Photo by Tessa Kolodny

New Orleans may be top of mind for Mardi Gras, but Texas has its fair share of Fat Tuesday festivities. While Galveston's may be the state's oldest celebration, San Antonio wins points for actual floats (courtesy of the River Walk), and Dallas offers up King Cake alternatives aplenty, one little Hill Country town has put its own spin on the annual event for almost 20 years.

Known as the "Cowboy Capital of the World," Bandera hosts a three-day Cowboy Mardi Gras that attracts over 15,000 people from all over the world to the town of 839 residents. Featuring traditional Cajun bands, country music, a Cowboy Mardi Gras parade, costume contests, gumbo cook-off, and more, the 2023 iteration takes place from February 9 to 11.

Bandera is located a little over two hours from Austin, a pleasant 300-mile road trip for North Texans looking for a colorful start to Carnival season. This year's event honors James and Stella McGroarty, former owners of Bandera's 11th Cowboy Bar, who will act as the 2023 Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade Grand Marshals.

With a 20,000-square-foot bar and 70-foot stage, the bar is one of the largest music venues in the Texas Hill Country, housed in a historic wood-framed building with a porch out front and expansive outdoor venue area out back. James McGroarty acquired the bar in 2006, transforming it into the destination it is today and elevating the town's annual Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade to the party it is today.

In July 2022, D. Foster, Melinie Ivey, and Richard and Sasha Sutton purchased the bar from McGroarty, planning to carry on McGroarty's legacy.

"We are so honored to take on the tradition of the 18th Annual Cowboy Mardi Gras Parade," says Richard Sutton in a release. "Bandera is a remarkable town that knows how to throw one hell of a party and we're looking to carry on that tradition."

“James McGroarty has said that 11th Street Cowboy Bar is all about providing the best Country Western music experience in Texas and sharing drinks with good friends," adds D. Foster. "He wanted to make all things in Bandera bigger than life. This is why we bought the bar and we want to carry on James McGroarty's legacy."

This year's lineup of live music will feature a variety of artists including Deanna Carter, Gary P. Nunn, Dale Watson, Jake Worthington, and many more. Find a full lineup of music and daily activities at cowboymardigrasbandera.com, as well as ticketing information. Tickets for the festivities start at $75 in advance or $85 at the door.

Cowboy mardi gras Bandera
Photo by Tessa Kolodny
The three day celebration brings over 15 thousand people from all over the world to Bandera.
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Dallas' swankiest hotel pool makes splash on TikTok as 3rd most popular U.S. swim spot


There’s no better cure for the unbearable summer heat than a dip into the chilly waters of some of Dallas' best pools. And you can’t forget to snap a cute photo for your TikTok and Instagram feeds. The place to be this summer? The pool at The Joule.

The distinctive cantilevered pool, which sits on the 10th-floor of the hotel overlooking downtown Dallas, is the third most popular U.S. pool on TikTok, according to a new report.

The study by BonusFinder.com analyzed data from TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube to find the most mentioned, photographed, and viewed pools from around America. The Joule finished 14th in the overall rankings for "most picturesque U.S. pool," which included pools from across the country, earning a score of 8.82 out of 10.

But it came in third among TikTok users alone, garnering over 122 million views.

First place went to Mirage Pool at the Mirage, Las Vegas (over 754 million TikTok views), and second place went to the historic Neptune Pool at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California (over 350 million TikTok views). Right behind the Joule, two Vegas pools, The Backyard at the Red Rock Casino and the pool at Resorts World, rounded out TikTok's top 5.

"The Joule's unique 8-foot cantilevered pool provides guests the sensation of swimming out beyond the hotel's edge - equally voyeuristic for those swimming or those standing on the street below," touts the Joule's website. "With 360 degree views of historic Downtown Dallas, The Joule gives 'hanging out by the pool' a whole new meaning."

Lucky for Dallasites, you don't have to be a hotel guest to visit the pool. Limited day passes can be booked, Sundays through Thursdays.

When it comes to over rankings for "most picturesque," a popular Austin swimming hole made a splash. Austin's Barton Springs was named fourth most picturesque overall, and was actually the most Instagrammed pool in the U.S., the study says.

The study revealed that videos of Barton Springs had been viewed over 28.5 million times on TikTok and hashtagged over 15,000 times on Instagram.

In total, Las Vegas hosts six of the top 10 most photogenic pools on BonusFinder’s list. Mandalay Bay Beach and The Mirage in Las Vegas were deemed the No. 1 and No. 2 most photogenic pools, and just above Barton Springs in the third place rank was The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. Other pools on the list were found in Glenwood Springs, Colorado (No. 6) and Atlantic City, New Jersey (No. 10).

The top 10 most photogenic pools in the United States are:

  • No. 1 – Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas
  • No. 2 – The Mirage in Las Vegas
  • No. 3 – The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California
  • No. 4 – Barton Springs in Austin
  • No. 5 – The Tank at Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
  • No. 6 – Glenwood Hot Springs in Glenwood Springs, Colorado
  • No. 7 – The Backyard at Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas
  • No. 8 – Stadium Swim at Circa Resort and Casino in Las Vegas
  • No. 9 – Encore Beach Club at Wynn Las Vegas
  • No. 10 – The Water Club at Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey

One other Texas pool earned ranks outside the top 10: the Marriott Marquis Houston (No. 18).

Fintan Costello, the managing director at BonusFinder.com, said Americans are “turning their attention to where they can kick back and enjoy catching some rays by the poolside” with their spring break and upcoming summer holidays.

“Luckily, the study shows that the U.S. is blessed with some of the best and most picturesque pools in the world and there are plenty of idyllic escapes that can be found across America, without ever having to leave the country,” he explained in a statement.

The full study can be found on bonusfinder.com.


Stephanie Allmon Merry contributed to this report.

The Joule hotel pool
Photo courtesy of The Joule
The Joule's pool is cantilevered out over downtown.

Ridiculously violent John Wick: Chapter 4 hits most of the right marks

Movie Review

The world of John Wick sure has changed a lot from its relatively small beginnings in 2014. Back then, Wick (Keanu Reeves) was just a former hitman out for revenge on the people who killed his dog. Now it’s a full-blown franchise with a story that spans continents, necessitating that each subsequent sequel try to out-do the previous film.

John Wick: Chapter 4 is the biggest movie in the series yet, clocking in at just shy of three hours. Stunt coordinator-turned-director Chad Stahelski does his best to fill that massive running time with as much brutality and derring-do as possible. Wick, having long ago run afoul of the powers-that-be that lead the hitman syndicate, The High Table, is still on the lam, with only a few loyal friends willing to help him.

One of the leaders of The High Table, the Marquis (Bill Skarsgård), is on mission to root out Wick once and for all, systemically shutting down versions of The Continental, hotels that serve as safe houses for assassins like Wick. With the Marquis and his henchmen constantly on his tail, Wick has no choice but to do what he does best – take out as many people as he can before they get to him first.

The film, written by Shay Hatten, Michael Finch, and Derek Kolstad, is not quite a non-stop thrill ride, but it’s as close as you can get when you decide to make a film this long. The complexity of the machinations of The High Table makes it almost impossible to keep up with the actual story of the film, but when they get down to the business of fighting, none of that really matters.

There are multiple extended sequences that become an orgy of violence, but the way they’re staged by Stahelski and his team make them eminently engaging. John Wick: Chapter 3 suffered from repetitiveness, and while the same could be said here to a degree, it feels fresher because of the sheer number of combatants and constantly changing scenery.

The fight scenes are magnificently over-the-top, but in this series, that’s to be expected. Where the filmmakers step up this time around is in the cinematography, with bravura shots filling the screen. The camera is almost constantly on the move, swooping in, out, and above the action. One especially memorable sequence even has the camera going above walls to follow the fighting.

While the majority of the story is treated in a deadly serious manner, the filmmakers aren’t afraid to add in some goofy elements. We’ve always had to take Wick’s ability to survive (mostly) unscathed with a huge grain of salt, but this film turns that idea up to 11. At certain points, there’s a kind of a Wile E. Coyote tone to Wick’s escapes, especially a late sequence involving (many) stairs.

There’s not much to the character of John Wick other than his preternatural ability to kill, and Reeves continues to play him perfectly, expressing himself more in gunshots and punches than words. In addition to returning favorites like Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, and Laurence Fishburne, this film sees great supporting turns by Skarsgård, Donnie Yen, and Shamier Anderson.

John Wick: Chapter 4 did not need to be nearly as long as it is, but in this case, the excess is the point. Much of it is ridiculous and ridiculously violent, but it’s also highly entertaining, which is all you can hope for from this type of film.


John Wick: Chapter 4 opens in theaters on March 24.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 4

Photo by Murray Close/Lionsgate

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 4.

Healthy Asian concept Balance Grille is coming to Dallas-Fort Worth

Asian Chain News

Dallas-Fort Worth is getting a new fast-casual Pan-Asian concept by way of Ohio: Called Balance Grille, it's a small-but-growing startup founded in northwest Ohio in 2010, and is opening its first Dallas-area location in Wylie, at 544 & Springwell, between Valvoline and Care Now.

The restaurant comes to DFW via HRH Operations 1 LLC, a franchisee and development partner owned and operated by Roshan Ayub, who is bringing the brand to Texas. Thanks Roshan!

According to a release, it'll open later this year.

Balance Grill is a healthy veg-friendly Pan-Asian option founded by Prakash Karamchandani and HoChan Jang, two friends who wanted to provide a fresh take on clean eating and Asian cuisine, with flavors and ingredients from across Asia. There are currently two locations in Ohio, in Toledo and Cleveland, and one in Denver, Colorado, which opened in 2022.

They say that the focus is on achieving overall balance and wellness, much like the Asian diet, which promotes eating plant-based greens, vegetables, and whole grains, with minimal meat and dairy.

The menu includes tacos in options such as Korean BBQ, bang bang, and wasabi aioli; and bowls with choice of grilled chicken, wok-fired steak, tofu, lentils, brown rice, white rice, fried rice, cauliflower rice, or wheat noodles.

Some of their signature bowls include:

  • The Four Star Bowl - tangy, garlicky General Tso’s sauce served with broccoli, carrots, and seasonal sprouts
  • Thai Guy - Thai-style peanut sauce served with carrots, seasonal hot peppers, seasonal sprouts, crushed peanuts, peapods, and Balance Farms micro cilantro
  • Bibimbap - classic Korean gochujang sauce with potatoes, kimchi radish, kimchi pickles, red cabbage, sprouts, and Balance Farms microgreens. If you aren’t vegan, add a 7-min egg (+$2) for the full experience
  • Nuts 4 Pao - spicy Kung Pao sauce with scallions, roasted peanuts, and seasonal hot peppers. Contains nuts.

Other menu options include popcorn chicken, veggie egg rolls, and edamame.

Ayub has 15 years of experience as an operator, having owned and operated locations of Subway and Marcos Pizza, and in fact has won awards such as Franchisee of the Year.

This development deal in Dallas is the first round in Balance Grille’s national expansion efforts, led in partnership with brand consultant, Pivotal Growth Partners.

"We are thrilled to be expanding into the Texas for the first time," says co-founder Karamchandani in a statement. "Dallas is a flourishing city and we are confident that Roshan is the perfect partner to help us lead the way in our expansion efforts in the area. We look forward to integrating into the community and sharing Balance Grill’s innovative approach to fresh, delicious Pan-Asian food in a tech-advanced environment.”