Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
If all you want is a few minutes in front of a working microphone, this odd little venue has nearly cornered the market on the open-mike night. Their weekly 8:30 p.m. Wednesday slot has hosted everyone from Native American poet Soldier Blue to the "Gay Poet Laureate" Howard Mikehael, and was the platform that sent the Houston Poetry Slam Team off to the national competition in Minneapolis. The reading is followed by its bawdier counterpart, the O.P.P. poetry open mike at 11, where you'll hear everything from feminist porn to guys lamenting their wish to be lesbians. And that's just the poetry. Monday nights, while DJs spin jazzy varieties of house for a chess tournament on the first floor (the coolest concept night outside San Francisco), the Trade leads a jazz open-mike upstairs. Aspiring blues musicians flock to the 9 p.m. Tuesday jam sessions, and musicians of all stripes have the chance to play a few bars at 9 p.m. on Thursdays. The talent varies, but the location is steady and reliable.
The jewel in Pam Robinson's Washington Avenue crown -- and the nerve center in the three-club cluster she calls Pamland Central -- Walter's is less a nightclub than a neighborhood bar with a stage. On that stage, the music comes from both near and far, the musicians both semifamous and downright illustrious. Everyone from rookie bandleader Hilary Sloan to Grammy-winners Augie Meyers and Flaco Jimenez to living legends W.C. Clark and Tony Joe White have performed in the medium-sized room, which offers some of the most intimate surroundings in town. The bartenders -- one of whom is the cousin of Walter's regular guest Mike Barfield -- know just as much about music as they do about mixology. And thanks to the nearby railroad yard, you can listen to the lonesome whistle echoing back the blues, rockabilly and honky-tonk sounds billowing out of Walter's.
It's tough in Houston for new local acts to get gigs. It's a catch-22: While everyone wants to see the next big thing, local audiences can be blasé about going out and seeing new bands. A band has to get a rep before people start coming out to see them, but how can they earn their spurs if nobody will let them get up and play? Fitzgerald's will. Now in its 25th year, the rambling old Polish dance hall has survived conversion from a blues and roots bar into the proving ground for fresh rock and punk acts. It has outlasted and absorbed its main competitor, Emo's, and even gives the late Montrose landmark a weekly memorial with its Wednesday-night tributes. Want to get ahead of the curve and be able to turn your nose up and say, "Well, you should have seen them when..."? Then get thee to Fitzgerald's often and stay late.
For all those tired of the scene, Meteor might well bring you back into the fold. This sleek joint off Fairview offers a fresh take on the neighborhood gay bar. It's decked out in modern threads with neato ceiling fans and comfy oversize high-backed couches. The numerous TV sets around the room showcase music videos of the latest dance grooves without overwhelming the conversation you started up with that really cute guy drinking the cosmo. It's the kind of ultrahip, classy place where you can bring the straights along for a night on the town. It's trendy but not pretentious, attractive but not flashy -- kinda like most of the guys you'll meet here. Whether you're out with old friends for a drink or looking to make new ones, give Meteor a try. It just might become your new scene.