Travel

Bugs does Dallas!

Richard Burnett
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In Dallas, if there is just one place one must go, it is to that city’s famed Round-Up Saloon, the biggest and most fabulous country-western gay bar on the planet. I’ve been to Dallas twice and I always finish up at the Round-Up just like that other dancefloor diva, none other than Lady Gaga.

“A few years ago I got a call from a promoter saying he had a dance-music performer who loves performing in gay clubs and he told me, ‘This girl is going to the next Madonna,’” says Round-Up co-owner Alan Pierce. “Her name was Lady Gaga and she came in on the agreed Saturday to rehearse in the afternoon with two dancers. She had only two songs at that time. But word got out to the younger crowd and they packed the place that night.”



Pierce – who married his business and life partner Gary Miller in Montreal in 2006 (they’ve been together 26 years) – smiles broadly. “Lady Gaga returned to Dallas to play the American Airlines Centre in 2010 and during the concert she shouted out the Round-Up Saloon five or six times and implied she may come by after the show. Instead she came the following night with a motorcade lead by two police motorcycles. Everybody knew who it was. The Round-Up was packed and in she walked with her entire entourage and bodyguards. We chatted in our office and she looked around and said, ‘This was my first dressing room!’”

Pierce continues, “That was her first real visit – but she came back a couple more times in 2011. [One night] she came in with her dancers and all she needed was for us to secure the dancefloor. Then they performed Born this Way. There just happened to be a photographer from Rolling Stone magazine there that night and the story went global.”



Clearly, Lady Gaga has not forgotten the helping hand Alan and Gary at the Round-Up gave her at the beginning of her career. Quite frankly – and I’m sure Lady Gaga would agree – these two Dallas pioneers are local heroes.

While the Round-Up anchors the gay strip on Cedar Springs Road in the Oak Lawn neighbourhood of Dallas, there is tons more to see here in the city where the Oscar-winning movies Boys Don’t Cry, Born on the Fourth of July and Bonnie and Clyde were filmed. Across the street from the Round-Up is a really great drag bar, The Rose Room, with hilariously raunchy Cassie Nova hosting in a room so beautiful it could house a symphony orchestra.

Speaking of the symphony, Dallas’s new multi-billion-dollar downtown arts district (17 full blocks) includes the gorgeous Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, so named because the Winspears donated $42-million cash to build it. Another 117 Dallas millionaires and billionaires – including Ross Perot and Boone Pickens – donated at least $1-million each to build the new AT&T Performing Arts Center. Other big-ticket world-class projects opening in the next year include the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and The George W. Bush Presidential Center.



In Dallas, money really does grow on trees.

But Dallas is also no longer the Texas mythologized in Hollywood epics like Giant. Still, there are moments when I feel Dallas is a city frozen in time: The incredibly respectful and educational Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza – best known as the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy – remains the biggest attraction in Texas: Each year over a million visitors look out the window Oswald aimed his rifle from at JFK.

I also spent a couple days in big-city Fort Worth, which is about a 40-minute drive from Dallas.

The Fort Worth Stockyards in the Stockyards National Historic District was the highlight of my trip to the Lone Star State: It is filled with sites from the Old West, Texas-themed shopping and restaurants (some of the best steakhouses in the country), rodeos, genuine western saloons (like the White Elephant Saloon inside The Stockyards Hotel where the real-life Bonnie and Clyde stayed), not to mention the twice-daily Fort Worth Herd cattle-drive and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame.

I also found my inner cowgirl visiting the amazing treasure-filled National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame where I saw outfits worn by Dale Evans and Annie Oakley's travelling rodeo trunk (incidentally, women are also called cowboys – NOT cowgirls – but I digress). I later found my inner diva visiting the gorgeous Bass Performance Hall, home to the Fort Worth Opera Company. In Fort Worth – as in Dallas – opera is hugely popular. About their 2012 Opera Festival – which included Puccini’s blockbuster opera Tosca – FWO general director Darren Woods says, “I like to do shows that say something about the world we live in. We’re still fighting wars, families still have troubles and the aristocracy is still doing [bad] things to poor people.”



The nightlife in Fort Worth is pretty fun too, from Billy Bob’s Texas – the world’s largest honky-tonk that at 100,000 square feet boasts a bull-riding arena, concerts (past performers include Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson), a zillion pool tables, 30 bar stations, a restaurant and souvenir shop – to the gay Rainbow Lounge, which was the site of that city’s Stonewall, when Fort Worth police raided the nightclub in the early morning hours of June 28, 2009. Ironically, the ill-advised raid happened on the 40th anniversary of NYC’s Stonewall Riots and is now the subject of the terrific 2012 documentary film Raid of the Rainbow Lounge directed by Robert Camina (whom I met and is a very nice guy) and narrated by Emmy-nominated actress Meredith Baxter.

I’m also happy to report that the Rainbow Lounge raid was a transformative moment for Fort Worth, which is now a leader for LGBT equality. Alongside Dallas, a blue metropolis in a red state, Fort Worth is the new gay face of Texas.

And did I mention the cowboys are really hot?

WHERE TO STAY
In Dallas check out the Hilton Anatole which surely must be one of the largest hotel complexes in the world, complete with pool, spa and gym. Surf to http://www.hiltonanatolehotel.com/. In Fort Worth, a good and affordable choice is the Omni Hotel Fort Worth http://www.omnihotels.com/findahotel/fortworth.aspx

WHERE TO EAT
In Dallas, you’ll enjoy the seafood, steak and live jazz at Eddie V’s http://www.eddiev.com/. In Fort Worth, check out the open-air Woodshed Smokehouse, chef Tim Love’s hommage to all things grilled, roasted and slow-cooked http://www.woodshedsmokehouse.com/. Another must-eat is breakfast or brunch at Forth Worth institution Paris Coffee House http://pariscoffeeshop.net/ (be sure to taste one of their famous pies).

HOW TO GET THERE
American Airlines has daily service from Montreal to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport http://www.aa.com/.


Read Richard Burnett’s POP TART blog for The Montreal Gazette at http://blogs.montrealgazette.com/category/montreal/pop-tart/.
Read Burnett’s national queer-issues column Three Dollar Bill online at www.bugsburnett.blogspot.com.