on the bar’s parking lot. It helps to have much cheap beer in you as you stare them down and move on home.
Readers’ choice: Joe T. Garcia’s, 2201 N Commerce St, FW
Staff choice: Blue Mesa
The requirements for a good margarita balance on a fine line between taste and kick. You want to taste the tequila but not be overwhelmed by it. The margaritas at Blue Mesa sashay invitingly along that line and do it for a good price. The various versions of the drink offered here are reasonably priced, flavorful, and kick when they should. Some prefer the blue frozen ones with cute blue salt, while others ask for top-shelf Patron that makes you swallow twice. Blue Mesa is the right choice for both.
Readers’ choice: Ten
Staff choice: 8.0, 111 E 3rd St, FW
Want drink variety, a good atmosphere, live music, and fun bathrooms? Well, 8.0 is your place. With more than 20 martinis to choose from, you can stay old-school and classic with a dirty martini or drop the olives and try a grasshopper – crème de cacao and crème de menthe. Or, give the 8.0 Lava Lamp a try: It’s made with Smirnoff citrus vodka and a Jell-O shot.
Staff choice: Hui Chuan, 6100 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ste 12, FW
So having tried sushi and found you like it, you took your courage in both hands and tried sake as well – and immediately experienced a gagging sensation. Don’t be discouraged. You probably started with one of the hardcore selections, rather than a friendlier rookie version of the stout rice-fermented brew. Best bet is to start on the sweet side (Sho Chiku Bai Nigori) or maybe with something creamier (Shirakawago Nigori) or even fruity (Shirayuki Junmai Ginjo).
Be forewarned that a wide variety of sake isn’t available at every sushi bar. Thus one should commit to carrying out sake binge sessions at Hui Chuan. The Ridglea neighborhood spot carries a more than ample selection, from hard-hitting varieties (Maihime, Niwa No Uguisu) to all of the aforementioned. In fact, Hui Chuan’s picks are so prolific that samurai warriors and sake novices have been known to clink porcelain cups together and shout “Kampai!” in East-West harmony.
Readers’ choice: Embargo
Staff choice: Xouba Restaurant Lounge, 2301 N Collins St, Arlington
With a color scheme of maroons, dark browns, and DayGlo primaries, this clean, cool, year-old hang-out is about as close to South Beach as we can get. There’s chill-out music on the hi-fi, and plush, comfy couches and booths all around.
Readers’ choice: Black Dog Tavern, 2933 Crockett St, FW
Staff choice: Black Dog Tavern
When the Black Dog Tavern moved out of downtown to its close-by-the-Cultural-District location, we wondered if the juke would survive intact. It has, and it’s the best in town because of its eclectic mix. You can get postmortem Rick Rubin-produced Johnny Cash, local humorist band Honchie, or the progressive jazz sounds of the Earl Harvin Trio. A little pop, a little classic rock, and a little emo boy band stuff are thrown in. Our favorites on the last visit might reflect the weight of trying to piece together this missive. After many beers, we leered at other customers at the bar to the sounds of The Dead Kennedy’s Too Drunk to Fuck and The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant. Hey, this work is hard.
Readers’ choice: Shuckers Sports Bar, 7916 Camp Bowie West, FW
Staff choice: Main Event, 4801 Citylake Blvd, FW
Where else can you bowl, shoot billiards, play video games, compete in laser tag, and get tanked at the same time? While the bar may be considered secondary to the entertainment provided, it really depends on who’s with you. With the family during the day, you’ll never even notice the bar. Go at night with some friends, and you’ll have to decide between getting another beer and playing another round – or both. They have a decent assortment of drinks and beers, and the bartenders are always friendly and usually just happy to see a thirsty customer. Make the person with the lowest score buy the next round, and you’ll find the evening a lot more fun than when all you had were darts and pinball.
Outdoor Party Patio
Readers’ choice: 8.0
Staff choice: Los Vaqueros, 2629 N Main St, FW
A Weekly news intern became infatuated with one of the paper’s ad reps but couldn’t figure out how to approach her. He sought help from a wily veteran writer, who advised, “She’s way out of your league, pal, give it up.” But the cub reporter was persistent, so the graybeard said, “Tell her you need to practice your photography and you’re looking for a gorgeous model.” He did, she agreed, and he came running back, frantically wondering where he could take her for a photo shoot. Wily Vet suggested the party patio at Los Vaqueros, where, in the right season, magnolia trees blossom with white flowers, crepe myrtles provide splashes of crimson, the St. Augustine is cool and inviting and lined with elephant ears, flowers, and monkey grass. A colorful mural covers the back wall – and margaritas help to melt the most unresponsive of hearts. After the photo shoot, they stayed and drank amid nature’s bounty, and they laughed and talked, and then she dumped him like a load of bricks. But, hey, the pictures turned out great!
Readers’ choice: Ridglea Theater, 6025 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW
Staff choice: 8.0
Martha Stewart’s portrait is done in mosaic tile in the 8.0 ladies’ room floor. What could be better than that? Plus, the stalls are big enough that you don’t need to straddle the toilet just to shut the door. The stalls are also efficient: They have mirrors on all sides so you can primp while taking care of other business.
Readers’ choice: Mike Price, Ridglea Theater
Staff choice: Travis, The Library
Though a lot of bar security people have to put up with privileged youths every damn night, Travis gets the nod this year for making Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams’ daughter talk to the hand when her underage ass tried to get into the Sundance Square meat market. In his other persona, as the professional wrestler known as Mace, he’s taken on a few ring kings in his decade on the circuit, including “Dr. Death,” former WWE stand-out Rodney Mack, and current WWE star Bryan “Spanky” Kendricks – and Travis/Mace will take you on if you get outta hand on his watch.
Rock Music Venue
Readers’ choice: (tie) Ridglea Theater; Wreck Room
Country Music Venue
Readers’ choice: Billy Bob’s Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza, FW
Staff choice: White Elephant Saloon, 106 E Exchange Av, FW
Call us predictable, but we just can’t get enough of this little watering hole that sparked the resurgence of a Stockyards district that had tumbled into decline by the 1970s. The hardwood floors and long wooden bar are classic country. The state’s best honkytonk bands play regularly. The occasional celebrity strolls through (most recently Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Sam Shepard, who walked into the bar alone at 10 p.m. and drank beer and talked to folks until closing time). Drinks are reasonable, waitresses are friendly, fights are few, and the always-enjoyable beer garden beckons just outside.
Readers’ choice: Ridglea Theater
Staff choice: Tanstaafl Pub,
409 N Bowen Rd, Arlington
Thursday evening acoustic jam sessions at Tanstaafl can be hit or miss, depending on the musicians who show up. If semi-regulars Kathleen Jackson (upright bassist for Trinity River Whalers and Bluebonnet Plague) and her brother Greg Jackson (guitarist extraordinaire) turn out, count on a bing-bang-boom night. But even without those ringers, musicians such as Rocky Caster (hammer dulcimer), Dave Giddens (dobro), John Scott (banjo), and Mouse (rhythm guitar) make for a fun evening. The unplugged weekly jam sessions have been held for more than 20 years.
Readers’ choice: Hyena’s,
Staff choice: Gary Hood’s open mic at the Black Dog Tavern
Last year, Fort Worth’s godfather of comedy took a hiatus from his regular Sunday night gig at the Black Dog, where he hosted an open-mic night. He returned this spring, after the Dog had relocated to the West Side, and the major difference is that only rookies cherry-picked by Hood are allowed, and the professionals who show up are good. The scene buzzes with some of the best talent in North Texas, including Brian Schoell, Monty Griffin, Ken “Tie Dye Guy” Mathias, and Craig Stewart.
Staff choice: Chinaman
With a name pronounced like “Superman,” Chinaman makes fun of iconography tattoos, phallic sizes, slanty eyes, just about every Asian-American stereotype there is. (For the record, the comedian is of Asian descent.) Clad all in black and covered in tattoos, including “KIDWOK,” the 36-year-old also loves him some hard rock. A good portion of his show is devoted to dead-on impersonations of rockers, from Ozzy to Chris Cornell.
Readers’ choice: Yupp’s,
4111 Wedgway Dr, FW
Staff choice: Asian Nights, 2904 N Beach St, FW
Even though the outside is a strip mall, the inside conjures the heart of Saigon. The tunes are played at such volume that, even if the lyrics were in English, you still wouldn’t be able to understand them. For the best in non-professional renditions of Vietnamese and Laotian Top-40 hits, this super mini-lounge is the trick.
Readers’ choice: Lockjaw
Staff choice: (tie) Harry and the Potters; Draco and the Malfoys
Heavy competition here as usual. We were partial to Austin’s Super Heavy Goat Ass, but how can you resist not one but two bands with J.K. Rowling-derived names, especially when they toured together? The former from Norwood, Mass., the latter from Woonsocket, R.I., the two played at Metrognome Collective last month.
Local Music Show in Last 12 Months
Staff choice: Fly-by-Fort Worth, Metrognome Collective, March
This year, like years past, gave us several worthy candidates, including Spoonfed Tribe at the Ridglea Theater a couple of months ago, our Weekly Music Awards showcase in Sundance Square this past summer, and pretty much every darn Darth Vato show at The Moon. But since we can’t award more than one gig, we would be doing scenesters and readers a disservice if we didn’t give the nod to Metrognome’s pre-SXSW shows, wittily dubbed Fly-by-Fort Worth. As bands from across the globe headed to Austin for the annual industry lovefest, the nonprofit Southside collective managed to talk some of them into performing here on the way, including The Mutts (Brighton, UK), Gunshy (Chicago), Run Chico Run (Victoria, Canada), Skeletons and the Girl-Faced Boys (Queens, NY), Dada Swing (Rome, Italy), and “the original dirty rapper,” Blowfly (Miami).
Readers’ choice: Willie Roy
Staff choice: Lee Allen and Dave Karnes, Fort Worth Academy of Music
For the past year, these two virtuosi have been running Rock Camp for Fort Worth teens and young adolescents. Both bassist Allen and percussionist Karnes are trusted educators, Allen as a player and teacher and Karnes as a player and graduate of Berklee College of Music. Every cent generated by the Fort Worth Academy of Music goes right back into the program. Thirtysomethings like Allen and Karnes never had professional instruction when they were younger. Preventing a similar fate from befalling today’s generation of musicians is FWAM’s primary mission.
Local Rock Star
Readers’ choice: Brandin Lea
Staff choice: Marcus Lawyer
The criteria for being a rock star haven’t changed one iota since the days of John, Paul, George, and Ringo: popularity, showmanship, good hair, and a decent grasp of music. An ability to drink a small ocean’s worth of booze also helps, but it’s not necessary. While some folks may question the state of his coiffure, this year’s winner is popular for all the right reasons, and he’s a veritable encyclopedia of organized sounds. About two years ago, Marcus Lawyer began recording tracks from dozens of local musicians independent of one another. After amassing an arsenal of bleeps, twangs, and bangs, Lawyer began assembling them, piece by piece, until he eventually had a full length album, dubbed … shhh, of mostly instrumental, dancy tunes. Released under the band name Top Secret, the album was also a nominee in this year’s Music Awards for Album of the Year.
Readers’ choice: Manny Cruz
Best-Kept Bar Secret
Staff choice: The Pour House
The Pour House has food. Really good food, as a matter of fact. Another plus: Tables are plentiful during the afternoon rush since a bar doesn’t usually bring to mind brisket quesadillas, turkey paninis, red pepper penne pasta, and baked salmon. You can sit inside or on the balcony, complete with fans and a great view of Sundance Square. Try the Southwest chicken caesar wrap – it’s got quite a bite.
Readers’ choice: “Do I come here often?”
Staff choice: “It’s my first day in Texas.”
While maddening to the native Texas male, it works great for those from elsewhere. When they say Texas is like a whole other country, they really mean that girls will treat someone from Boston like a foreign diplomat in town to grace us rednecks with their wit and intelligence. The truth is, some of these people have lived here for years, but they keeping telling people it’s their first day, just so they can get a dose of that Texas hospitality that the state is famous for. So fake a non-Texas accent next time, and see how it can work for you too. Just don’t try French – that doesn’t fly around here.
Readers’ choice: Snookie’s, 2755 S Hulen St, FW
Staff choice: Blue Grotto, 517 N University Dr, FW
Nothing on the extensive menu here breaches the $7 barrier, including the yummy brisket tacos and the awesome ceviche. The Dagwood-style sandwiches can satisfy even the most serious case of post-party munchies. Open late.
Readers’ choice: J&J’s Blues Bar, 937 Woodward St, FW
Staff choice: BlueBird Blues Club, 5636 Wellesley Av, FW
After a lifetime in both the U.S. Navy and corporate America, Fort Worth native Sam Harris returned home two years ago to find the famous blues club closed. He bought and reopened it a year ago “to keep the blues alive,” he said, and “to help generate renewed energy in the Lake Como community.” The club was originally opened 35 years ago by legendary Cowtown bluesman Robert Ealey.