Being from North Texas, country music is pretty well in our blood. We could live our whole lives and never utter the word "Nashville." Of course there ain't much that's more country than a good old-fashioned honky tonk. We have some of the best examples in the world. Here's where to find 'em.
It's crazy to think that in the not-so-distant past, there were only a couple of dependable live-music venues in the Stockyards. That lull is a definite thing of the past now, thanks to the vitality of places like Whiskey Girl Saloon. Located within walking distance to White Elephant, Billy Bob's and Thirsty Armadillo, this younger-generation-driven outpost is a surefire stop for anyone looking to add a raucous stop to a Stockyards honky-tonk crawl. Over the years, many of the most promising Texas country artists have offered up live records from performances recorded there, including Phil Hamilton and Fort Worth's own Joey Green. As is the case with a legit Fort Worth dance hall, smoking is permitted while you shoot pool, drink nicely priced longnecks or take it all in with a view of lively Ellis Street from the spacious patio. Kelly Dearmore
2413 Ellis Ave., Fort Worth, facebook.com/WhiskeyGirlSaloon
If you head west on 114 past the Texas Motor Speedway and go three miles north on FM 156, you'll find this place called The Mule Barn on the left side of the road. It doesn't have Billy Bob's space or Pearl's history, but it's still a fun place to see shows from legends like John Anderson to road-tested contemporary mainstays like Cody Canada and Mike and the Moonpies. Along with the music, there's a menu full of fried food, burgers and plenty of other things that go good with a pitcher of Kurrs Laht. Steve Steward
218 Hwy. 156 S., Justin, mulebarntexas.com
The best bar in Dallas is a honky tonk-themed gay bar in the Cedar Springs area that features a Howdy Hour and an annual Rent-A-Cowboy event. There's a tequila bar and it's my everything. There's two-stepping, great country music and it's the No. 1 spot for tourists who want some Texas culture with a hell of a lot of flair. Oh, and if you're lucky, Lady Gaga will show up at a random time and do a song or two. Let Johnny shine up your boots, it's only eight bucks. Jaime-Paul Falcon
3912 Cedar Springs Road, Dallas, roundupsaloon.com
There's a reason the Stockyards in Fort Worth are commonly referred to as "historic." Indeed, a bunch of cowboys wrangled and cattle marched around the bustling intersection of Main Street and Exchange Avenue. It was true Wild West stuff. But that was way back when, and these days the White Elephant Saloon, in all of its dusty, smoky glory, is still the best place to knock back some cold ones, see some local country music and saddle-up inside a watering hole where a dude wearing spurs on his boots is normal. And the original Love Shack burger spot is next door in what used to be the White Elephant's outdoor beer garden. So meaty, so Fort Worth. KD
106 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, whiteelephantsaloon.com
The Thirsty Armadillo might seem a little more modern than Pearl's, but that's like saying Cro-Magnon man seems more modern than Neanderthal. Like most things in the Stockyards, the furnishings here look sturdily rooted in the Reagan Administration. So do a lot of the clientele, for that matter, but this is a honky tonk bar, not a drum circle. You've probably seen people two-step, but this is no frat guy drunkenly spinning his girlfriend around at the Rustic — the moves at the Armadillo are as serious as the starch in the shirts. It's the place where people who actually do cowboy things for a living come to play, and watching them whirl around the dance floor is worth the cover. SS
120 W. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, thethirstyarmadillo.com
Even in a city packed with authentic honky-tonks, it's tough to find any spot more resolutely real than the erstwhile Stagecoach Ballroom. This might be North Texas' closest cousin to Austin's famed Broken Spoke. The spirit of the vintage venue has lasted through a couple of different locations, in fact. With a colorful Western mural taking up the massive side of the classic joint, the Stagecoach hosts country greats such as Gene Watson and Johnny Rodriguez for those who want to sit 'n' sip while they watch or show off what they might've learned from the in-house dance lessons on the dance floor. There's no stage-crowding or argumentative elbow-throwing here, as the crowd skews a bit older, but that's an asset, not a sign for a snoozefest. An old-school lack of pretense is every bit a part of Stagecoach's charm. KD
2516 E. Belknap St., Fort Worth, stagecoachballroom.com
Southern Junction in Rockwall, just north of I-30, is a legit, small-town honky tonk. It's not a bar that happens to have music. It's not a music venue that happens to serve (awesome) steaks. It's a true local gathering spot where you can order dinner, dance to the house band on a time-tested hardwood floor and go back to your table and tear up your steak. Then you can sit back with a bucket of Buds and take in a show from Robert Earl Keen, Aaron Watson, Wade Bowen or any other top-notch Texas Country act. The stage sits high enough to where you can be drinking, dancing and cavorting anywhere in the joint and still revel in this authentic gem that offers an unrivaled country experience in small-town Texas. KD
5574 Highway 276, Royse City, southernjunctionlive.com
Billy Bob's might be the most recognizable spot in the Stockyards, but Pearl's is at least as historic; it was originally a bordello opened by Buffalo Bill Cody called Hotel Pearl's. History is fascinating and all, but Pearl's is better for drinking cheap domestic bottles and Western swing. It'll fit your image of a honky tonk and its shows stick to traditional country sounds as much as possible. Your friend who loves Luke Bryan might get bored, but at least you can show him what real country is. SS
302 W. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth, pearlsdancehall.com
Through all the deaths and rebirths of Deep Ellum in recent times, there's been a bright neon beacon shining seven nights a week, welcoming any who may come near its band sticker and sharpie-marked window. Adair's Saloon is a wonderfully historic, narrow room where the greatest names in Dallas country music have plied their craft since it opened in 1983 (after it moved from its original Cedar Springs spot). Jack Ingram and 1100 Springs both made the no-cover charge crowds jump and swirl long before they became widely adored symbols of Texas Country. The cheeseburgers are great, and the jukebox is on-point when the bands aren't rocking the tiny stage near the door, which backs up to that classic, neon-lit window looking onto Commerce Street. KD
2624 Commerce St., Dallas, adairssaloon.com
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Best in the world? As far as the honky tonk argument goes, Fort Worth's Billy Bob's certainly has a claim to the title. Country royalty comes through the doors of Billy Bob's on a regular basis, and it does well to remind you by having signed pictures of its more famed visitors. The place has become a bit of a mecca for the country culture. It helps their coinage to be situated right next to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards as well. If you want to polish off a Lone Star, take in a quality country gig and walk a block over to get some great BBQ, look no further than Billy Bob's. James Khubiar
2520 Rodeo Plaza, Fort Worth, billybobstexas.com