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D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: Working at Billy Bob’s, Circa 1982

Billy Bob Barnett wanted a club that would make Mickey Gilley's joint down in Pasadena look like a dive. And that's what he built.
Country night club in Forth Worth, Texas
Ryan Bingham at Billy Bob's. Courtesy the Venue

Today, Amy Cunningham is a New York-based funeral director. In 1982, she was undercover at the world’s largest honky tonk.

Billy Bob’s had only been open for about a year in the Fort Worth Stockyards, a cavernous barn that imagined Texas through dilated pupils: 127,000 square feet, a fourth of which was dedicated to dance floor; a rodeo ring with seating for 500; a souvenir shop; dozens of pool tables; an oyster bar and a pizza parlor; portrait studios; a wall that would gradually fill up with hand imprints from the famous names that played on the 48-by-22 foot stage.

And then there was Amy—and dozens of other wait staff. But she was the only one playing a part. She went undercover at the club as a waitress and scribbled notes on cocktail napkins while running drinks. She saw ZZ Top and Roy Clark and Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash. Lampasas’ own Billy Bob Barnett and his investor partner Spencer Taylor wanted to outclass Mickey Gilley down in Pasadena, whose eponymous club was immortalized in Urban Cowboy a year before their operation opened in Fort Worth.

Amy wanted to see how it all worked. She wound up working 13 shifts and writing one of our 50 greatest stories by detailing the machinations of a club that still packs in thousands every weekend, four decades later.

“One thing is certain: If disco is out and country and western is well on the wane, people will still be honky-tonking someway, somehow. The people running Billy Bob’s are banking on that,” she wrote.

They were right. Read it here.


Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He's written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…