Definition of honky-tonk in US English:



  • 1North American A cheap or disreputable bar, club, or dance hall, typically where country music is played.

    ‘country bands at highway honky-tonks’
    • ‘Nashville's downtown honky-tonks have helped launch the careers of such greats as Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.’
    • ‘To soak up a little of the famous Nashville atmosphere, head for the honky-tonks in Downtown, a row of rough-and-ready bars all playing covers of your favourite country songs.’
    • ‘But they sit around like a bunch of jukeboxes in a private honky-tonk, playing the same sad country songs.’
    • ‘There's a scene at a honky-tonk in which Melanie lays into all her old friends in a way that's vicious and very real.’
    • ‘A night in a honky-tonk ensues, during which Henry and Carol dance the night away as Wayne glowers and fumes on the sidelines; he's actually jealous of this old guy out there with his young wife.’
    • ‘At 16, Anneth compulsively sneaks out at night to flirt and drink at honky-tonks, dancing to the latest songs by Elvis, Patsy Cline, and Sam Cooke.’
    • ‘As someone who has sometimes wondered about her own capacity to drink herself to death, I was also intrigued by the shots of men and women inside honky-tonks and other bars, sometimes at after-show functions.’
    • ‘It is more of a honky-tonk than a restaurant but it is boasting an oyster bar.’
    • ‘There's no sign officials will try to remove the forbidden music from the honky-tonks where it first emerged.’
    • ‘Hightower writes, ‘I've been in Oklahoma honky-tonks, Portland brew pubs, Boston neighborhood bars, Napa Valley wine bars - but I've never been in a place like the O2 Spa Bar in Toronto, Canada.’’
    • ‘Here, you can get a taste of Memphis nightlife, where the blues continues to play in classic clubs and honky-tonks.’
    • ‘Migrants from the Texas and Oklahoma dustbowls in the 1930s kept their music alive in the honky-tonks and juke joints of California's San Joachim Valley.’
    • ‘I suspect he preferred the novelty of being a black man who sang like Elvis in mostly white honky-tonks to being a nearly blind visitor to the king of rock 'n' roll's court.’
    • ‘It's a great honky-tonk, with live Texas-style country music most nights of the week.’
    • ‘I used to do, you know, 260 days a year on the road doing fairs and festivals and honky-tonks and symphony dates and whatever.’
    • ‘The author vividly recreates the nature of the Phenix City honky-tonks and brothels and the recurrent violence so often directed against the soldiers of Fort Benning, Georgia.’
    establishment, restaurant, bar, club, nightclub
    View synonyms
    1. 1.1as modifier Squalid and disreputable.
      ‘a honky-tonk beach resort’
      • ‘I'd hope to see the site redeveloped in a tasteful way and not in a honky-tonk fashion.’
      • ‘The town is but a decayed, honky-tonk version of the company town, with everything and everybody in it owned by Mr. Potter, the rapacious banker (and the town itself is, of course, Pottersville).’
  • 2often as modifier Ragtime piano music.

    • ‘It manages to stay above the pack thanks to Lovett's laconic drawl and some fine honky-tonk piano.’
    • ‘And I would fall asleep lying on the floor of my room with my pillow and my blanket, because he had an old honky-tonk piano that he'd play just all night long.’
    • ‘There is music for everyone in this city - traditional jazz, honky-tonk piano, Cajun, zydeco, rhythm and blues, gospel, rock, and country.’
    • ‘The music is the best thing about the film, which includes spirituals, work songs, a lullaby, and a great sequence in a saloon with honky-tonk jazz.’
    • ‘But when the foursome kept playing ragtime and honky-tonk music into the early hours the council decided to pull the plug.’
    • ‘Adam had gone into the small apartment at the back of the white clapboard house, which was pretty quiet, but up front, the sound of a honky-tonk piano tried to rise above talk and laughter.’
    • ‘The songs have a bit of a barroom sound, and there are a few blues numbers, and even one honky-tonk piano song.’
    • ‘As the honky-tonk piano of Elliott Smith's ‘A Distorted Reality Is Now A Necessity To Be Free’ fades into silence, there's one moment from this compilation that stays with you.’
    • ‘The pianist had grand piano, harmonium, honky-tonk piano and celeste, and the percussionist had a range of tuned and untuned percussion.’
    • ‘‘My dad was a great pianist and he was always playing honky-tonk and jazz music, so I grew up with it,’ he said.’
  • 3US A style of country and western music of the 1950s associated with honky-tonks.

    ‘good-time urban cowboy fare with a hint of honky-tonk and a healthy measure of rock’
    • ‘Following a tempestuous marriage, Nelson moved in 1953 to Fort Worth, became a country deejay and played bars, mixing honky-tonk and preaching.’
    • ‘Cool beats played by house DJs include an eclectic mix of Cajun and honky-tonk that only adds to the funky, offbeat feel of the place.’
    • ‘The rise of honky-tonk and postwar traditional music strengthened the ‘southernness’ of country music, but country pop gave Nashville its most important tool in the battle for respectability.’
    • ‘Punching the buttons I find a country music station that's awash with honky-tonk.’
    • ‘Though their musical palette contained more folky honky-tonk than their peers', it was difficult to get excited about their jaunty-yet-dull strums and limp ballads.’


Late 19th century: of unknown origin.