Austinites looking to get away but still wanting a locale that radiates Texas style only have to make the short trip to Fort Worth. The swank four-star Hotel Drover debuted March 22 in the touristy Fort Worth Stockyards, ready to host out-of-towners from San Antonio to San Francisco. But with five snappy bars, a chef-driven restaurant, and a sprawling backyard entertainment area that opens to the Trinity Trails, the upscale “urban ranch oasis” will be the coolest new hang for hip Austinites, too.
Burrowed beside Marine Creek, between Northeast 23rd Street and East Exchange Avenue, the Hotel Drover, a Marriott Autograph Collection property, is the crown jewel of the $175 million Mule Alley district of shops and restaurants (including two forthcoming eateries from chef Tim Love), a giant Stockyards redevelopment project spearheaded by Majestic Realty and The Hickman Company.
And while the buzz has been building outside, behind the scenes, the pressure's been on to get this unique luxury hotel just right. The goal: to honor Fort Worth's past as an overnight stop on the cattle trails but also exude the modern swagger of the nation’s 13th largest city.
"There's a [design] 'schizophrenia' we've gone through — Western, non-Western," says Craig Cavileer, executive vice president of Majestic Realty, on a private walk-through a month before opening day. "There's a barbed-wire chandelier here, but then there’s a crystal chandelier over there ... only three antler chandeliers in the whole building. You'd think there'd be a million of them in a Western-style hotel."
Adds Majestic's Kayla Wilkie, Hotel Drover's creative design and development director, "[In the guest rooms], we really tried to hit all areas of the Western lifestyle so guests can experience it. But if locals are coming and want to partake and want to sit in the lobby area, it doesn’t feel like you’re in this huge 'Cowtown-hokey' space."
Moseying into the Instagrammy West
The hotel tips its cowboy hat to the Old West with modern details from the entry. A bronze and steel sculpture of the namesake "drover" — a cowboy who herded longhorn cattle — by South Dakota's John Lopez Studios greets guests inside the lobby. Next to it, hand-tooled, custom-branded leather check-in stations.
Look up, and you'll see a seal of Texas in the ceiling; look across and you'll see a neon sign that reads "Western Rodeo Romances" from Austin's famed neon artist Evan Voyles — sure to be an Instagram hit.
"Every single room has an Instagram focus," Cavileer says. "I can't tell you how many pictures we've taken posing in front of things, saying, 'Does that feel right?'"
Wilkie lists design details at a breathless pace: 30,000 pounds of steel used as a nod to the Stockyards' industrial past; 27 different wood stains, five different coppers, and authentic reclaimed hardwood flooring throughout. Furnishings from local retailers Rios Interiors, Brumbaugh's, Antek's, and The Arrangement.
"During COVID, we were making sure we supported local as much as possible," she says.
Eat and drink like a local
In good news for Austinites hungry for a visit, you don't have to be a hotel guest to sit, sip, and stay for dinner.
Begin at the Lobby Bar, where you can sink into a custom cowhide chair or velvet couch by the fireplace and sip signature cocktails made with local spirits. Wait for your date in the two-story lobby library filled with Texas-inspired books. Or wander over to the two retail shops, The Lucchese Custom Collection boot shop and Little White Lies, an artisan boutique with feminine elan.
Then move to dinner at the 200-seat 97 West Kitchen & Bar, where executive chef Grant Morgan (The Ranch at Las Colinas, Velvet Taco) is serving contemporary Texas fare he calls "elevated ranch classics" and "reimagined Southern comfort foods." Think: antelope, chicken-fried oysters, sweet-tea-marinated fried green tomatoes, wood-grilled ribeye cap steak salad, New York strip chicken-fried steak, cast-iron seared redfish, and pecan pie topped with Fort Worth's own Melt ice cream.
Ingredients are largely sourced locally, creative signature cocktails are "brown spirits forward," the wine list is all-American, and the beer list features favorite regional brews.
Snag a table near the open-air kitchen and watch the chefs cook. Or reserve one of three private dining rooms, including an outdoor chef’s table under a pergola overlooking the creek.
Relaxing under the stars
Visitors can also help themselves to the hotel’s unquestionable hot spot, The Backyard.
The expansive, tree-filled outdoor space is outfitted with creekside bar seating, Adirondack chairs, lawn games, fire pits with s'mores kits, and a live music stage dubbed Backyard Unplugged. A 1950s horse trailer converted into a portable, pop-up bar called The Pour Horse can be moved around the yard.
Guests can order grab-and-go food from 97 West in The Backyard by scanning a QR code, and live music will be scheduled on weekends.
The Backyard has its own entrance that connects to the Trinity Trails, all the way to downtown and beyond, so cyclists can park and enjoy a cold beer under a shade tree. Wilkie says they're working with restaurants farther down the trail on some future collaborative events.
On the other side of the expansive backyard oasis is an upscale pool area, which is exclusively for hotel guests. A heated pool and hot tub are surrounded by three private cabanas with hanging daybeds, 65 custom-built chaise lounges, and custom crystal chandeliers. The space evokes a luxury resort in a faraway place, not an urban hotel built on a former RV parking lot.
"We did everything we could to not make it feel like a hotel backyard," Cavileer says.
Staying at the Drover
The hotel has 200 luxe guest rooms, and no two are alike. Designs include Texana (quintessential ranch decor), Frontier (bright, colorful, art-filled rooms), Republic (Western design in an elevated atmosphere), The Bunkhouse Room (family-friendly rooms with bunk beds), Lucchese (designed in partnership with Lucchese Custom Collection), and King Ranch (featuring artwork selected by the iconic King Ranch).
Twenty-six suites have oversized bronze soaking tubs, fireplaces, and terraces. Six first-floor rooms open to the pool patio. The Presidential Suite has an indoor and outdoor fireplace.
Each room comes well-appointed with Los Poblanos artisan lavender products, a minibar with local spirits, custom boot jacks, and King Ranch leather goods. A 24-hour fitness room has Peloton bikes and Mirror workout systems. There are special programs for kids, and the hotel is pet-friendly.
Rates currently run from about $180 to $600 per night.
“The Barn” may be a provincial name for the hotel’s premier 4,000-square-foot, rustic-glam event space, but it’s not exactly a "ballroom" either.
It's a light-filled space made of reclaimed barn siding and 150-year-old beams from a barn in Wisconsin. Four massive hand-made Italian crystal chandeliers hang from 30-foot vaulted ceilings. Outside, 2,500 more feet of lushly landscaped event space can be booked, and a custom, clear tent can cover it when the weather gets messy.
More than 40,000 total square feet of indoor and outdoor event spaces also include meeting rooms and boardrooms on the second floor that look down on The Backyard, Marine Creek, and Mule Alley.
Looking around the hotel, pointing out the myriad details of the hotel, Cavileer says the only project that's been more extensive for him is a Las Vegas casino. Hotel Drover, he says, needed to be big and bold for Fort Worth.
"We had to do it," he says. "It's the Stockyards. It's a legacy."
Hotel Drover is now open at 200 Mule Alley Dr. in Fort Worth. Self-parking is $7; all-day valet, $32. For service hours, reservations, and more, visit www.hoteldrover.com.