The word “honky tonk,” translated from its ancient Greek origins, literally means a “public gathering place where the cattlemen and sheep ranchers can meet and settle their differences over a lukewarm bottle of Pearl to the accompaniment of Ernest Tubb’s moonlight serenade.”
Institutions such as the honky tonk have made America great, while the countries behind the Iron Curtain, where they don’t have real honky tonks, remain economically and culturally retarded. Those Ukrainians might have experienced “Faded Love” in their personal lives, but they don’t know the lyrics.
Sadly, though, the classic honky tonk is fast disappearing from the American landscape. Case in point: Dewey Groom has closed the doors of his famous and beloved old Longhorn Ballroom, a Dallas institution for more than twenty-five years. Since 1958, two-steppers looking for “a big ol’ brew and a little ol’ you” have headed for the Longhorn.
But no longer. Belgian American, the same European consortium that. purchased the acreage around the Farmer’s Market territory, is now coveting the barn-like dance hall that Groom operated on Corinth Street.
Groom himself is part of a remarkable species that is rapidly growing extinct-the nightclub owner-operator who would also get up on the bandstand, pick his guitar, and croon harmonies geared to soothe the goat roper.
At sixty-seven. Groom has decided it’s time to stop and smell the roses-as opposed to Four Roses.
“God may have given me a lease on a building, but God didn’t give me a lease on life,” says Groom. “It occurred to me that I might not be around that much longer and I just wanted time to relax. I’m still alive and kicking. I’m just not kicking as high as I used to.”
Groom decided to go into the club business after the Second World War because he wanted a showplace for his musical skills. “I’d known for a long time that it’s more fun to pick a guitar than pick cotton,” he says. In the late ! Forties, Groom performed in some establishments operated by Jack Ruby, a gentleman he describes as “my good buddy from Chicago, the one who shot the guy who shot the president.”
In 1950, Groom opened the Bounty Ballroom, a walk-up joint in downtown Dallas, and started making basketfuls of money. In 1958, he moved his headquarters to the now famous Longhorn, previously known as the Bob Wills Ranch House.
As the Longhorn approached its twenty-fifth anniversary in 1983, it became, along with Gilley’s in Pasadena. a finalist as the location site for the filming of Urban Cowboy. “Of course, they wound up at Gilley’s, because Gilley had more space,” says Groom. “But because of that movie, we still made lotsa money. It was great for business.”
Dick Thompson, now a slock broker with Smith Barney, Harris Upham, recalls the night when, as a teenager, he was knocked out at the Ballroom. No, not in a brawl-he collided with a cactus on the dance floor. Groom hears stories like that and smiles his bitlersweet smile. “A lot of funny things happened in there. A lot of sad things, too. All kinds of things happened in there. 1 know people who haven’t missed a week at the Longhorn Ballroom, people who probably needed a fake ID when they first started coming and who are grandparents now.” he says.
“I established something there that I’m kind of proud of, and frankly, it’s sad to see it go. It had what you’d call ’atmosphere.’ In Dallas, I guess it’s the last of the Mohicans.”
THUMBS UP PYE KEEPS HIS PROMISE
By D Magazine
THE ULTIMATE N-M HIS AND HER GIFT
By D Magazine