Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Walter's Downtown is the best kind of family business. Owner Zack Palmer inherited the warehouse-like venue north of downtown after his mother, beloved Houston nightlife matriarch Pam Robinson, passed away in late 2014, and he has carried over the anything-goes booking policy that makes Walter's one of the most accessible and artist-friendly clubs in town. Many acts who pass through Walter's do so without much commercial attention or outside financial support, and its DIY hospitality props up a broad spectrum of underground music, from indie-pop to hardcore punk and all sorts of laptop-beats alchemists. Walter's got even cooler when the vinyl-only Deep End Records, run by local musician and Walter's primary booking agent John Baldwin, opened last fall in what used to be the club's lobby.
Commercials on local TV were never supposed to make viewers pause to ponder the profound philosophical questions of life...until Texas Mattress Makers came along. The camera lingers lovingly over mattresses in production at the company's East End factory-showroom, as a disembodied voice asks a few simple questions in a tone that implies he's talking about a lot more than a good night's sleep: "What is a mattress?" "Where does it come from?" "How does it make you feel?" Soothing and sleepy, the narrator's voice barely reaches above a whisper, the exact opposite of Mattress Mack's hyper-caffeinated, high-volume late-night pitches of yore. Brilliant.
You can almost feel the smoke of a different era still hanging in the air at the Big Easy Social and Pleasure Club. On the stage, you'll likely find a full-bodied blues band with a twanging guitar, fierce keys and throaty vocalist who, yes, sounds like he may have just smoked a pack. Not a single wall, table or tile is without chipped paint in this dark joint. Old photos and posters of Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Dr. John leave little room for white space anyway. And in the center of it all are a few middle-aged couples dancing and twirling around so impressively in front of the stage that if you're young and single you think, "Life goals," and if you're old and married you think, "Why can't I do that?" This isn't a place where you go to gab — there's simply too much to absorb.
READERS' CHOICE: The Continental Club
The lack of interior space at Satellite Bar isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially because it means you get a good, close-up look at the local and national acts taking the stage. This East End venue is the best place in town for experiencing a show right in your face, whether you like hardcore punk rock, electronic dance music or stand-up comedy. And there's a big backyard if you need to take a break for some air.
Mari Carmen Ramírez is on fire, leading the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in relentless pursuit of the best and brightest modern and contemporary art from Central and South America. Ramírez, the Wortham Curator of Latin American Art and director of the International Center for the Arts of the Americas, has a keen eye, and the museum's "Contingent Beauty" exhibit was an edgy showstopper with themes of poverty, political oppression and violence. We saw exciting installations, like the starfish-studded Woven Water: Submarine Landscape by María Fernanda Cardoso; the minimalist Stress (in memoriam) by Yoan Capote (incorporating thousands of human teeth); and Óscar Muñoz's video projection chronicling the desaparecidos. Both cerebral and beautiful, it was the sort of exhibit that stays in your mind long after it closes.
In its first year, Satellite Bar has already built a reputation for putting on shows that don't disappoint. The dark dive hosts mostly local and Texas bands, serving up everything from funky space rock to shoe-gazing fuzz. The small stage is tucked into the corner across from the bar, which offers an extensive selection of craft beers from breweries across the country. But the real draw at Satellite is its huge backyard: There are fire pits, tables and festive lighting, and every now and then, management sets up an outdoor stage. Satellite is exactly where you want to be on one of those clear, sweater-weather nights.
READERS' CHOICE: House of Blues