Lifestyle

Back to Country: Skinny Dennis is New York's Exciting Take on a Honky-Tonk Bar

via Emily Mack

This article is part of Wide Open Country's ongoing series Back to Country, which celebrates country music venues across the U.S.

Williamsburg: the land of hip yuppies, artisanal tacos, HBO's Girls... and cowboys? Embedded on a typically robust corner of the famed Brooklyn neighborhood is Skinny Dennis: a dive bar known for live country music acts. It's New York City's own take on a honky-tonk, and let me tell you, even on a Tuesday that joint was juking.

Skinny Dennis

via Skinnydennisbar.com

Skinny Dennis is named for Skinny Dennis Sanchez, a Los Angeles country artist who suffered from Marfan syndrome. Standing at 6'11" and weighing just 135 pounds, Sanchez died of heart failure on stage when he was just 28 years old. But in his short life, Sanchez befriended many influential artists, including Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. (The documentary Heartworn Highways is dedicated to Sanchez' memory. He's also referenced, lovingly, in the lyrics to Clark's "LA Freeway.") So in that storied tradition of Americana, Brooklyn's own Skinny Dennis is a funky venue full of heart.

Wikipedia via Heartworn Highways

Skinny Dennis opened in 2013. Not that you'd know it from the worn wooden interior, plastered in penned-on graffiti and local art stickers. A velvet portrait of Willie Nelson hangs behind the bar alongside a blinking Miller High Life neon. An elk head mounted to the wall is draped in Mardi Gras beads. A big glass window advertises -- so enticingly -- the words HONKY-TONK and HOT PEANUTS. There's also a juke box, a shuffleboard, and -- almost every night -- live music. This cutesy mishmash of attributes creates a special setting for the country music that's played. A haven for true fanatics, yet unintimidating to any New Yorker who might wander through the open doors. Rather than resist its cosmopolitan surroundings entirely, Skinny Dennis has crafted a unique aesthetic that's urban as well as rustic. And the colorful clientele reflects that very attitude.

A Lively Crowd

Leslie Padoll and Mark Kroeckel

Like just about any piece of property in NYC, Skinny Dennis is small. But the patrons make do. Swinging together on a crowded dance floor, partnered up, the tight space only adds to the bar's breathless charm. When I visited, on July 20, a four-piece band squeezed together in the corner and played against the wall. Donning a t-shirt, long hair, and a baseball cap, lead singer Zephania Ohora looked like your average Brooklyn dude. Until you notice he's crooning country, backed by a smiling, soulful band. These were The Last Roundup Boys and that Tuesday night marked their final performance at the bar.

Read More: Zephaniah OHora Talks Polarizing Times, Suicide Prevention and New Album 'Listening to the Music'

One particular visitor -- Leslie Padoll -- was more than happy to fill me in. Sipping a Coors Banquet beer, she explained that after seven years it was the New York country band's last night performing at Skinny Dennis. Padoll began coming to Skinny Dennis around that time, not long after the bar's opening. Back then, she rode with a women's motorcycle club called The Misfires. Padoll and the gang enjoyed riding their bikes throughout the up-and-coming neighborhood and heading to Skinny Dennis for a show (or just a nightcap).

Padoll also revealed to me, giggling, the dirty nickname for Skinny Dennis: Fingerb*ng Alley. A voyeuristic Instagram account that chronicles the, er, more successful dates at Skinny Dennis shows exactly why.

Padoll was joined that night by her friend Mark Kroeckel, another avid country fan. The pair have been frequenting Skinny Dennis together for nearly a decade now. Fondly, Knoreckel remembered when Country Music Magazine used to throw events all around the area. With less options now for live country music now, he had made the trek all the way from his home upstate to see The Last Roundup Boys. From the energy in the room, it's clear that this local band was a beloved part of the scene. Padoll explained, "It's nostalgic for us. To come here and be part of it as it's ending is a nice way to close the chapter on all the things we've done in the last seven years." In my audio recording of Padoll's-- quite eloquent -- quote, the soft sounds of The Last Roundup Boys blend sweetly in the background.

Kroeckel and Padoll were not the only close duo on the dance floor that night. I watched many couples stepping together, in time, to The Last Roundup Boys' spirited set. Beer was sloshed. Toes were stepped on, littered peanut shells were smashed. (Thank god for cowboy boots!) It was after speaking with Kroeckel and Padoll, though, that I realized the most interesting patrons were likely the ones in cowboy hats. Go figure. So I approached an older gentleman, who was nestled in a bar stool close to the stage. His eyes were fixated on the musicians. And his ten-gallon hat, paired with a plaid button-down, screamed classic country. His name was Greg Kmit.

Greg Kmit

When asked why he loves country music, Kmit's answer is short. But not exactly sweet. "Well, my father was an alcoholic," he said simply. After further pressing, Kmit explained that as a child he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey. And in the caring home that he found there, Kmit was introduced to another kind of comfort: country music. Kmit's uncle would play all the Hanks: Snow, Thompson, Williams. Before long, the young boy was hooked. Now Kmit travels around the U.S.A. to watch live country music. Austin is his absolute favorite town.

Excitedly, Kmit recounted his recent trip to the Lone Star State: his first since the pandemic began. In just six days, he saw 16 shows! Using Facebook to discover many events, Kmit said he slept in his hotel room all day before heading out all night to various country dance halls. "That's what they're called there," the enthusiast is sure to tell me. "Country dance halls." Now, Kmit resides in Staten Island. But he makes it to Skinny Dennis often to enjoy a live taste of the genre he loves so much.

The Last Roundup Boys

The Last Roundup Boys performed a kinetic and emotional show last Tuesday night. Surely, they'll be missed around Skinny Dennis. But for now, you check out the full roster of upcoming performers at skinnydennisbar.com.

What's On Tap

In addition to free peanuts, Skinny Dennis offers another rare treat: cheap drinks. I ordered the Bourbon Mint Sweet Tea and for just ten bucks, the giant mason jar offered a strong, strong taste of the South. Skinny Dennis also specializes in an espresso slushie called Willie's Frozen Coffee, Tito's Lemonade, and the (in)famous One Pound Margarita. All that in addition to a full bar with happy hour specials.

You can also find similar menus at Skinny Dennis' sister bars: Luckydog, Turtles All the Way Down, Rocka Rolla, George and Jack's Tap Room, Horses and Divorces, and my personal favorite, Do or Dive. As a fairly new Brooklynite myself, these kooky dives have quickly become beloved go-tos for me and my friends. In a city that can be overwhelming -- and expensive -- the bars in that network offer an unfussy alternative for any late-night boozehounds. And, apparently, country fans are especially welcome.

Visit Skinny Dennis Today

152 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Just a short walk from the Bedford Ave L stop!

The author enjoying her night out

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Back to Country: Skinny Dennis is New York's Exciting Take on a Honky-Tonk Bar