Critic’s Choice: Cowtown Bowling Palace, 4333 River Oaks Blvd, 817-624-2151
Bowling offers a recreational sweet spot where kids and adults of all ages can gather for family fun and gutterball groans. Cowtown Bowling Palace offers casual bowling, cosmic bowling (think: black lights and laser lights), tournaments, and even bowling lessons. Looking for a place to host your birthday party? Cowtown offers custom party packages for kids, teens, and adults that include pizza and burgers from the snack bar. Tell Dad not to worry: There are bumper-bowling lanes.
Critic’s Choice: Chris Polone, Rail Club Live
We knew our governor wasn’t a fan of police defunding and decriminalizing marijuana, but we had no idea how much he hated bars until COVID-19 hit. We can only imagine the creepy Grinch-like smirk that curled his thin lips when he realized that — finally! — those satanic dens of debauchery and gluttony where free talk leads to leftist ideas can be closed. Bwahaha! As churches, gyms, and other large gathering spaces were given the reopening green light this summer, bars continued to be the guv’s whipping boy. The second shuttering of bars (and many music venues that largely subsist on alcohol sales) last June has devastated small businesses along an arbitrary 51% line and led bootstrapped owners weighing the benefits of paying for new certifications and kitchen equipment. In a state where bars are the devil, food — apparently — is lawd. Rail Club Live co-owner Chris Polone called out Abbott for hypocritically allowing churchgoers to gather and restaurants to lay on the booze while singling out 51-percenters, as Polone calls them, for long-term closures. Polone has organized several protests involving opening bar doors and letting folks gather while respecting safety protocol. Polone’s chutzpah is a reminder that bar owners are a tough and freedom-loving breed, and they have no problem calling b.s. when they see it.
Readers’ Choice: Grandma’s, 715 W Magnolia Av, Facebook.com/GrandmasNSFW
Critic’s Choice: The Boiled Owl Tavern, 909 W Magnolia Av, 817-920-9616
There’s an ever-increasing number of spots to grab slick, $15, hand-muddled, live flower-garnished, cherrywood smoke-infused, takes-20-minutes-to-make craft cocktails out there. But sometimes you just need a classic PBR and a shot of whiskey, good convo, and a killer juke, and The Boiled Owl is that sort of place. It isn’t polished, but neither is it a dump. The Poached Nightbird is definitely not a dive in that manufactured, shabby-chic, full-of-country-road-street-signs-with-bullet-holes-and-repurposed-wood sense seemingly so trendy these days. It’s snug and worn in just the right places like your favorite denim jacket, but it’s earned its familiar, broken-in feel. It’s ’60s-era Dylan while other places are apparently trying to be pearl-snapped and bright-smiled Blake Shelton. Despite the bar’s rough edges, it’s still friendly and welcoming. There’s always someone you know, or someone you’d like to, and the ever-present laid-back vibes and comfortable, homey atmosphere will get you feeling like Norm on his famous corner stool with TV theme songs of fraternal drinking establishments running through your head. With personable barkeeps, occasional live music featuring Cowtown’s coolest bands, a respectable suds selection, and a smoker’s haven of a patio that butts against Magnolia Ave’s fun-seeking sidewalk traffic, The Boiled Owl is an easy place to burn a weekend or even a weekday night.
Critic’s Choice: Amber Room, 334 Bryan Av, Wishbone & Flynt, 817-945-2433
“Live tonight like there’s no tomorrow” at this totally swank retreat inside Wishbone & Flynt. At the Amber Room, the aesthetic is Old World charm: earthy tones, elaborate chandeliers, mismatched furniture, faux candles in wall sconces, and lots of rich fabrics and textures. The chill jazz overhead adds just the right speakeasy vibe to a beautiful spot for a craft cocktail or heartwarming brew. Step through the wooden door with “Carpe Noctem” painted on the side and enter into another, cooler world.
Readers’ Choice: Blake Parish, Lola’s Trailer Park, 2735 W 5th St, 817-759-9100
Critic’s Choice: Wayne Floyd, Tarantula Tiki Lounge, 125 S Main St, 817 920-9616
Born and raised in Fort Worth, 33-year-old Wayne Floyd can knock out a thirsty line at a crowded bar like the best of them and has been doing just that for more than 12 years. He’s the host of the monthly Facebook Live show Weird and Wild Waynesday, which originally began at MASS, where he also tends bar. While mixing drinks at Shipping & Receiving Bar or Tarantula Tiki Lounge, Floyd is an all-around wild and crazy guy and said his favorite beverage to whip up is the Tarantula Tiki Lounge’s Painkiller.
Readers’ Choice: The Bearded Lady, 300 S Main St, 817-349-9832
Critic’s Choice: MASH’d, 2948 Crockett St, 817-882-6723
With happy hour seven days a week, the Bloody Marys at MASH’d are a great way to gain or nurse a hangover. The Hillbilly Cousin is a diabolically delicious cocktail made with Jalapeño Tomato Moonshine, spicy tomato mix, and ice. The ice-cold, salt-rimmed mixed drink comes topped with a slice of lime, olives, and a one jumbo shrimp.
Readers’ Top 5: Cowtown Brewing Co., 1301 E Belknap St, 817-489-5800 • Funky Picnic Brewery & Cafe, 401 Bryan Ave, Ste 117, 817-923-2121 • HopFusion Ale Works, 200 E Broadway Av, 682-841-1721 • Rahr & Sons, 701 Galveston Av, 817-810-9266 • Wild Acre Brewing, 1734 E El Paso, Ste 190, 817-882-9453
Critic’s Choice: Funky Picnic Brewery & Cafe
Fort Worth’s breweries took a pummeling this year. True, Americans kept their time-honored tradition of guzzling beers at home, but the shelter-in-place order cut off an important revenue stream for craft breweries — taproom sales. Many local breweries that made it through the first shutdown were caught up in Gov. Greg Abbott’s June reshuttering of bars. Throughout the pandemic, Fort Worth’s breweries showed grit. HopFusion Ale Works kept employees on payroll well into the pandemic, and Wild Acre Brewing Company forged ahead with the late spring opening of Wild Acre Camp Bowie under business conditions that couldn’t have been more difficult. Funky Picnic Brewery & Café was well under a year old when the pandemic hit. Co-founder and general manager Samantha Glenn quickly converted her restaurant into an efficient curbside operation that offered grocery options in addition to the cafe’s popular sandwiches and other dishes. Glenn even served up hot java from nearby Roots Coffeehouse to help boost sales. When the Black Lives Matter movement became national news last June, Funky Picnic used its social media platforms to educate its followers on issues like systemic racism and racist policing policies. Mid-summer, brewer Michael Harper released a lovely and rich stout, Black Is Beautiful, that raised money for two local Black-led charities. Funky Picnic showed leadership during adversity, and they did it while making damn tasty beers.
Boozy Sensory Overload
Critic’s Choice: Southside Cellar, 125 S Main St, 682-703-2184
The Southside Cellar just never seems to end. For folks who love craft beer and assorted wines and ciders, but especially craft beer, this place is a heaven among the ruins. Browse the fully stocked shelves with more cool-looking labels and fantastic-sounding beverages than every local bar ever combined or pull up some sofa for a proper pour. The only problem may be knowing when to stop buying stuff.
Cocktails to Go
Readers’ Choice: Muy Frio Margaritas, 3613 W Vickery Blvd, Ste 109,
Critic’s Choice: Blackland Distillery, 2616 Weisenberger St, 682-268-5333
The distillery famed for its dimly lit, swanky bar became a purveyor of superlative cocktail mixes during the pandemic. The same attention to quality that has made the distillery regionally famous went into making the hand-crafted mixes that were sold with or without bottles of Blackland spirits. Locals were treated to the Grapefruit Punch, Gimlet, Old Fashioned, and others.
Readers’ Choice: Thompson’s, 900 Houston St, 817-882-8003
Critic’s Choice: Thompson’s
Thompson’s has won critic’s choice in this category before, so maybe it’s no surprise that this fine but anti-bougie downtown watering hole snatched first place this year. They consistently have great service and offer both classic and signature cocktails from some of the best mixologists in Fort Worth. For the time being, they’re doing cocktails only to go (through online preorders), but in this new COVID world, we’ll take what we can get. Of course, it’s not the same drinking a Fitzgerald in one’s living room instead of the elegant upstairs lounge or the downstairs speakthoeasy, but “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” as they say. Meanwhile, thanks for committing to flattening the curve, guys!
Critic’s Choice: Guitars and Cadillacs, 4750 Bryant Irvin Rd, 817-294-5487
Start with a Texas-sized dance floor, add in an upscale country atmosphere and affordably priced shots, and you’re on your way to understanding what keeps locals slipping on their best pair of cowboy boots for a night of late-night dancing and frosty beers. Surrounding the 2,500-square-foot dance floor are four unique bars, custom tables, lounge couches, and ever-ready shot girls who have the perfect libation to fuel your next hour of carefree dancing. Underlying the flash and on-point DJs are an attentive and friendly staff who bring a down-home experience to every visit.
Day Drink, Place to
Critic’s Choice: Buffalo Bros, 415 Throckmorton St, 817-887-9533
Buffalo Bros downtown (there’s another location by TCU) is a little hard to categorize. Is it a sports bar? Yes, but most folks go for the food, live televised sports game or not. Is it a bar bar? Sure, but you’re just as likely to see a family dining in as you are to see rowdy college students. Buffalo Bros can be many things to many people because the sports bar is awesome at pretty much everything. Crafty brews and elevated bar fare make this restaurant the perfect place to park over a beer before that “socially acceptable” drinking time. You know, happy hour. Plus, being downtown, you’re always liable to bump into someone just visiting to converse with.
Readers’ Choice: Blackland Distillery, 2616 Weisenberger St, 682-268-5333
Critic’s choice: Blackland Distillery
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, many local and Texas distilleries shifted production from spirits to hand sanitizer. Blackland Distillery was one of the first to make the transition. On March 23, the Foundry District-based distillery and taproom began selling ethanol-based hand sanitizers. Proceeds from those sales went to providing free hand sanitizers for health care workers and shelters that were in great need of those supplies. The quick pivot to providing an essential service showed resolve and leadership on the part of Backland owner Markus Kypreos.
Drink Alone, Place to
Critic’s Choice: Lola’s Trailer Park, 2735 W 5 St, 817-759-9100
Though less than a mile away from the thriving, always packed West 7th area, Lola’s Trailer Park and next-door Saloon couldn’t be more removed from glitz and glam. Specializing in beverages of the cold and frosty variety and live music of all stripes, the Trailer Park is where nice people gather to discuss sports, pop culture, and politics without fisticuffs. As long as you’re friendly, the Trailer Park’s retinue of rough-and-tumble regulars will welcome you like one of their own. They’ll also leave you alone if you’d rather nurse a Bud in peace.
Readers’ Choice: Rick’s Cabaret Fort Worth, 7101 Calmont Av, 817-732-0000
Critic’s Choice: Rick’s Cabaret Fort Worth
Rick’s brings Las Vegas-style dancers and fine dining in an immaculate setting. Here, the live entertainment and food are both, um, amply proportioned. As you sip on a cocktail or indulge in a steak, fit and friendly entertainers will keep you entranced across three stages. For those seeking a less public experience, Rick’s offers private and semi-private rooms. Locals know Rick’s is the place for polite service and a refined gentlemen’s club experience.
Readers’ Choice: Berry Street Ice House, 2000 W Berry St, 817-386-0724
Critic’s Choice: Crocket Hall, 3000 Crocket St, 817-885-7331
Here in the States, it has been said, most of us drink to get drunk. In pretty much every other developed nation, dining is part of the drinking experience, which is why the Crocket Hall is ideal for your happy houring needs. From 3 to 6pm Mon-Fri, the cavernous space bristles with young folks and couples of all ages sampling the fare (barbecue, burgers, poke, Mexican, sandwiches, and more) from over a dozen vendors while enjoying the craft cocktails, wines, and beers (import, domestic, and local on tap or by the bottle). Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and filling that belly along the way with some quality grub is key in keeping the course.
Readers’ Choice: Fuel 2.0, 2616 E Belknap St, 817-318-7395
Critic’s Choice: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 111 E 3rd St, 817-336-7470
Whatever you need to thirst your quench, the Flying Saucer probably has it on draught. Ciders, light ales, and sours are popular choices when Texas temperatures hit the century mark. The newly organized menu places beers into easy-to-remember categories, and the staff is always ready to lend a knowledgeable hand.
Critic’s Choice: The Sinclair, 512 Main St, 682-231-8214
Before it closed down in the spring due to the pandemic, this new place sported all the charm of a boutique hotel with the perks of a location in the middle of the bustling downtown area. The Art Deco theme of the lobby bar contrasted sharply with the modern view that the rooftop bar afforded. You may not be able to order the classic cocktails and the eats from the Wicked Butcher that were available in the before times, but the prospect of this place opening back up is one more reason to wish for an end to our current plague.
Critic’s Choice: Social Distancing Concert Series, MASS
While most other venues hunkered down once the pandemic hit, MASS (Main at South Side) cranked up the amps to 11 and livestreamed a steady dose of concerts, mainly to generate some ka-ching for the artists but also to show to Fort Worth (and the rest of the world) how important live music is to our souls. Brandin Lea, The Unlikely Candidates, and Quaker City Night Hawks’ Sam Anderson were three of the biggest stars to step through your screens from the MASS stage, and if based purely on the thousands of hearts and upraised thumbs that popped off during nearly every show, live original music remains one of Fort Worth’s most valuable commodities.
Readers’ Choice: Joe T. Garcia’s, 2201 N Commerce St, 817-626-4356
Critic’s Choice: Velvet Taco, 2700 7th St, 817-887-9810
Let’s be real for a minute. If you’re looking for something cheap, strong, and tangy, you can’t go wrong with a margarita from Velvet Taco. During these trying times the staffers at VT are being real ones and offering margaritas to go, so you can have your tequila and drink it, all while staying responsible and socially distanced. (We recommend having your drinks with some takeout by the pool.)
Critic’s Choice: Lucile’s Stateside Bistro, 4700 Camp Bowie Blvd, 817-738-4761
Lucile’s cocktail game is always on point. The bartenders at this Fort Worth gem put every bit of attention into their hand-crafted cocktails as they do their carefully prepared meals. The men and women tending the cocktail bar will mix and pour you a gin or vodka martini — shaken, stirred, or dirty — that is perfectly blended and clean. Take it from us: Any libation you order will transcend your expectations, and the happy hour specials will make ordering that second martini feel guilt-free.
Critic’s Choice: Sean McDowell, Thompson’s, 900 Houston St,
There are three things you can count on in this world: taxes, death, and that Sean McDowell will mix you a bomb-ass Old Fashioned. A fixture at the former bookstore, he is always there on weekends mixing aromatic, pleasing concoctions and chatting with bargoers. If you don’t already know, he’s the guy behind the bar in the snappy vest. If your drink isn’t to your taste, he’ll make it right or prepare a custom mix. He’s also a good Samaritan, which is invaluable for any lady who needs a bartender’s attention. (Blind date making you uncomfortable? Talk to Sean.)
Readers’ Choice: MASS (Main at Southside), 1002 S Main St,
Critic’s Choice: MASS
Though live music hasn’t been a thing for a while now, when it was, MASS offered some of the most progressive sounds in the city on a bona fide stage. Located in the bustling South Main Village on the Near Southside, MASS continued the tunes through lockdown via a livestreamed concert series that saw the likes of Brandin Lea, The Unlikely Candidates, and Quaker City Night Hawks’ Sam Anderson take the stage.
Nurse a Hangover, Place to
Critic’s Choice: Ol’ South Pancake House, 1509 S University Dr, 817-336-0311
For some, the best hangover cure is more hangover-inducing libations. For others, it’s fueling up to get the blood pumping at the gym or on the trails, and for the kind of lovely carbs and proteins required to knock out the pullups and sit-ups or at least three miles on the pavement, Ol’ South is the place. With pancakes as fluffy as clouds and succulent meats, the 24-hour TCU-area hangout remains a Fort Worth treasure no matter what condition your head — or liver — is in.
Readers’ Choice: Lola’s Trailer Park, 2735 W 5th St, 817-759-9100
Critic’s Choice: Lola’s Trailer Park
Before the pandemic put the kibosh on live music, Lola’s weekly open-mic night was a treat of regular pros and newcomers that always went well with the easy, breezy weather. Hosted near the end by well-respected Sur Duda frontman Cameron Smith, the event offered a sweet spot of live, original, often rock music in a corridor awash in disco beats.
Overall Drinking Establishment
Critic’s Choice: The Usual, 1408 W Magnolia Av, 817-810-0114
This perennial Best Of winner still sets the standard when it comes to enjoying perfectly made Prohibition Era libations along with cold, frosty suds in an elegant yet laid-back, friendly setting. Located in the heart of the Near Southside, The Uzhe, as it’s lovingly known, delivers on everything from the craftiest craft cocktails to the occasional good ol’ macrobrew.
Readers’ Choice: The Post at River East, 2925 Race St, 817-945-8890
Critic’s Choice: Twilite Lounge, 212 Lipscomb St, 817-720-5483
Twilite is one of the more recent additions to the Near Southside’s expanding crop of fine, grown-up drinking establishments. Likely better known for the classy interior’s plush Bourbon Street speakeasy aesthetic — with its sensual crimson and gold leaf color palette — the pub’s unsung feature is its swank, uncluttered patio. With colorful flower-stuffed planter boxes, clean and stylish geometric paving, and warm cedar-plank fencing that still allows plenty of air flow from the street, Twilite’s back spot has all the sanguine alfresco air of a smart L.A. sidewalk cafe. Thankfully, the customers are likely to speak with a soothing Southern drawl rather than that grating, SoCal bottle-blonde, Valley girl lilt.
Critic’s Choice: Finn MacCool’s Pub, 1700 8th Av, 817-923-2121
Besides having a fly name and lowkey vibe, Finn MacCool’s is an old-world tavern where a well-poured stout is a given and a casual conversation with the bartender or fellow barflies is always welcome. Since opening in 2005, MacCool’s has become popular with locals. The owner, Robert Holt, is a fixture at the bar and loves catching up with longtime regulars. Here, the floors are never sticky, and the pool tables are always level. The staff takes pride in keeping its humble environs in top form, and it shows.
Readers’ Choice: Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 111 E 3rd St, 817-336-7470
Critic’s Choice: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, 3100 W 7th St, 817-336-8000
It’s not big, but the U-shaped bar at Eddie V’s sure is cozy and cool, and with the smooth jazz and jazzy rock coming from the duos and trios onstage, you’ll feel you’ve been transported to downtown Chi-town. While you’re enjoying the Smoked Old Fashioned — literally, the bartender holds your empty glass over an extinguished flame on the cutting plank beforehand — order some Oysters Eddiefeller, the restaurant’s twist on Oysters Rockefeller. Casual and cool, Eddie V’s bar is right all the time — not only 25 or -6 to 4.
Socially Distanced Event
Critic’s Choice: Marc Rebillet, Coyote Drive-In, June 27, 2020
If asked to pick a COVID-shuttered industry most missed, live music would be an odds-on favorite to end up on the medal stand. Due to both a sense of shared responsibility among fellow citizens and, well, government intervention, stages remain dark across the state. Most artists have had to get by jockeying for eyeballs on the socials with so-called “virtual” concerts. A handful of the more creative problem solvers have occasionally managed to find ways to safely entertain an actual living, breathing, in-the-flesh human audience. One such event took place over the summer with viral internet sensation and self-described “Loop Daddy,” Marc Rebillet. At the built-in socially distanced Coyote Drive-In, Rebillet entertained eager fans in and out of their automobiles with his unique and hilarious improvisational loop building. The former North Texas native, donning his signature bikini briefs and opened silk kimono, gave plenty to appreciate with fun and psychedelic projections on the movie screens behind while he channeled a saucy mix of Daft Punk-esque electronics and Parliament-grooved funk to back his off-the-top-of-the-head lyrical ramblings. A surprise onstage appearance by Erykah Badu was the icing on top of the electro-funk confection.
Readers’ Choice: Buffalo Bros, 3015 S University Dr, 817-386-9601
Critic’s Choice: Buffalo Bros
It’s true. Most bars are sports bars as long as TVs are hanging on the walls, but what sets apart this Buffalo Bros (there’s another location downtown) from your average watering hole or mega-chain burger joint is location, location, location. On Saturday in the fall, TCU fans flock (“hop”?) to Buffalo Bros to cheer on the Horny Toads, and if you’re a current student or an alum (who’s not, y’know, middle-aged), Buffalo Bros is the place to be.
Critic’s Choice: KNON/89.3-FM KNON
As a listener-supported, nonprofit community radio station, KNON is no stranger to seeking donations. All of the shows’ DJs promote pledge drives on-air. Naturally, this was also the case when a tornado destroyed KNON’s studio right before the pandemic. In response, the station toughened up, created a “Crisis Combo” package that included masks and “Toughest Radio Station” T-shirts, and just kept going. The DJs grabbed some equipment and a tent, then hiked it up the hill where their tower stands and kept on broadcasting 24/7 –– as they always do –– until their new space was ready. They never once went off the air. Talk about the “Eye of the Tiger.”
Take First Date (to Impress), Place to
Critic’s Choice: The Wicked Butcher, 512 Main St, Sinclair Hotel, 817-601-4621
In the basement of the Sinclair Hotel downtown, The Wicked Butcher epitomizes “impressive.” The elegant atmosphere in keeping with the building’s Art Deco DNA still does not compare to the tantalizing food. With steaks dry-aged in-house and price points ranging from eminently affordable to ultra-spendy, The Wicked Butcher can satisfy any palate while also charm in the most extravagant way. (Closed until further notice.)
Take a First Date (to Go Crazy), Place to
Critic’s Choice: Fort Worth Axe Factory, 220 S Sylvania Av, Unit 110,
It’s not as easy as it looks, and starting off by throwing duds will definitely lower y’all’s defenses. This is all assuming neither one of you has mastered the fine art of axe-throwing, and if you haven’t, the Fort Worth Axe Factory is a great spot to get out the jitters, BYOB, and break a minor sweat. The rates are reasonable, and everyone knows romance can bloom while two newly introduced folks work through a problem together. Married people? That’s a whole ’nother something.
Readers’ Choice: Kent & Co. Wines, 1101 W Magnolia Av, 817-632-6070
Critic’s Choice: Thirty Eight + Vine, 212 Carroll St, Ste 130, 682-703-1887
Wine can be intimidating, but making it accessible is the driving ethos behind this Foundry District establishment. With a large variety of labels on offer, Thirty Eight + Vine employs a self-pour concept to allow customers to choose the size of their glass and to try any bottle, no matter the price tag, helping dismantle the notion that wine is only for snobs. Plus, there are classes for you to build up your knowledge and broaden your palate. Open only for curbside/delivery now.