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Best Of 2000


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Best Of :: People & Places

Best New Downtown Club

Dorothy Parker would drink here. The old Isis Theater has been restored to its swinging, speakeasy style. There's a 25-foot-long cherry-wood bar with a rolling library ladder to get to the good stuff. You can buy a $4 bottle of Bud Light and order caviar at the bar. Down the slippery slate stairs, there's a cigar bar and a wall lined with mirrors -- maybe to make the room look bigger, or maybe because the people who come here really like looking at themselves. The room is filled with black leather jackets, pony-skin shoes and vixens carrying zebra-print purses. Playboy ranked it one of the 25 best bars in America; the napkins say it's "upscale, downtown." (The Mercury Lounge in New York City [more of a dive than a divine blues bar] is located on Houston Street. Coincidence?) Dozens of diamond-patterned chairs are paired with small circular tables lit with silver-beaded lamps. (Diamond patterns are on the wall too; don't ask us why.) Two spinning disco balls hang from the ceiling. On the small corner stage, a black woman in a red-sequined cap leads the jazz band. The dance floor in front of her has a few couples swaying slowly; then the band takes a break and Top 40 tunes come on. Suddenly the tiny dance floor is jammed with people who have to dance.

Best Bar Manager

Tucked in the armpit of West U, Bellaire and the railroad tracks, Little Woodrow's seems out of place and time. Few of the mostly working-class regulars who frequent the area's only neighborhood bar live in the monstrosities that have sprouted in the adjoining neighborhoods, displacing the modest middle-class ranch-styles. But those regulars are fiercely loyal, thanks in no small part to Betty Campbell, bar manager since forever. Betty knows her customers so well that she recognizes many of their cars; by the time they enter the place and belly up, their brand of choice is already waiting on the bar. The crowd likes to drink, but disturbances are almost nonexistent, also in no small part because any transgressors would have to deal with Betty (as a few permanently banned customers have discovered). And if you need to vent about life's dirty deals, Betty (who has heard enough whining to board-certify in clinical psychology) fits the bill.

Best 15 Minutes of Fame

On June 16, the New Black Panthers had every right to be pissed. They'd dressed all in eye-catching black. They arrived at the state GOP convention in Houston in a rare Hummer limousine. And most of them came to the protest party armed with all manner of menacing weapons: rifles, shotguns and an AK-47 or two. They were hunting, all right -- hunting for attention. And that kind of preparation ought to attract ample publicity. Instead, it was A.J. McClure, a 71-year-old nobody Republican delegate from Kaufman County, who grabbed the limelight. What started as a verbal confrontation with the Panthers ended when he either fell or was pushed by a member of the militant entourage. For the next few days, the battles sifted to state legislators and city councilmembers and police and a mayor all arguing over the charge and actions -- or inactivity -- of the police. Meanwhile, McClure's tumble took him, or at least the footage of him going to the mat, onto the national network stage. Stories that touched on the incident totaled more than 2,000 words in the Houston Chronicle and on the Associated Press wire. Yep. It was a prime-time dive. Lots of old-timers may go headlong -- A.J. went headline.

Best Car-Commercial Jingle

Just another example of how overrated pop music songcraft is. Since a catchy five- or ten-second hook is usually described as genius, the little bit of pop profundity known as the Mossy Nissan commercial jingle also deserves as glowing a description. Over a snappy beat, a male voice sings the name of the dealership over and over. "Mos-sey Neeee-sahhhhn / Mos-sey Neeee-sahhhn / Whoooooooo!" Okay, so the lyrics aren't as deep as, say, "Oh, baby, baby," but they do roll easily off the tongue. The jingle is the brainchild of L.A.-based A&M Advertising.

Best Bar Bathroom

Europeans may build great cathedrals, but Americans have a genius for bathrooms. At Prague, the WC marries old-world elegance with Yankee utilitarianism. When nature's irrepressible call rises above the club's techno beat, you can drift down to this swank unisex chamber of flickering candles, period furniture and a full-service bar to answer. The style might be described as bathroom baroque. A dripping chandelier throws just enough light to reveal the glinting accessories of nubile fashionistas and their well-groomed mates. The music keeps a respectful distance, allowing one to clear one's mind and bladder in one of 12 stalls set tastefully behind black doors. Roughly the size of a confessional, these immaculate stalls seem designed for a religious experience of one sort or another.

Best Motorcycle Parking Lot
Wortham Theater Center

Maybe these are just the moments that downtown finally arrives. Party on the Plaza is in full swing. So is its dynamic corner of the central city, with Bayou Place beckoning the masses across the street. And there, on the magnificent grounds that serve as the front entrance to the Wortham Theater Center, are scores of motorcycles at rest in neatly lined rows. The bikers rumble in to party at the plaza, and what better place to park 'em than on off-nights at the Wortham. All the nightlife available isn't going to be enough if downtown can't loosen up a little. On these evenings, it shows off its finest colors: Electra Glides in blue.

500 Texas, Houston, 77002

Best New Downtown Club: Mercury Room


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