On the Texas Monthly cover, it’s not uncommon to see politicians or the latest football phenom, but for the September 2019 issue, the venerable magazine took a detour. After traveling 3,000 miles, writer Christian Wallace named the seven best honky-tonks in the state, including Houston staple Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon.
Though admitting that the term is “tricky to nail down,” Wallace did set some limits on venues up for consideration by laying down a few rules. Foremost among them is that a honky-tonk is different from the historic dance halls that dot the Lone Star State.
The writer also says that honky-tonks are different from country-themed nightclubs in that they should operate with everyday hours instead of weekend nights. Instead, Wallace says, honky-tonks should also feel more personal than those huge spaces.
Although some honky-tonks do offer food, Wallace wrote that they are not restaurants and the fare should be limited to “the kind you’d find at a Little League concession stand: Frito pie, nachos, nuts, and various fried or pickled items.” The addition of blue cheese to any dish is an automatic disqualifier.
Despite serving steaks on Wednesdays and grilled burgers on Saturdays, Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, the popular hangout for Houston's LGBTQ community, certainly fits that bill.
"If you really want to go honky-tonking in the Bayou City, you’ll have to venture beyond the Loop," he writes. "That’s where you’ll find the stone facade of Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, a welcome sight amid the industrial sprawl on the city’s northwest side."
Wallace also shares Neon Boots' history, which begins with its predecessor Esquire Ballroom opening in 1955.
"[I]t was the musical home to jukebox queen Patsy Cline in addition to being Willie Nelson’s place of employment in his early songwriting days (he composed 'Night Life' about working at the bar while commuting from Pasadena)," Wallace explains.
"Dozens of legendary honky-tonk acts played its stage over the years, but the Esquire closed for good in 1995. The building hosted a string of short-lived ventures (boxing venue, quinceañera hall, space-themed nightclub) before six Houstonians stepped in to give it a new life as the state’s largest LGBTQ country bar, in 2013."
Elsewhere in Texas, the list was surprisingly diverse. Small-town dives like Devil's Backbone Tavern in Fischer were joined by Austin institution the Broken Spoke. San Antonio newcomer Lonesome Rose also made the list.