Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Most jukes these days are stocked by companies armed with demographic studies. Not so at Under the Volcano, where owner Pete Mitchell don't need no steenkin' studies. Instead, this box is full of stuff he likes, which ranges from Cesaria Evora to New Orleans brass bands to sacred steel to mid-period Rolling Stones to Scott Miller to Hank Williams. Whether you're in the mood to cry in your St. Arnold over a little honky-tonk, or knock back a few of the bar's signature frozen cuba libres to a little vintage son, the Volcano's got you covered.
This blue-collar Heights hangout doesn't draw the sexiest crowd, but for colorful characters and unusual enthusiasm, you can't beat it -- especially on weekdays at 6:30 p.m., when Wheel of Fortune is on. Looking at the long bar flanked by two large TVs (both tuned to the show), you'd think it was game seven of the '94 NBA Finals. It's fun to pound a few $2 beers and listen to folks shout insults at the screen and beat their fellow barflies to the puzzle solution. Just don't let the practice become a habit. You'll know you have a problem when you belly up for a Lone Star and wind up ordering a vowel.
Sadly, this is another posthumous award. Stuka as we know it is closing down; when the club reopens it will be under a new name, concept and management. Stuka was harder to pigeonhole than its competitors Numbers and the Proletariat, and former manager Tim Murrah liked it that way. Since its opening last winter, Stuka dive-bombed the competition by bringing in hot New York acts such as Navdeep, Longwave, ARE Weapons and Larry Tee, while not neglecting California (the Dragons) and Texas (the Riverboat Gamblers). The love of music trumped the love of being a scenester here at this short-lived haven for the truly hip, a nightspot where having good ears was seen as more desirable than having the coolest thrift-store threads.
Tucked behind trees on the corner of Dunlavy and Westheimer in the heart of the Montrose, this funky, mellow hangout is the place to go for a cup of joe. Sure, there's a wide variety of coffees to choose from, but what turns this cafe into a hangout is the ambience. Brasil offers what Starbucks can't: a relaxed, homegrown vibe. The pleasant staff doesn't have to wear matching aprons, and the music playing depends on who's behind the counter. The outdoor patio is the perfect place to feed the birds or just waste time, and inside there's live music on weekends. It doesn't matter whether you're a struggling student, a lady who lunches or the tortured artist type -- Brasil welcomes all who just need a spot to relax. And if coffee isn't enough, there's also a full menu of delicious pizzas and sandwiches.
There's something appropriate about naming a titty bar after an insane, bloodthirsty, incestuous Roman emperor. And, as if that weren't enough, they have free lunch until 3 p.m. during the week. In fact, there's always something to nibble on: The good folks at Caligula XXI offer a barbecue buffet on Saturday and a seafood buffet (insert joke here) on Friday. They boast three stages, with a beautiful, 100-gallon freshwater fish tank on the main stage. And in addition to their 200 hot-hot-hot dancers, they regularly feature such renowned thespians as April Rayne (Adventures of Buttgirl), Mimi Miyagi (Seoul Train) and the inimitable Houston (Houston 500, duh!).
Even though the front bar at Leon's Lounge is hung with brilliant chandeliers, the place isn't what you'd call opulent. After all, the twinkling lights illuminate a sandy shuffleboard table. But the lounge's contradictions are what make it interesting. Its two back rooms couldn't be more different. One is dark, with a piano inside. The other is a brightly lit space dominated by a pool table and a blown-up picture of the now-deceased Leon posing with a boar. Its walls are cluttered with deer heads, ducks and horns, along with a not-to-be-missed watercolor print of a Native American riding a horse. You can't help but feel this room was old Leon's favorite.
Any Irish or English transplant would be right at home at The Stag's Head, where the bangers and mash and fish 'n' chips measure up to the exacting standards of the old country. Competing with them are American finger-food favorites: fajita nachos and stuffed jalapeños as well as succulent Angus burgers and a bevy of fine sandwiches. But The Stag's Head soars beyond those standbys with modern offerings that raise the, uh, bar for any self-respecting pub. Try their savory soups of the day and fresh, creative salads. But the menu's star is the turkey-sized rotisserie chicken half, balanced with potatoes, an impressive side salad and veggies -- all for under seven bucks. And at this classy pub, an endless variety of brews awaits to wash it all down.