The Dead Rabbit Saloon is a place where cold beer is served from a mason jar and most customers are on a first-name basis. The jukebox is always rockin' and the head cook is called “Mom,” for her sweet, motherly personality and “back home” cooking style. If the owner, Billy James Clayton, isn't there, his loud, ex-radio personality can be seen all over the walls.
About a year ago, Clayton, also known as the “Tan Man” left his career in radio at KFLW to pursue his passion in music as an artist. Even though he was able to get a record deal, the industry didn't work out for him quite like he expected and he was forced to go back to the drawing board. He had always wanted to open a bar since he moved to the Pulaski County area a few years ago.
“It was one of those times where life takes you in different directions,” Clayton said.
While Clayton was figuring out his next career move, a venue opened up in the Turkey Ridge area. The bar had gone through three different owners previously, but Clayton had a gut feeling for the place and a vision in mind.
“I sat out in the parking lot and saw all of the traffic here in Turkey Ridge and decided to take a chance on it,” he said.
Clayton opened the Dead Rabbit Saloon along with a partner on New Year's Eve of 2012 and said he has seen good business since opening. Clayton and his partner had different ideas for the place and by March, Billy took complete ownership.
“I wanted a place with low prices, a good clean, mature, relaxed atmosphere, and home-cooked food,” he said. “I think we're different from other bars just with those things.”
Clayton said that since opening, the bar has made great progress on sticking to its goals.
“There isn't an item on the food menu that's over $6.95. Drinks are very cheap with $2 domestic draft beers,” Clayton said. “Our liquor drinks are at least a dollar cheaper than most other places around. It's definitely a working man's bar.”
Clayton also said he wants to ensure his customers good, home-cooked food. They are even open until 3 a.m. to serve breakfast on the weekends.
“We call our cook Mom because that's who she is,” Clayton said. “She is just everyone's mom, and she cooks like it too.”
Clayton didn't entirely leave his music or radio career behind when he became a bar owner. A corner of the bar, dubbed “The Rabbit Hole” is covered in old records, where guests sing karaoke Wednesday through Saturday and local artists perform.
“I'm really starting to think music will be our main theme,” Clayton said. “We had our first show a couple weeks ago and it was awesome. I think we're special when it comes to music. The Rabbit Hole is where the music happens.”
The opposite end of the bar is dedicated to the military, with signs for all five branches of the military, one flag covered in veterans’ signatures. Clayton is a retired Marine who served 21 years.
Clayton says that he thinks his bar is also special because of its eclectic, welcoming atmosphere.
“There are no cliques here. No one walks out as a stranger,” Clayton said. “We have something for everyone here. The bar is sort of taking on a theme for itself. As different things happen on different nights some sort of memento goes up on the wall, giving more and more people something they are attached to on our walls.”
Clayton says that the “Tan Man” radio personality is also with him as a bar owner. He said he uses his marketing skills he picked up in radio to get customers, and keep them happy.
“I'm here every day from open to close,” he said. I believe a bar owner needs to be on site. I really enjoy interacting with my customers and getting to know more and more people around here. It helps make people feel more a part of the place when they know the owner .”
Clayton said that the reasoning behind the name “Dead Rabbit Saloon” will remain a secret.
The Dead Rabbit Saloon is located at 25810 Highway W in Waynesville, and is open every day of the week at 11 a.m.