We'll say this much about Henderson Avenue Country Club: They're not bashful. The new venue in the Knox-Henderson neighborhood opened just last month, but they've already bestowed themselves with the tag of "Best Honky Tonk and BBQ Bar in Texas." Yeah, right. That's stepping into some shoes that are almost impossible to fill, if not borderline delusional to stake claim to. The best honky tonks in Dallas have some serious history behind them. But even so, with a little luck and a little bit of moxie, the folks behind Henderson Avenue Country Club may well have some staying power.
The restaurant and bar has already promised free live country music every night, including booked artist showcases and open mic shows, and that shouldn't be difficult to accomplish. There are plenty of upstart country acts in Dallas and the surrounding cities, all hungry for exposure and looking for an audience. Henderson Avenue Country Club may soon be the place that these acts make their first appearances on stage.
When you first walk in the door, you'll notice that you've entered what is probably the smallest honky tonk in Texas. There are a few booths and high-top bar tables, and there's a bar with copious seating. A sign next to the door declares that the occupancy of the room is only 87 people. A small stage tucked into the corner of the room is big enough to squeeze a four-piece band on stage, but not much more.
For a Tuesday night, though, Henderson Avenue Country Club had excellent talent on the stage. Guthrie Kennard, a longtime fixture of local roots and Americana music, hosts a weekly acoustic showcase on Tuesday nights, which is extremely promising for the venue. Kennard has an old-school, gravelly voice, and his first solo record was produced by Ray Wylie Hubbard. Last night he was joined by Rachel Stacy, a talented vocalist and fiddle player.
If Henderson Avenue Country Club can continue to regularly attract talent like this on the weekdays and book promising regional acts on the weekends, it has a great deal of potential to be a home for musicians and songwriters to work out the kinks in front of a small but engaged crowd. Dave Matsler of Quaker City Night Hawks made an appearance there a few weeks ago, and hopefully more local musicians will follow suit.
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Unfortunately, it isn't quite there yet it in terms of being anywhere near Dallas' best honky tonk, much less the best in Texas. There is some tongue-in-cheek pandering to mainstream country, like a DJ night called "Country Girl Shake It For Me," and some of the booked talent is still clinging to a dated red-dirt sound. The bar decor feels too new and well-curated to compete with the sometimes weird and always kitschy charm of old-school Texas honky tonks. The food and drinks are pricey, with dishes that are more upscale than what people are used to ordering at similar joints.
And then there is the issue of the size. 87 fans isn't enough to attract even minor Texas country stars, even with the added capacity that the venue's outdoor stage can offer. This place will likely be exclusively the home of very niche acts and those who are just trying to catch a break into the industry, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Nashville's iconic Bluebird Cafe is tiny, but manages to attract serious talent thanks to its place in country music history. Henderson Avenue Country Club doesn't yet have that history, but they could be the closest thing to The Bluebird outside of Nashville.
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Should Henderson Avenue Country Club stick around, and its location may prove difficult, the minds behind this bar have certainly done a lot of things right. It is an excellent place to sit back, listen to music and drink from a pretty solid list of cocktails and beer. The sound is crisp, and the guiding hand of Kennard can help the venue idenfity up-and-coming talent that has potential to be much more successful.
All of the pieces are here, but Henderson Avenue Country Club still needs a little more time before they're even remotely capable of stepping into the massive boots of Texas' best honky tonk. They do stand to quickly become the best honky tonk in Dallas, though.
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