If you're hearing the call of the islands, it may be coming from closer than you think. There's a tropical oasis in the Third Ward, and it's emerging as a Friday hotspot for fans of Houston's underground MCs.Every Friday, the Reggae Bodega showcases homegrown hip-hop in addition to its usual array of oils, incense, clothes and jewelry. This week, the ultimate underground lyricist K-Rino is on the bill, along with Murdoq and the South Park Coalition. K-Rino is a pioneer of Houston rap, having put out his first record, Rockin' It, in 1986 at the tender age of 16. He and Murdoq, a.k.a. Dope-E, are the founders of the South Park Coalition, an ever-growing clique of hardcore rhyme-sayers whose ranks include Ganksta Nip, Rhyme Felony and Point Blank.
If the Bodega's sights and smells put you in the mood for jerk chicken and brown stew, you can head next door to the newly reopened Reggae Hut. The Hut is poised to become a draw for Jamaican-food lovers once again. That's good news for Bodega owners J-Nap and Papa Doc, of the rap group Da Smugglaz. "We shared a lot of the same customers," says Papa Doc. "People would stop in over here after lunch to get some black soap or whatever."
Even aside from Hip-Hop Fridays and Poetry Wednesdays, the Bodega wasn't hurting for foot traffic while the Hut was shuttered -- the 4800 block of Almeda is home to a cute little mix of businesses, including a nail salon, a barbershop and an eclectic African import shop. 10 p.m. 4812 Almeda. For information, call 713-942-9535 or visit www.southparkcoalition.com. $3. -- Felicia Johnson-LeBlanc
STIRRED AND SHAKEN
RAGAZZA BAR & GRILL'S ORANGE PASSION SPLASH
The flyer circulating around town said it all: A hot-looking babe was inviting all of Houston to come party with her at Ragazza Bar & Grill (920 Studemont, 713-864-3700). If my memory serves correctly, it even included her cell phone number. I made the mistake of showing up late on a Monday night, when not much was happening. But Jill, who was working behind the bar, proved once again that Houston has some of the friendliest, most engaging bartenders I've ever met (and there have been plenty, trust me). She whipped up a little number called an orange passion splash, all the while telling me how lucky she was to be in love with her boyfriend -- which was a crying shame. I couldn't take my eyes off her necklace. It was in the shape of a large O, which I figured meant she loved either doughnuts or orgasms. The other thing I couldn't take my eyes off was the peculiar waterfall behind the bar, which I'd seen before -- even though this was my first visit to Ragazza. I looked around. The bar had the same artwork, the same martini glasses, even the same bowl of matches as its previous incarnation, Rivendell Bar & Grille. From the looks of things, the previous owner dropped his apron and left town in a hurry. Maybe Ragazza needs a little time to find its own identity. In the meantime, I'll be spending a little more time getting to know the bartender.
1-1/2 ounces Caravella Orangecello
1-1/2 ounces Grey Goose vodka
1/4 ounce Rosita Triple Sec
1/4 ounce sweet and sour mix
Fill a blender with two or three scoops of ice and measure out ingredients. Blend for seven seconds and serve in a crooked-stemmed martini glass. Repeat as often as needed. Tastes great after a long night of drinking. -- J.W. Crooker
The Royal Tannenbaum
If the strangest Christmas tree you can imagine is one of those hip-again mid-century aluminum affairs, then you're due for some mind expansion. At the Buffalo Bayou Art Park, you can see that revered totem of the season through the eyes of area artists and students. They'll build festive boughs using steel, ceramic, fabric, plastic and in one notable case, light and sound. Open daily from Thursday, November 27, through January 1. Opening event: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, December 6. Grounds surrounding Wortham Theater (Ray C. Fish Plaza and Sesquicentennial Parks 1 and 2), 501 Texas. For information, call 713-520-0152 or visit www.bbap-houston.org. Free. -- Lisa Simon
Guitarist Mark Dini plays smooth jazz, a genre all but ruined by the syrupy melodies of Kenny G. But don't go to one of Dini's shows expecting to see a bunch of Muzak-lovers who can't tell the difference between smooth and snooze. Sure, his cool riffs might attract a couple of middle-aged New Agers in search of the soothing sounds of elevator music, but Dini manages to impress rockers and hepcats alike with his raw chops and innovative covers of songs by Beck and Stevie Wonder. And he's never released a Christmas album. 9 p.m. Friday, November 28. Sambuca Jazz Cafe, 909 Texas. For information, call 713-224-5299 or visit www.sambucajazzcafe.com. Free. -- Keith Plocek