A honky tonk (noun) is a bar where live music, usually of the country and western variety, is regularly featured. To honky tonk (verb) is the act of going out in the evening to one or more of these establishments for the enjoyment of live music and maybe a bit of dancing as well. Having a few beers or other alcoholic beverages while honky tonking is the perfect way to make the most of such bars and activity.

Honky tonks and honky tonking ain’t what they used to be, but the last bastion of hope for this 20th-century pastime still exists in downtown Nashville at the lower end of Broadway (just look for the neon glow). Known as Honky Tonk Row, the area is renowned for offering live music every night of the week. There’s plenty of great shopping and eating to be had on and near Broadway too.

Here’s a tried and true list of some of the best joints with the best bars to sidle up to where there’s never a cover charge (but you’re certainly welcome to tip the musicians!) and the beer’s always cold.

Layla’s Bluegrass Inn

Classic dive bar featuring live music seven nights a week with an emphasis on “hillbilly, rockabilly, western, Americana, bluegrass and newgrass.” Hungry? Layla’s has a “drive in” hot dog stand on the weekends serving 100% beef frank hot dogs for around two bucks. They go down nice with a cold PBR. Yee haw!

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Legends Corner

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Original 78 RPM Elvis Presley Sun Records, an autographed guitar once owned by Johnny Cash and more country and popular music memorabilia adorn the walls of this truly legendary bar. From 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day of the week, there’s free music performed here. Considered by many locals to be the best country bar in Nashville, it’s a great venue for celebrity spotting. The Legends’ stage is an equally fantastic place for catching the “next big thing” on the stage before they make a splash on the national scene.

Robert’s Western World

This so-called “hillbilly heaven” is the ideal place to watch burgers flipped before your eyes behind the bar while cowboy hat-wearin’ men twirl their girls around below a stage from which perfectly performed sounds of classic country music flow. If such a description is even halfway to your liking, then Robert’s should rank high on your must-see list of Nashville venues.

The Second Fiddle

The Second Fiddle is another great spot for seeing local hotshots and internationally famous recording stars; there’s live music seven days a week from as early as 11 a.m. on the weekends at this “honky tonk with attitude” bar.

The Stage

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The Stage offers a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll edge with respect to the performers they book. It’s still 100% Nashville though. Everyone from Hank Williams Jr. to Gwyneth Paltrow has done a number here. Since the beer’s cheap and there’s no cover, it can’t hurt to pop your head in to see who’s playing when you’re in town.

Station Inn

Bluegrass fans, welcome to heaven. Take a seat in one of the old church pews at the Station Inn and enjoy the best of the genre. Unlike the other venues in this list, there’s usually a cover charge here. But for the chance to see some of American traditional music’s most respected virtuosos do their thing, you’ll find it a small price to pay, especially when you’ve already snagged the lowest airfare you could find to get here. Oh, and there’s pizza, nachos, and hot dogs, too.

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge

Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is known for having decades-old honky tonk where the customers and performers have often been one and the same. A who’s who of country music’s most revered players including Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Waylon Jennings, and Patsy Cline have come in and out of here for a drink … and many of them through the upstairs backdoor between Grand Ole Opry sets at the Ryman Auditorium up the street.

Know of any more honky tonk spots where you could rock out? Tell us about it in the comments below! 

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About The Author

Chris Osburn is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant, curator, and the driving force behind the long running and award winning blog, tikichris.com. Originally from the American Deep South, Chris has lived and worked all over the world. He's called London home since 2001.