Nothing can touch the Fort Worth Stockyards for a glance back at Fort Worth’s cowboy past. The Stockyards have been a working market for selling cattle and horses since the days of the Chisholm Trail. But the area was also big on commerce and banking, earning the title “Wall Street of the West.” The Armour and Swift companies moved in around the turn of the last century, and the then-new industrialization provided additional consistent employment opportunities for the area.
River Ranch Stockyards is a venue steeped in this rich cultural history, with definitive modern touches. The main building was originally part of the Swift and Armour meat processing and packing plants according to owner Steve Murrin, who purchased the venue in the 90s. He bought the building that used to be the “boneyard” for the meat processing plants mostly because, as the gregarious Murrin says, “I like to throw parties.” Fast forward a few years, when Murrin’s son Philip came on to streamline and brand the River Ranch. Rooms were added along with amenities including a full-service, restaurant-grade kitchen, a back patio with wooden flooring reused from the old Armour plant, and a band stand. The venue’s now a one-stop shop for events ranging in size from 15 to 5,000.
Prior to the younger Murrin’s tenure, catering was outsourced. This created an image problem, as some events might have had an outstanding caterer, while others might have been the victims of glorified pot-luck. The end result: an inconsistent appearance for the venue, which was fixed when Philip Murrin and partner Craig Bonham created the venue’s on-site, proprietary catering. If you’re curious, they’ll give you a tour of the restaurant-sized kitchen. There’s a giant walk-in refrigerator, and a relatively small freezer that’s maybe four-feet wide by six-feet tall.
“We don’t use a lot of frozen food,” Bonham says. Most everything is prepared from scratch, and if a guest has a favorite recipe –– say, their grandmother’s potato salad –– River Ranch can make that happen if Grandma’s willing to part with the secret ingredients. Murrin and Bonham also revamped the way that alcohol was sold and served. These days, the bar offerings are “Texas-centric,” according to Bonham, with a lot of local and regional product.
In 2010, the Murrins got to test out the new, rebranded River Ranch Stockyards when Super Bowl XLV came to town. ESPN set up shop and threw a giant party, using the entirety of the building. Everything the massive network needed –– from large screen televisions to Wi-Fi connectivity to a peaceful view from the back porch –– was waiting at River Ranch. However, ESPN did make a few modifications –– you can thank them for the drink top bar that now surrounds the patio.
If you’re still not convinced, here are five reasons we love River Ranch Stockyards:
1. Parking –– The Murrins bought the neighboring vacant lot from Chesapeake Energy, and it’s now expansive, free parking for events.
2. A river runs through it –– Sort of. Marine Creek backs up to the property, and the Murrins are expanding the back area to include a small cow pasture for some longhorns to run. Occasionally, you might get a view of folks on horseback on the trail just beyond the creek.
3. Twinkly lights –– The place is loaded with beautiful white ceiling lights that conjure up the picture of a Hill Country dance hall back in the day. If your event is more downtown than dance hall, the lights still add an element of glamour.
4. One-stop shopping –– Your rental is turn-key ready, from the food and drinks to the tables, chairs, stage, sound system, and radiant heaters for the patio in the winter. According to Steve Murrin, since the venue faces south, there’s a nice breeze in the summer, too, which is augmented by fans.
5. Get ready to rodeo –– The 80 by 40-foot patch of dirt just off the back patio has room for everything from bull riding to a calf scramble for kids. We are, after all, in the Stockyards!
PC: Olaf Growalo, courtesy of River Ranch Stockyards