We may have just witnessed the end of a glorious, notorious era in our humble town’s history. Though the head honchos haven’t announced anything official, it’s a good bet the Backstage Club inside the Tower at the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum (3301 W Lancaster Av, 817-348-0642) has served its last drink and meal. Now known as one of the three-pronged service venues of Reata at the annual Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, the longstanding pop-up bar/restaurant, open only during the three-week run of the rodeo, will likely be abandoned when the event moves to Dickies Arena down the road next year. The soon-to-be-completed mega-plex will take care of its own food and bevs.
The Backstage Club has been around since the ’50s, and, according to my guest who has frequented the once-exclusive watering hole, this new Reata-led iteration is way more family friendly and tame. My pal told stories of the saloon’s rowdy, drunken, and debauched past that made it sound like an Old West fetish flick. Fort Worth’s elite families rubbed elbows with rodeo clowns and brawling ne’er-do-wells, and apparently every evening would devolve into one big leather-and-spurs orgy. I’m sorry I missed the place’s more salacious periods –– that sounds like good cowboy fun.
The various taxidermied animal heads hanging on the dark-wood walls of the bar may not be able to talk, but I caught a glimpse of what they might have seen over the years during visits on two consecutive days. Though watered-down, the bar scene on the final Thursday of the stock show was still downright raucous.
After surviving a white-knuckle ride on a 50-year-old elevator (where a guy toting a boom-box blaring C&W hits offered us gum), my pal and I were greeted by shrieks of laughter erupting from a crowd thick with women and men donned in ornate-looking boots, felt cowboy hats, and the same damn vest. As we worked our way through the throng and up to the front bar (there is another toward the back of the space), two, uh, friendly people stood behind us, each propping up the other like competitors in some kind of three-legged obstacle course race. I hope they made it the three more feet they needed to go for another drink.
Aside from the setting, Backstage looks like your typical Stockyards cantina – mostly thanks to the abundance of hats, severed animal heads, and loud C&W music. The bartenders were fast and friendly, the whiskey selection was decent, and every seat/stool/place to stand was more charming than comfy – if you could find an empty one. I was feeling a little out of place, mostly because I wasn’t rocking a vest, so I sipped on a couple of TX Whiskeys on the rocks until I felt right at home. I chatted with some nice folks, and a few jolly people slurred some greetings our way.
The following day, my buddy and I returned for lunch, and the dining rooms were teeming with cowpeople and a surprising amount of children for a weekday afternoon. One-time Reata head chef Brian Olenjack was manning the spatula this season, and I was excited to try the club’s menu of Reata’s greatest hits from over the years. The food, I’m happy to report, was excellent. My jalapeño-crusted snapper tasted buttery and refined. I imagine preparing perfect fish in a makeshift kitchen isn’t an easy task, but Olenjack and co. pulled it off. The service, well, I’d rather not speak ill of the (probably) dead.
I don’t know what’s going to happen to the concrete phallus once Dickies Arena opens, but at least I experienced life Backstage, if only for a couple of days. And who knows, maybe someone will re-open it next year and bring back those orgies. I look good in clown makeup.