Think about what makes a honky tonk, and a few images are likely to come to mind: Cowboys and girls drinking beers, doing some two-stepping, shooting some pool and smoking. Lots of smoking.
No honky tonk in North Texas is more iconic than Billy Bob's. But the Fort Worth venue is preparing to break with tradition with a full-on indoor smoking ban, including e-cigarettes, starting this Sunday, May 1.
"It's just an idea we had that's really customer-driven," says Chris Spinks, Billy Bob's director of marketing. "We surveyed the majority of concertgoers and it was a common theme. People didn't enjoy leaving Billy Bob's smelling like cigarette smoke."
Fans who purchase tickets online are emailed surveys after each show they attend. There is no ordinance banning smoking from establishments in Fort Worth, but the surveys prompted the venue to make a change. "It's a pretty good sample size," Spinks says. "We heard a lot of feedback from folks who said they'd never go back to Billy Bob's until it was non smoking, and this and that. We heard it a lot from our customers and decided to finally address it."
Dallas instituted a city-wide ban on indoor smoking in 2009, and Denton did the same in 2015. Fort Worth, however, hasn't followed suit.
Billy Bob's isn't the first establishment over in Cowtown to make the change voluntarily. Keys Lounge instituted its own ban on smoking last year, while Magnolia Motor Lounge and Live Oak have always been non-smoking. The Grotto, meanwhile, has gone non-smoking only in the venue portion of the building, with a door separating it from the smoking side.
Until now, Billy Bob's has had a similar arrangement, with smoking already banned in the performance showroom.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"Smoking is currently offered in only half the club, so we're just moving [the ban] to the full venue," says Spinks.
He doesn't see any reason why the lack of smoking indoors should hurt Billy Bob's mystique as a honky tonk, either. "As long as you got a place to set you beer at all times, generally that's what defines a honky tonk — along with live music and things," he says. "It's more about where you put your beer than whether you're smoking a cigarette." Still, Billy Bob's has already built outdoor smoking patio to accommodate smokers. It's been open for a month. "The patio's got sand, it's got lights; it's nice. So hopefully we're doing [smokers] right the same way [as non smokers]," he says. Smokers won't need to deal with the hassle of re-entry in order to use the patio. "We put up some signage around the venue encouraging them to go out and try it."
The patio is just one of many changes currently underway at Billy Bob's, which celebrated its 35th anniversary on April 1. "We have new lights and a new sound system, and new TV screens are going in," Spinks says of the showroom. These changes also came as a result of fan feedback. "There were peole that couldn't see, really, at all time. We want to make sure people have the best experience when they come here."
Further plans are afoot as well to do a proper celebration of Billy Bob's 35th anniversary, with a concert slated to take place in November. Spinks says a full lineup or artists and "more details" are coming soon. "We want to make sure the night is special and celebration of all things Billy Bob's," he says. Just don't light up indoors.