To call a place a honky-tonk is almost as nebulous as labeling a place a dive bar. Ask five different people what one is, and you're more than likely to get six different answers. Of course, North Texas has dozens of places that complement any of them.
The earliest published mentions of the term honky-tonk might have actually come from newspapers in the DFW area as far back as 1889. Published definitions consist of words such as "tawdry," "cheap" and "noisy." In the early days of honky-tonk culture, a piano was the single most important instrument in the building, not pedal steel, jukebox or the cigarette machine. Things have certainly changed, and to paraphrase Rangers' manager Ron Washington, that's just "how progress and country music go."
Regardless of scholarly definitions, demographics or the carpet-bagging corporate entities that have tried to wave their flag in the region, there are still a few wonderfully tawdry, cheap, sharpie-marked places that let folks dance and beer slosh around.
5. Love & War in Texas (Plano location) This is stretching the technical terms of a honky-tonk, perhaps, but when it comes to the restaurant's weekly Shiner Sunday concerts, there are few places in our area that can out-tonk this haven just off of I-75 and Plano Parkway. There's plenty of room for dancing in front of the stage, where the you can become a part of the show.
4. Any metroplex venue in which 1100 Springs Performs I know, this one's a bit of a stretch. Of course, anyone who's seen the reigning North Texas kings of country knows that Matt Hillyer and crew can use their pedal steel and fiddle to convert an outdoor stage of a county fair or the hallowed walls of the Granada Theater into a dance-hall.
3. Southern Junction (Rockwall) A classic, small-town joint that boasts as much pride in its steaks as its ability to still be the primary spot for great country music and dancing east of 635. Randy Rogers and Robert Earl Keen include this spot on their tour schedules as often as they do Gruene Hall. The importance of the dance floor has been forgotten by many a large venue: Patrons need to be able to either dance or get as close to the action as possible without having to pay to sit down and shut up when up front. Southern Junction gets that.
2. The White Elephant (Ft. Worth) Billy Bob's is around the corner from this legendary room in Ft. Worth's Stockyards, and while the so-called "World's Largest Honky-Tonk" does a wonderful job of booking quality performers week-in, week-out, it still lacks the smoke-filled character of the Elephant. The cowboy hats of legends and local regulars line the walls and the dusty aura of the old days, when Ft. Worth was truly the beginning of the West, is still palpable. With primarily local and regional acts filling out the performing docket, one doesn't have to go anywhere else in order to find out what bands are among Cowtown's best at any given time.
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1. Adair's Saloon The venerable Deep Ellum venue is as legit a honky-tonk as the metroplex has to offer. Its saloon makes it very similar to The White Elephant, and there isn't an ounce of pretense to be spotted along the marker-art covered walls and musty restaurant booths, where countless odes to love and friendship have been inked. The small floor in front of the even smaller stage that backs up to the building's front window still accommodates enough people to qualify it as an ample dance-floor.
Yes, the burgers are as great as they are greasy, and the beer is as cheap as it is cold, but the history of Adair's is certainly a notable one. Young and little-known Jack Ingram, Sunny Sweeney and the aforementioned 1100 Springs played many nights during the seven-night-per- week schedule in their early days. Stoney LaRue, Wade Bowen and Ryan Bingham are a few of the big names that played there, too. The selection in the jukebox suggests it was carefully curated more than simply stocked with whatever CDs were lying around. While not a tourist trap by any stretch, this is the place any respectable Dallasite should bring that visiting friend from out of state.