November 17, 2014
Honkytonk. Depending on how it is used, it can be a noun, a verb or an adjective. In theory, one could go honkytonking at a honkytonk and listen to honkytonk music. No matter how you use it, though, it refers to Nashville’s best music experience. For those looking to unlock this particular element of local culture, we’ve created an essential guide to Nashville Honkytonk.
Along Lower Broadway in the heart of downtown, as well as dotted across the city and state (and country) are honkytonks, bars where one can go to listen to a specific strain of Country and Western swing. The bars are open to the public and typically have no cover charge (although when the cowboy hat is passed for the band, don’t forget to drop a few dollars in). Small or large, these venues all have some empty space to cut the rug, because dancing is an essential part of Nashville honkytonk.
So, grab your boots and head to The Strip; what some call the rows of honkytonks along Broadway. Most of these establishments are open to all ages during the day, but convert to 21 and over after 6 pm. Take a look at our pick of places to go honkytonking.
Perhaps the best known of all Nashville honkytonk venues, Tootsies has been giving people a place to dance and swing for 54 years. Like most of the honkytonks on the north side of Broadway, it has entrances in the front and off the back alley, and multiple stages. Its annual birthday party in November is a street-closing festival. Look for its orchid purple faÃ§ade.
With a smaller, more intimate space than the other honkytonks, Layla’s Bluegrass Inn often feels like a place where people go to listen to the band, rather than drink (although, of course it is a bar with great drink specials). Despite the name, Layla’s isn’t just about bluegrass. You’ll hear all manner of country and American played here.
In a row of honkytonks, it’s Robert’s Western World that’s often voted the city’s best by locals. Originally a store selling boots and cowboy hats, it morphed into a bar and nightclub with a good gift shop and even a Sunday morning church service. (Yes. You can still buy boots here along with your PBR.)
Located on the opposite side of the street to the other honkytonks, The Wheel is lesser-known. Sometimes that can be a plus: when the others are crowded you can still get in here to listen to Western swing, bluegrass, rockabilly and country all night long.
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Have you discovered the upbeat world of Nashville Honkytonk? What are your favourite honkytonks in town? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Margaret Littman