Last updated 12 September 2022
The North Texan town called Grapevine, located halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, possesses a unique history, charm and character. Add in a dash of Texan southern hospitality and you have a place worthy of a stopover, whether it’s for a few hours or a few days.
Savouring the last sip of my frozen margarita, I wasn’t feeling confident I could manage another. Sitting at the back table of Esparza’s Restaurante Mexicana, Marilyn our waitress is working her southern charm, doing her best to sweet talk me into ordering a second margarita. There is a statement on the menu cover that boldly claims Esparaza’s is the Margarita Capital of Texas.
I’ve been in Grapevine, a town smack bang in the middle of Fort Worth and Dallas, for less than 24 hours, but I’m becoming aware of their generous portion sizes. That last margarita could have been shared with two people – three easily. Marilyn, who’s worked at Esparza’s since the restaurant’s opening in 1985 is pretty convincing. She suggests I should try the ‘Swirl.’
“Why?” I ask.
“Because it’s layered with a swirl of frozen sangria,” she says smiling. “And is my favourite.”
I can’t argue with that so I order another. But before it arrives I decide to break away from the food (quaffed one too many taquitos and brisket quesadillas) and step outside to Esparza’s front patio. I can faintly hear live music lingering on the balmy evening air. The restaurant is a two-minute stroll from Grapevine’s Main Street and it’s the first night of the 32nd Annual Grapefest – the largest wine festival celebrated in America’s southwest.
Marilyn sashays towards me with my fresh margarita. “This is Le Freak playing,” she says.
My blank expression indicates I’ve never heard of ‘Le Freak.’
“A disco cover band,” she explains.
As I’m nodding (still with no idea who Le Freak are) Marilyn tells me she’s looking forward to Saturday night’s musical lineup with Don Felder, formerly from The Eagles. Now there’s a band I know (and love.) I’ll make sure to be around the main stage on Saturday night to catch Don and his band. (Tickets to Grapefest also cover the musical entertainment throughout the day and into the evening.)
Marilyn lives locally and admits to having attended every one of Grapevine’s 32 Grapefests. “It’s the best time of the year to be in Grapevine,“ she says smiling. “And working here is the best too, they’re like family,” she adds.
Conveniently close to DFW Airport
Grapevine’s convenient central location, 32 kilometres northwest of Dallas and 30 kilometres northeast of Fort Worth, means it’s a quick half-hour uber or taxi ride from the International Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DFW) into the centre of either city’s downtown areas crammed with world-class attractions.
But instead of opting for these cities, picture this. Leaving the fourth busiest airport in the world (for aircraft movement) and 15 minutes later stretching your legs on Grapevine’s Main Street.
Downtown Grapevine is located only six and a half kilometres from the DFW. And Grapevine CVB runs a shuttle bus to and from the DFW.
Plenty of retail therapy in Grapevine
With over 80 locally-owned restaurants and diners, unique shops, and several art galleries in Grapevine’s Historic District there are plenty of reasons to make a Grapevine stopover. Whether you’re transiting through DFW with a few hours to ‘kill’ or have a layover of a few days, Grapevine is an ideal base to explore from.
You will find North Texas’ largest outlet shopping destination at the Grapevine Mills Mall With over 180 stores inside, I can speak from personal experience this Mall is going to make your credit card burn (I only wished I’d realised how close it was to my Hotel Hilton DFW Lakes and I may have done more damage to my Amex card.) And if you are travelling with kids who may not be into shopping, they can find little people fun at the SEA LIFE Grapevine Aquarium, LEGOLAND® Discovery Center, or the Bowling and Amusement Centre.
Interesting fact: the DFW Airport has contributed to Grapevine’s prosperity. All the terminals at the DFW airport are on Grapevine land which means the businesses inside these terminals pay taxes to Grapevine. This lucrative and clever deal was negotiated by astute Mayor William D Tate and his council during his first term of office in 1973, the year before the DFW opened.
Grapevine residents, numbering almost 54,000 (2019 figures) enjoy the flow-on effects of tourism traffic (75 million passengers passed through DFW in 2019 – obviously this figure has dropped substantially because of COVID.)
But more than the convenience of location and a treasure trove of amenities and eateries, Grapevine is a community proud of its history.
An interesting history
Grapevine’s legacy began in 1843 when Texas President Sam Houston (1793-1863) and a group of Texas Commissioners met with the leaders of 10 Indian nations to sign a ‘Peace Treaty’ at Grape Vine Springs. This meeting opened the area to a settlement, named Grape Vine because of its proximity to the Grape Vine Prairie. (The abundance of wild mustang grapes growing in the area may also have influenced the name!) The small community which began with a post office, church, and school in the late 1870s, grew to a moderate agricultural-based community thanks to the Cotton Belt Rail Line (built in 1888) which stopped at Grape Vine. In 1914 the town’s post office altered the name to its current conjoined state: Grapevine.
The Grapevine Vintage Railroad
Like to take a slow train from the heart of Historic Downtown Grapevine to the centre of the Fort Worth Stockyards? The Grapevine Vintage Railroad offers a unique experience inside re-furbished, air-conditioned 1920s Victorian coaches.
On most weekends, passengers can jump on board at Grapevine’s Main Street at the original historic Cotton Belt Depot platform (built in 1888) and the train follows a 21-mile (34 kilometre) route to the Fort Worth Stockyards on tracks that were originally owned by the St Louis Southwestern Railway (the Cotton Belt). At the Stockyards you can watch how the engine is turned around via a turntable, running the train onto a siding, before it returns to Grapevine.
On board the train I meet train conductor and train enthusiast, Dennis. Over the constant “tootin'” of the train whistle and the clackety-clack of the wheels, I learn from Dennis, that the diesel engine named Vinny, pulling the train carriages was manufactured in 1953.
“The original steam engine was manufactured in 1896,”says Dennis. “It’s being restored in a shed called the roundhouse, even though it’s not round in Grapevine’s Main Street. Its been completely taken back to the ground and is being restored – it’s a beautiful engine.”
Dennis says they are working on having new rail laid. And once that is in place they can run the train faster than the current 10 miles per hour.
“When everything is done the Vintage train will run at 50mph,” say Dennis excitedly.
That sounds like a better speed. The trip we did was not a fast trip (about 1.5 hours). But being held up by a couple of rogue cowboys added a bit of fun to the slow ride.
Tolbert Restaurant is all in the family
As with most close-knit communities, there are a few actively involved locals who know a fair amount about their town. I met one such local, Grapevine business owner Debi Meek inside the family-owned Tolbert’s Restaurant and Chilli Parlour on Grapevine’s Main Street.
The restaurant is filled with diners who’ve come to taste Tolberts famous chili. We’re greeted by restaurant owner, Kathleen Tolbert, daughter of Frank X Tolbert, who in 1976 opened the first Tolbert Chili Parlour in Downtown Dallas. Kathleen helped manage her father’s restaurant in Dallas until it closed. She’s kept the Tolbert legacy going when she opened in Grapevine in 2006.
Over a bowl of Tolbert’s Texas Red chili (the same recipe created by Kathleen’s dad and brother), Debi shares a story about the current Mayor’s father, Gordon Tate who was Mayor of the town from 1948 to 1952.
Debi points across the road from where we’re sitting to a building where she operates her business (the Bermuda Gold and Silver Jewellery.) It’s the same building that was originally the Grapevine Home Bank (1882), later becoming the Grapevine National Bank (1900.)
Debi Meeks’ Bermuda Jewellery Store Photo Credit: Kristi Reese Photography-BGS
“When two members of Bonnie and Clyde’s gang robbed the bank on December 30, 1932, our current Mayor’s Dad, Gordon Tate, along with two other guys helped trap one of the robbers retrieving the getaway car and the money,” Debi says excitedly. “The other robber was also apprehended and both served time for the robbery.”
Debi proudly displays in her store a framed newspaper clipping from the front page of the local newspaper about the incident and the capture of the two robbers.
Friendly staff and good food at Grapevine’s Weinberger’s Deli
Dan Weinberger, the owner of Weinberger’s Deli also expresses similar favourable sentiment towards Grapevine. I’d seen the crowds gathering inside Weinberger’s throughout the festival and I could not leave Grapevine without trying one of their signature meals. Catching the proprietor of the business behind the counter serving up his family’s delicacies gave me the opportunity to ask a few questions. Dan was very happy to chat and left the serving counter to sit with us and share his family history.
“My family has been in the Deli business since 1952,” Dan says proudly. “After 9/11 we moved from Chicago eventually settling in Grapevine. When I opened Weinbergers in 2002, you could play baseball on the main street it was so quiet, but now we have traffic jams late into the evening.”
This was Dan’s 16th Grapefest. “They keep getting better and better,” he says smiling. “But we’re also lucky we have a great community.”
Grapevine’s history is preserved for others to enjoy
The Mayor of Grapevine, 76-year-old William D Tate has served in the role for 42 years and is a much-loved icon around town. He’s passionate about helping to preserve the town’s history. Thanks to a special ordinance created in 1991 to protect Grapevine’s unique heritage and architecture, historical landmarks are easy to find.
One landmark very special to Debi Meeks is a log cabin that was built in 1845 and is the oldest standing building in Tarrant County (Northcentral Texas.) Debi and members of the Grapevine Historical Society saved the historic building from being demolished in its original location.
“We took the cabin apart, log by log, numbering each with nail polish,” explains Debi. “The cabin was moved from Dove Road and rebuilt in Main Street. People can visit the cabin and see what life was like in the 1800s.”
Reverend David Myers met at the log cabin in 1846 to establish the Lonesome Dove Baptist Church. (Not to be confused with the TV series adapted by screenwriter Larry Mc Murtry from the novel with the same name.)
Debi informs me she is Reverend Myers’s great, great, great-granddaughter.
“Because of my family ties, I’m the keeper of the cabin,” says Debi proudly.
In Tolbert’s restaurant, I mentioned to Debi the unusual looking concrete block building with the curved roof and iron door. It sits in the middle of the main street next to Willhoite’s restaurant. I can see it from our dining table.
“Why that’s the Grapevine Calaboose,” Debi says in her sweet southern twang.
Calaboose is a word I’ve not heard before, so I ask about the building. The Calaboose, constructed in 1909, served as a one-room jail for the sheriff to hold ‘petty’ criminals. Cowboys regularly passed through Grapevine on their way to Forth Worth or other towns to trade goods. I wonder how many unsavory characters spent a night locked away in the concrete confines of the Calaboose.
Step back in time at the Nash Farm
The town has preserved many other buildings including the Nash Farm, 800 metres from Grapevine’s historic main street. The farmhouse, which was built in 1869 and surrounding grounds have been lovingly restored, allowing visitors to experience 19th-century farm life on the Grape Vine Prarie. Volunteers in period costume demonstrate cooking in a vintage 1892 wood-burning stove, cotton picking, folk craft and for those keen to try, there’s an opportunity to learn how to crack a whip.
Texan wine is America’s not-so-little secret
Did you know that Texas is the fifth-largest wine producer in the US?
And my visit to Grapevine was for the festival celebrating Texan wine – Grapefest – and I haven’t yet mentioned wine!
I do like a drop of wine. My palette was impressed with the Texan wine – the variety and quality I tasted during Grapefest from strong Texas red wines to crisp and clean Texas white wines, was a real surprise (we don’t get any Texas wine in Australia.)
Grapevine is one of the three major wine regions in the Lone Star State and there are a few wineries in the region where you can taste at the cellar door. You can drop into one of the wine tasting rooms on Grapevine’s Main Street, including Wine Fusion Winery Farina’s Winery & Cafe, and the Messina Hof Winery inside the replica Wallis Hotel building.
Grapevine’s unique community spirit
Early Sunday morning, on the last day of Grapefest, I meet one of the town’s passionate community members scooting along Main Street in a golf cart. Gayle Hall, in her 60’s has been the Grapefest Festival Director for many years. She was happy to pause her errand running and chat with us for a few moments. She has a smile that was welcoming despite the early hour.
“This job is so rewarding to me because I have the opportunity to give back to a community I was born and raised in,” Gayle says with a sweet southern drawl.
“You know when folks say their great-great-grandparents came in on a horse and covered carriage – well mine did. Five generations of my family were born and raised here.”
Gayle’s ancestors were from Prussia, arriving in Tennessee in the late 1700s and 1800s eventually making it through Missouri to settle around the Grapevine area. “As a 5th generation Texan, you can say Texas is in my blood,” she adds flicking her gorgeous long white tresses.
With their dedication to preserving the town’s history, the colourful characters, numerous eating, and retail attractions, combined with large doses of Texan hospitality, Grapevine is a memorable place to experience.
And for the record, yes, I did manage to squeeze in another gigantic margarita!
* The writer was a guest of Grapevine CVB. All opinions expressed are my own and are not influenced in any way by sponsorship.