Part of the charm of Texas is the number of legendary dance halls and honky-tonks across the state where you can listen to great music, two-step with your sweetheart, and enjoy a cold beverage of choice.
“Press those jeans, pull on your cowboy boots and shine up those belt buckles, because it’s time to go two-stepping. With a rich heritage of dance halls built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Texas is home to some of the best places for boot-scootin’ and two stepping in the world,” says the Let’s Texas website.
The Difference between a Dance Hall and Honky-Tonk
Texas dance halls and honky-tonks are both venues where people come together to socialize, listen to musical acts, do some dancing, and enjoy some food and drinks.
Texas Monthly, however, points out that even though some people may use dance hall and honky-tonk interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between the two.
“A honky-tonk is not a dance hall. Many of our most beloved dance halls were built by German and Czech settlers in the second half of the nineteenth century. They are often beautiful structures, originally constructed to host social clubs and other family-friendly affairs,” wrote Christian Wallace in Texas Monthly in 2019.
Honky-tonks, on the other hand, have a history of being a bit more rough-and-tumble than dance halls.
“Honky-tonks, by contrast, tend to have roots as shallow as tumbleweeds’. Few can trace their history back more than a few decades, and only a handful of stalwarts have been around for more than fifty years,” wrote Wallace. In fact, a honky-tonk is seldom erected at all. It tends to spring to life when an empty filling station or abandoned store is repurposed.”
Patrick Sparks, president of the nonprofit group Texas Dance Hall Preservation Inc. said that “dance halls bring together pretty much everything that's important about Texas culture: barbecue, beer, two-steps, waltzes and polkas, and our state's abiding frontier personality, that odd combination of friendliness and stubborn independence.”
Sparks also joked that the difference between dance halls and honky-tonks was, “a dance hall is where you go to dance with your wife, a honky-tonk is where you go to dance with somebody else's wife.”
Put On Your Best Wranglers: 10 Dance Halls and Honky-Tonks to Visit
Here are 11 dance halls and honky-tonks to point your old pickup towards:
- Gruene Hall: This 6,000 square-foot venue on the outskirts of New Braunfels is the oldest continuously operating dance hall in Texas, dating back 1878. Step back in time with this hall’s high pitched tin roof, side flaps for open air dancing, a bar in front, small lighted stage in back, and big open outdoor garden. Over the years, Gruene Hall has seen artists such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, George Strait, LeAnn Rimes, Townes Van Zandt, Gregg Allman, Lyle Lovett, and Garth Brooks.
- Luckenbach Dance Hall: The little Hill Country town (population 3!) features a legendary dance hall dating back to 1887. Most people know Luckenbach as the namesake of the 1977 Waylon Jennings No. 1 hit country song with guest vocals from Willie Nelson. Catch musical acts here or get “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach” gear at the general store. Listen to pickers just about seven days a week in a setting that once saw a world record set with 1,868 guitarists continuously playing for five minutes at the same time. Nelson once hosted his annual Fourth of July Picnic here in the 1990s with acts such as Robert Earl Keen, Jennings, Dwight Yoakam, Joe Ely, Emmylou Harris, and Larry Gatlin.
- John T. Floore Country Store: This dance hall in Helotes outside of San Antonio gained some fame from being featured in Nelson’s song “Shotgun Willie” and lays claim to being the birthplace of Nelson’s legendary career. The Who’s Who of performers to grace this dance hall is mind boggling including: Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Little Richard, Patsy Cline, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, and more! This venue was opened in 1942 by John T. Floore, a partner in the original Willie Nelson Music Company. Besides music, this dance hall is also known for its world famous tamales and homemade bread.
- Broken Spoke: This Austin dance hall opened in 1964 and claims to be the “last of the true Texas dance halls”, but Garth Brooks also felt its honky-tonk vibe, in a good way, saying in 2017 that “if all honky-tonks were like this one when, I played them, I would've never left!” You can enjoy dance lessons here 8 to 9 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday but remember their motto: “No Line Dancing allowed!” Nelson (of course!), Strait, Sturgill Simpson, Bob Willis, Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, and Tex Ritter have played here and celebrities such as Dolly Parton to Quentin Tarantino like to drop in. Besides the live country music, do not forget to try the chicken fried steak and BBQ.
- Cheatham Street Warehouse: This historic grocery store warehouse turned music venue saw George Strait play his first show with the Ace in the Hole Band in 1975 and was an incubator over the years to “Texas Outlaw '' music culture. There were nights where you could catch Guy Clark joining Townes Van Zandt on stage way past closing hours. In the early days, an audience of almost exclusively other guitarists would listen to virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan lay down licks. Much like Luckenbach features the popular recurring Pickers Circle, Cheatham became known for its reoccurring Songwriters Circle which features the likes of Randy Rogers, Todd Snider, James McMurtry, John Arthur Martinez, Terri Hendrix, Hal Ketchum, Adam Carroll, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Big John Mills, Shelley King, Monte Montgomery, Charlie and Will Sexton, and Slaid Cleaves.
- The White Horse: This Austin honky-tonk is known for its live music weekday scene. Its open to 2 a.m. seven nights a week and you can grab free dance lessons and chow down on a “Bomb Taco”. Often voted one of the “best bars” in Austin, there is a full service bar that serves whiskey on tap. A newcomer, opening in 2011, it has featured acts such as Mike & Moonpies and Conjunto Los Pinkys. Says one booker for the venue: “We are the black sheep of dance halls. We like the bands that are too loud for other country bars.”
- Arkeys Blue’s Silver Dollar: This Texas gem located in Bandera (Cowboy Capital of the World!) lays claim to being the oldest continuously operating honky-tonk in Texas. Purchased by singer-songwriter Arkey Juenke in 1968, this establishment was opened in 1921 as The Fox Hole and became The Silver Dollar in the 1940s. Named by Texas Highways magazine as one of the top three honky-tonks in the state, locals and tourists alike enjoy live music which has featured such artists as Nelson (yes, that guy!), Robert Earl Keen, Charlie Robison, Johnny Bush, and Jay Hooker.
- Devil’s Backbone Tavern: This Hill Country tavern dates its history back to the late 1890s when the first stone room on the site was built for a blacksmith’s shop and stagecoach stop. It became a dancehall favorite in the 1940s with its location straddling a “dry” county line with a neighboring county that allowed alcohol sales. One of the current co-owners, a singer-songwriter, had fond memories of going to Arkey Blue’s. Todd Snider’s “The Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern” tells of his adventures of heading to a gig at Luckenbach Dance Hall, only to get lost and end up at Devil’s Backbone Tavern. This historic venue has a mural that proclaims it the “Oldest Dive Bar in Texas” and has seen Willis Alan Ramsey commemorate the 50-year anniversary of his iconic Green Album, and Johnny Bush receive his BMI award at the restored dance hall.
- Billy Bob’s Texas: Often called the world’s largest honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s opened in 1981 in style with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers on stage. This 100,000 square-foot venue with 20 acres of parking in the Fort Worth stockyards started its life in 1910 as an open-air barn where prized cattle were kept for the local stock show. After morphing into an airplane factory and then department store, the venue became home to music acts ranging from George Strait to Alabama to ZZ Top.
- Schroeder Hall: This Goliad County dance hall, built in 1887, was originally a combination shoe store, grocery, and saloon. Called the second oldest dance hall in Texas, Schroeder boasts a 6,000 square-foot oak dance floor where folks have shuffled to the sounds over the years of Charley Pride, George Jones, Merle Haggard … and Willie Nelson!