This West Texas town is filled with surprises
Words by Rebecca Deurlein
Lubbock, Texas, conjures up visions of cotton fields, dust, and prairie dogs, and the snob in me had always assumed that the home of Texas Tech, ranches, and farming would not offer much to attract visitors.
I’ve never been so happy to be wrong.
On my inaugural visit to Lubbock, I discovered a city that has taken the first steps toward revitalization, and those steps have set the bar high. From impressive entertainment options, to the burgeoning Arts District, to just-opened high-end culinary experiences rivaling New York City’s best, Lubbock is a city in transition.
“I think this town is embracing a lot of things it used to chase away,” says chef Finn Walter, owner of The Nicolett restaurant and winner of the Texas Tech Innovation Award. His new restaurant embodies what Lubbock is becoming: a city eager to experiment and open its mind to possibility.
Front and center in that movement is the recently completed Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences, named after this city’s most famous songwriter and black-glasses-sporting son. Opened in January 2021, the eye-catching architecture and design of this event venue has already attracted stellar Broadway performances. All 2,200 seats in the main theater have a direct eyeline to the stage, and the second smaller stage, Crickets, hosts close to 400. The lobby staircase is a helical showstopper made of 13 tons of steel and weighing 26,000 pounds. It’s a tribute to the city’s 1970 tornado.
The victims of that tornado are honored just around the corner at the Tornado Memorial. A glossy black wall engraved with a timeline of the 1970 tornado event, it winds and wends its way through a courtyard. Chilling quotes from those who lost loved ones bring the tragedy home. Debuting in 2020 on the 50th anniversary of the May 11 storm, the memorial is a result of local community members coming together. Monte L. Monroe, PhD and Texas State Historian, says, “Everything about this memorial is meaningful. Outside of the wall, it features drooping streetlights that represent the tears of those who lost loved ones. Water splashes in the adjacent fountain, mimicking the sound of the storm. At night, it’s especially moving, as that’s when the tragedy occurred.”
Lubbock has a penchant for knowing what is important to preserve and what needs to change. Its burgeoning Cultural District is a prime example of converting the old and tired into a thriving outlet for creativity. Spanning almost one and a half miles, the Cultural District showcases the arts and historical significance of the area. As I wandered through this section of town, I discovered cool live/work studios as part of the Charles Adams Studio Project (CASP), advertisements for the First Friday Art Trail, and the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts (LHUCA), a visual and performing arts center and driving force behind the town’s economic development.
Lindsey Maestri, Executive Director of LHUCA, explains how it came about. “In 1997, the City of Lubbock made the decision to gift a vacant Fire Administration building to our very persistent late namesake, Louise Hopkins Underwood. Our community stakeholders knew the arts had been at the heart of revitalization success stories in other communities and saw that potential for Lubbock as well.”
So, the town got to work, and 25 years later, a thriving Arts District has formed to support that operation, as well as the Lubbock Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Lubbock, CASP, and various small businesses and restaurants.
That effort is visible. Walking through town, I popped into the newly opened Wild Lark Books, an independent, locally-owned bookstore and publisher. It’s a thing of beauty: books displayed around flower arrangements and in rich, dark bookcases; a lush leather sofa near a white cloth tent for the kids; and a quiet back room with a variety of teas and comfy furniture for settling in. I never expected to find anything like it here—yet another delightful surprise in Lubbock.
I felt the same way about the food. Sure, you can pick up some quintessentially Texas brisket and Tex-Mex in this town—and you should—but now you can also experience the kind of dining traditionally found only in big cities.
I devoured medium-rare lamb chops and sipped artisanal cocktails—such as Lubbock’s signature drink, The Chilton—at The West Table, one of the featured restaurants on the First Friday Art Trail. I tasted Cinsault, a Mediterranean varietal that grows like a champ in the West Texas terroir, at McPherson Cellars. Owner and winemaker Kim McPherson turned the old Coca-Cola bottling plant into a beautiful winery and tasting room where I hung out for hours. At Ninety-Two Bakery & Café, a French bistro opened just a year ago, I indulged in buttery croissants and a latte. Who knew you could find Paris in West Texas?
Everything about Lubbock is growing—even the staples that honor its ranching history. In October 2022, the National Heritage Ranching Center held a groundbreaking ceremony to kick off the construction phase of the Cash Family Ranch Life Learning Center. The hands-on extension is due for completion in 2023.
Lubbock’s ranching tradition will always be a staple of its economy, but watching it explore other avenues of culture and growth? Well, that is just priceless.