Best of Houston®

Best Of 2015

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Best Gay Bar
The Ripcord

With the recent Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states, it's important to recognize and appreciate the history and importance of early Houston gay bars like The Ripcord, which opened back in 1980, when our city was not as tolerant toward the LGBT community as it is now. Ripcord is the oldest leather bar in Texas, and for any club to last this long, whether gay or straight, it has to be doing lots of things right; cheap drinks, a jukebox, a pool table and the large outdoor patio keep the regulars coming back. Ripcord has something of a reputation for being scary and appearing seedy to the uninitiated, but the bartenders and patrons are a welcoming and friendly bunch and the overall atmosphere is one of acceptance and tolerance toward all people; you don't have to be into the leather and Levi scene to drop in for a drink. In fact, the Ripcord can feel more like a neighborhood place than a leather bar much of the time, since it now has show-tune sing-along and trivia nights in addition to the theme nights catering to various fetishes throughout the month.

READERS' CHOICE: JR's Bar & Grill

715 Fairview, Houston, 77006
MAP
Best Blues Club
The Big Easy

Ritzy Rice Village has an improbably rich history with the blues and R&B. Besides the Gallant Knight, a mainstay of live jazz and soul from the '70s to the '90s, the Big Easy celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and today sits at the epicenter of Houston's very much alive blues scene. Neither especially spacious nor fancy, the Louisiana-ish bar is just this side of a dive, exactly what a good juke joint is supposed to be. Owner Tom McLendon still works the door most nights, and will gladly talk music with you if his hands aren't full taking cover charges — which the Big Easy does only on weekends (and they're almost never more than $5). Any no-cover night would be good to get your feet wet on the modest dance floor, and the Easy has plenty to choose from: zydeco Sundays; John Egan Mondays; the Big Easy Quartet Tuesdays; the locally famous "Open Jam" on Wednesdays; and Luther & the Healers Thursdays. Without much fanfare, the Easy has become quite a destination club for blues aficionados from across the country and around the world, not to mention a vital part of our live-music scene.

READERS' CHOICE: House of Blues

5731 Kirby, Houston, 77005
MAP
713-523-9999
Best Art Gallery

Moody Gallery gets the nod for Best Art Gallery this year in part because of its well-received exhibition "Luis Jiménez: Prints, Drawings & Sculptures." It was the first solo exhibition of the late Houston artist since his death. With it, gallery owner Betty Moody did what no one else had been able to do. Estate issues and a scarcity of work for loan prevented anyone else from putting together an exhibit for nine years. Moody worked with private collectors, many of whom, like Moody and her late husband, Bill Steffy, were friends with Jiménez. That exhibit put Moody Gallery at the top of our list, yes, but it was the fact that Betty Moody brings that sort of enthusiasm, resourcefulness and insider savvy to every exhibit seen at the gallery that cinched the deal.

READERS' CHOICE: East End Studio Gallery

2815 Colquitt, Houston, 77098
MAP
713-526-9911
Best Radio Station
KPFT

KPFT is much more than a radio station: It's a public forum, community bulletin board and a lifeline to those of us who are completely put off by what passes for commercial radio these days. (It's got a great history, too, being firebombed by the KKK shortly after signing on with the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" in 1970.) Here you'll hear issues discussed that are far too sensitive for the mainstream media to go anywhere near, and points of view entertained that in more primitive times would get their advocates locked away in a loony bin. But musically speaking alone, this is one killer radio station, a virtual color wheel of genres from underground rap and black metal to jam bands, zydeco, alt-country and almost an entire Sunday of blues-related programming. Of course, this kind of vital service to the community isn't cheap: At KPFT, another pledge drive is never very far away, so do help them out the next time one comes along.

READERS' CHOICE: 94.5 The Buzz

419 Lovett Blvd., Houston, 77006
MAP
713-526-4000
Best Band Name

There's an irony that in Space City, it's so hard to see the stars some nights. We still have the moon, for now at least, and we've got indie-rock group Race to the Moon to remind us of the heavens every time we see their name. Race to the Moon is a great name because it's evocative without being too abstract. We can all picture an actual race to the moon, the types of vehicles involved, the people we'd race against and the grand prize we'd win once we got there. Plus, like all great band names, "Race to the Moon" looks good on a shirt; look no further than the one the band has with the first o in "moon" replaced with — what else — a moon.

Best Ballet
Houston Ballet's <i>Romeo & Juliet</i>
Amitava Sarkar
Karina Gonzalez and Connor Walsh in Romeo & Juliet

Stanton Welch, artistic director for the Houston Ballet, created an important new work for last season, a new Romeo and Juliet. (For the last 28 years the company has been performing a production created by Ben Stevenson.) Bringing a fresh take on the classic romance, Welch found a lovely mix of strength and grace, tragedy and nuance. Welch brought Italian designer Roberta Guidi di Bagno to create the sets and costumes, both of which added to the spectacle and spirit of the work. Connor Walsh and Karina Gonzalez were among the three couples who shared the title roles; Sara Webb and Jared Matthews and Melody Mennite and Ian Casady were the others.

601 Preston St., Houston, 77002
MAP
713-523-6300
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Best Gay Bar: The Ripcord

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