Consult any guidebook for getting the most out of your visit to Nashville, and chances are good that at least one honky tonk will have made the list. And for good reason: you need only to drive down Broadway on a Friday or Saturday (or Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday) night and see the flashing lights and people flooding the sidewalks to get a sense of just how deeply these bars have woven themselves into the culture of Music City. Whether you’re searching for the best honky tonks amidst the saturation of bars on Broadway or for alternative opportunities to test out your dancing chops, here are some of the best honky tonks and dance halls in Nashville.
More honky tonks abound on Broadway and its ancillary streets than can be addressed in just one article. And while most of these bars share many common fundamental features, here are a few can’t-miss highlights if you find yourself downtown.
Restaurant, American, $$$
Line dancing: how difficult can a few steps really be? While the technique behind this Southern cultural staple may be relatively straightforward, a truly comprehensive tour of old-school Nashville would be incomplete without a line dancing lesson or two. And Wild Horse Saloon, located on 2nd Avenue just off of Lower Broadway, is perhaps the best place in the city to do so. Offering free daily line dancing lessons in addition to a robust calendar of live music, this downtown venue is a go-to for visitors from all different corners of the country hoping to take advantage of Nashville’s Southern roots.
This decades-old honky tonk stands out amongst the many others on Broadway not only for its color (the building is painted bright purple, which prompted the insertion of ‘Orchid’ into the bar’s name) but for its reputation as one of the best and most historic honky tonks in the city. In addition to the three stages offering nightly performances of live music ranging from contemporary to traditional country covers, the bar is steeped in country music history. Country music heavy hitters ranging from Willie Nelson to Waylon Jennings to Patsy Cline once frequented the Orchid Lounge, and legend goes that Willie Nelson even landed his very first songwriting gig after performing there. No guarantee that a visit will launch you into country music superstardom, but if you’re searching for the quintessential Nashville honky tonk, Tootsie’s is likely your best bet.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a higher concentration of archetypal ‘Nashville’ cultural emblems than inside this boot shop slash honky tonk. Whether you’re shopping for the perfect pair of cowboy boots to complete your country star transformation or you’re merely looking for a place to hear tons of live country music (and squeeze in a dance or two while you’re at it), this iconic honky tonk has you covered. And if you happen to really love bologna, you’re in luck: this bar is almost as well known for its fried bologna sandwiches as it is for its country music roots. Beyond Broadway
Every Monday night at 10pm, locals flock to this East Nashville joint to partake in what is perhaps the most popular weekly dance party in the entire city: Keep on Movin’ (commonly referred to as ‘Motown Mondays’). While The 5 Spot is an excellent venue for live music any night of the week – with regular performers of a myriad of genres ranging from soul to R&B to rock n’ roll – if you’re searching for the best opportunities to brush the cobwebs off your dancing shoes, Motown Mondays are a can’t-miss. And unlike the country kitsch of most downtown honky tonks, The 5 Spot has a reputation, much like the rest of its East Nashville neighbors, for drawing a slightly younger and more cutting-edge local crowd (there’s a reason, after all, that GQnamed Motown Mondays the ‘most stylish party in America’).
Interested in dance that isn’t of the honky tonk line dance variety? While Nashville may be most well-known for its country roots when it comes to dance hall opportunities, if you look hard enough, you’ll also find a number of venues offering a wide variety of different dance options. One such example is Swing Dance Nashville, a venue celebrating the vintage jazz styles of the mid-twentieth century. In addition to tons of classes ranging from beginner to advanced, every Friday night the studio also hosts a Jump Session, where for five dollars you can drop in on a lesson and then stick around for three hours of open dancing as DJs play jazz tunes from the 1920s-1950s.