BEST HONKY-TONK 2013 | Round-Up Saloon | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

What makes a great honky-tonk? In fact, what makes a honky-tonk at all, instead of just a bar that plays country music sometimes? It's a few key ingredients: A spacious, well-used wooden dance floor, no fewer than three places you can buy your Lone Star and a commitment to some Wild West ideal shared by patrons and staff alike. Round-Up Saloon in Oak Lawn possesses all three. You'll see better line-dancing there than at Love and War or Billy Bob's or anywhere else around (maybe it's the lessons the place offers three nights a week), and the company's fine along any of the joint's several hundred feet of bar space. Sometimes, a cowboy just needs another cowboy.

It's new to the public and, so far, only open on Thursdays, but the space underneath the Travis Disco is already the finest place to dance in Dallas. For years reserved for VIPs, the bar maintains its feeling of exclusivity. Its nooks and crannies are filled with things like odd taxidermy and shiny wallpaper, and its main room is just the right size for smallish parties. The entrance, a door in an alley behind which hangs a ridiculous golden chandelier, makes the place immediately feel different. The programming has helped — so far it's DJ Sober's Big Bang party, which moved from Beauty Bar this summer and is already a hit at the new location.

Mike Brooks

There are louder places in Dallas, and places with bigger names and bigger lights. But no place takes concerts as seriously as The Kessler. Its immaculate sound and respectful crowds afford every show the opportunity to be something truly memorable, and recent shows by Rebirth Brass Band, Lucinda Williams and others have added to the growing legacy of the old theater. It's been open as a music venue for a little more than four years, and there's every reason to believe the Kessler is headed for an even brighter future — this ship's got one hell of a captain in talent buyer/manager Jeff Liles, a Dallas music elder of the highest order.

On weekend nights, R.L.'s Blues Palace No. 2 is sort of like church. Cars fill the spacious lot to bursting, and smartly dressed twosomes and tensomes walk up to the door. Inside, long tables ensure everyone gets to know a neighbor or two. The show starts at 10:30 on the nose, and immediately it becomes clear why all these people came early and paid their $10 at the door. The house band here is better, tighter and more entertaining than almost any you'll see stopping through venues of any size anywhere in town. They play a variety show of rhythm and blues. One minute it's old classics and the next it's up-tempo contemporary-sounding jams, but it all beckons the crowd onto the dance floor. After a few bottles of Bud or BYOB cocktails, everyone ends up out there.

Behind the heavily padded door at Ships Lounge it is always 10 p.m. on a Saturday. Sometimes it's a rowdy one, more often it's a quiet one with a couple close friends, but the point is it always feels right. The decor is as unassuming and welcoming as that jukebox, which is full of soul classics and crooners. So when you need to forget what's happening outside that door, just bring some cash and know the staff have seen people in worse shape than you. They'll keep the bottles of domestics coming, or, if you brought your own bottle from home, they'll make sure your plastic ice bucket and can of mixer are fresh. Soon you'll put some distance between you and your problems.

Jury's out on whether Outpost would cop to being a sports bar. Hell, they might be offended by it. After all, the bar's got solid cocktails and the best local brews on tap from Peticolas, Deep Ellum, Revolver and Four Corners. It's got tasty pulled-pork sandwiches and bacon-and-goat-cheese flatbreads. OK, so it's definitely a gastropub. But it also has big flat-screens mounted along the walls. Think of it as a sports bar without the obnoxious sports fans, with your favorite booze and grub beyond nachos and cheese fries. Think of it as Oak Cliff's very own answer to Uptown.

Catherine Downes

A while ago, Nick Badovinus closed his previous restaurant, NHS Tavern, and opened Tried and True. It's a roadhouse-themed bar (it's got that shelled-peanuts feel) with great whiskeys and sandwiches. But here's the thing: They play records. No, seriously, they play vinyl. You can actually saddle up to a burger and let Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger or Led Zeppelin's first-through-fourth albums pop and hiss around. It's why Tried and True is one of Dallas' best places to plant and drink.

Sometimes you need a drink at 7 a.m. Maybe you work the third shift and the sunrise hours are your happy hours. Maybe you're keeping the party going even beyond the break of dawn. Or maybe you're just a drunk. Whatever the case, the humble East Dallas blues dive The Goat is there for you. At that hour, it's quiet and calm, free of rowdy crowds but not lonely — exactly the right atmosphere when you could use a beer or screwdriver at that hour but would like a little company.

Deep Ellum gets all the comeback love, but Greenville is experiencing something of a nightlife renaissance itself — especially Lower Greenville, where a new bar or restaurant seems to open every week. The robust foot traffic there may soon lead to a different, more stable crowd than musicians, but right at this moment there are plenty, spilling over the patio at the Single Wide, stopping at Good Records for an in-store performance, attending one of the practically nightly gigs at Crown and Harp or buying a drink for a friend at one of the most welcoming bars in the city: The Libertine. That's the Town Hall of the neighborhood, and the guitarist-to-barstool ratio in there is often damn near even.

Whether it's a crisp autumn evening or a scorching summer afternoon, the large outdoor patio at Uptown's Katy Trail Ice House is constantly packed with dogs of all sizes, shapes and breeds. This spacious outdoor patio invites Rex to join in on the fun. Whether he just got through running alongside his owner on the trail or got a new hairdo at the pet spa around the corner, he's welcome to hang out while you guzzle a few beers and watch the game or catch up with friends. The patio is so dog-friendly that the pooch-watching can be more entertaining than the people-watching.

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