Cowboys, far from home on the range, gather at the best little clubhouse in D.C. for a Cotton-Eye Joe -- that's a kick-up-the-boot western swing dance, bucko. They mean business on the dance floor, so at least be prepared to learn the two-step.
The fellas wear 10-gallon hats, lizard-skin boots, leather vests and string ties. They're hard as nails but light on their feet. The gals sport seamed stockin's and cameos, or Levi's with a 'kerchief dangling from the hip pocket, their boots stomping under disco lights. Some of the women wear pink lipstick, teased blond hair and stiletto heels; others look straight off the set of "Dallas."
Bronco Billy's, on the unlikely prairie of L Street at 19th, is "the closest thing to Texas I've found here," says Dan Joiner, a six-foot-six railroad lobbyist from Houston who left his cowboy hat in his hotel room. "The dancers are very good. But," he felt compelled to add, "the dance floor is five times this size in Texas."
Yippie ki yo ki yay -- this bar might be big enough for both of us.
They've got ice cubes that jingle, jangle, jingle. And Tuesdays, Ladies' Night, drinks are 50 cents for women. There's no rawhide: the smoky basement full of mirrors and lights is as splashy as any big-city cocktail lounge. The bartenders and waitresses are friendly, the patrons mostly singles, teens-to-50s. Disc jockey Gary Green, taking over during the Benny Dean Band's break, says the crowd is "about 80 percent Texans, and 40 percent of those are Marines." In fact, the leatherneck spinning his partner doubletime, whooping it up to a "Dixie" medley, does the rootin'-tootinest swing-step on the floor.
And Indians! Men in pigtails and business suits sit beneath a blue-and-pink neon cowboy hat and Texas star. The band dedicates a song to "our Indian brothers and sisters from the great state of Montana," and breaks into "Lucille."
Kay Farmer, here from South Dakota as a Sioux delegate to testify on education and unemployment problems on her Sisseton-Wahpeton reservation, says the bar's gained word-of-mouth popularity within the tribe. "But these are urban cowboys," she says scouting the scene. "They're not real ranchers and farmers. They're better dressed and don't have that rugged look."
Rugged enough. Hoss Cartwright, Roy and Dale, and even Pic Temple would be at home, right next to Travolta in his fringe.
"Watch the floor fill up for 'Queen of Hearts,'" says Green as Juice Newton's drawl rounds 'em up for a line dance. The regulars show up Wednesdays for dance contests, with $100 as first prize. Week-nights they chow down on barbecue and cole slaw during happy hour. The kickin', stompin', polka steppin' and hootin' carries on with the Bellamy Brothers' novelty, "Get Into Reggae Cowboy."
The crowd's frisky, so don't fence them in. BRONCO BILLY'S -- 1823 L Street NW, 887-5141.